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January course integrates biblical texts, theatre, and theology

by Louisville Seminary | Jan 14, 2011

At the conclusion of the course, students will share a public theatrical performance, “Three’s a Crowd,” Friday, January 21, at 7 p.m., in Gardencourt’s Hundley Hall, on the Seminary campus.

January 10 marked the opening day of “The Art of Presence: The Text, Theatre, and Theology,” a January- term course sponsored by the Women Center at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary as part of the Center’s Artist-in Residence program.

The two-week course is being taught by Distinguished Alumna Rev. Cheryl Goodman-Morris (MDiv ’77), pastor for worship at Valley Presbyterian Church of Portola Valley, Calif., and Rev. Dr. Johanna Bos, Dora Pierce Professor of Bible and Professor of Old Testament at Louisville Seminary. Bos is also the Women’s Center faculty and financial liaison.

“We are fortunate to offer our students Goodman-Morris’s experience and knowledge of theatre and their resonances with textual interpretation and liturgical practice. I have been looking forward to this term’s exploration of the connections between textuality, interpretation, performance, and the various forms of inhabiting and coming to achieve familiarity with the scriptural text,” stated Dr. Heather Thiessen (MDiv ’00; ThM ’02), Director of the Women’s Center.

Goodman-Morris is a nationally recognized playwrite. Her musical, Puah’s Midwife Crisis, about women’s empowerment and transformation in the story of Puah, a young Hebrew girl, and Shiphrah, an Egyptian with duties to the royal court, debuted in Louisville in 2009 and was performed at Actor’s Theatre. In addition to her pastoral role in the northern California congregation, where she has served since 1987, she is the founder and artistic director of the Portola Valley Theatre Conservancy, a non-profit outreach ministry of the church. The Conservatory offers weekly theater arts classes to 160 children, extends other classes in inner city schools, and produces inter-generational plays and musicals for the whole community. Proceeds raised from the Conservatory’s productions go to support local charities.

The Art of Presence course is addressing themes which are at the core of the Artist-in-Residence program, Thiessen says. “It celebrates and cultivates ‘alternative intelligences,’ adding to a curriculum that leans heavily on the linear, left-brain, analytical models that prevail in the academy. We are convinced that God’s intention for creation and humanity is diversity, and we observe that the wealth of diversity in our world is a gift we often fail to unwrap and take delight in.”

The aim of the Artist-in-Residence program, she adds, is to encourage its participants to embrace diversity through the medium of the arts, approaching learning through “novel insights” and sharing those insights within a “community in a relevant way.” In preparation for the class, students completed required reading about the art of and understanding of biblical narratives as well as selected biblical texts from which they prepared individual monologues. Each class includes interpretive and theological study of the biblical texts and daily theatrical workshops and rehearsals.

“The overall intent of the course is to deepen students’ exposure to biblical texts through sharpening literary analytical tools and putting the results into the shape of performance. It is my hope that this class will help increase a love for and immersion into Scripture among our students, while at the same time equipping them to become a dynamic engaging presence in leading worship,” said Bos.

At the conclusion of the course, students will share their insights and newly formed skills in a final public theatrical performance, Friday, January 21, at 7 p.m., in Gardencourt’s Hundley Hall on the Seminary campus.

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