An Examined Life with Jeff Allen 41: Dramatic Theology with Richard Everett

An Examined Life with Jeff Allen 41: Dramatic Theology with Richard Everett July 8, 2015

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4:00 am is a really interesting time of day.  It’s at that hour where creative people like Richard Everett start getting some really interesting ideas.  But, by 9:00 in the morning, Richard looks back at what he had previously thought were strokes of genius  and wonders, “What the hell was that??”  But, as his grandfather used to tell him, while ideas that come in the middle of the night shouldn’t be trusted, there still may be something there of value.Richard Everett

The truth is that, even for successful writers like Richard, there is no strict formula for writing well.  As predominantly a playwright, there is something magical about when he stands in the back of a full theater and hears the applause of a satisfied audience.  As Richard puts it, even though you have bled, sweated and cried over your work, you don’t know exactly what you have written until you see it through your audience’s eyes. 

You see, a script is just something waiting to become something.  It’s just 120 pages of words.  Then these words are handed off to the interpreters: the director and actors.  But the penultimate moment doesn’t occur until the message is revealed through the eyes, ears and hearts of an audience.

I can relate to Richard’s insights, as I remember doing a pilot for a sitcom in 2001.  We wrote, re-wrote, and re-wrote the script.  We cast amazing actors, crew, the whole bit.  Our director and producers worked so hard, and we were all incredibly proud of our hard work.  After we wrapped, I took some time off, and then watched the pilot after a couple weeks and knew in an instant – it sucked!

Then, after hearing the truth, I was completely validated.  The first test audience hated it so much that the scores were off the scale and they needed to bring in a second test audience just to validate the terrible reviews of the first group.

However, there was one time when Richard struck gold and he knew it before it hit the stage.  He thought he was on to something with his play Entertaining Angels, and then heard those golden words from Britain’s most prolific producers, Sir Michael Codron: “This is right on the nose!”  But what was even more interesting was his reasoning: “Religion is back on the agenda.”

This was interesting, firstly, because the play is not a religious play.  It’s about an English clergy family, and centers around the widow named Grace – a feisty woman who reaches a point in her life when she begins to wonder what the payoff is for spending so much of her life being well behaved.  Grace was inspired by actual women whom Richard grew up observing and learning from who were the perfect preacher’s wives, then became entirely different women when their husbands passed on.

What Richard enjoys most, though, is the freedom and complexity that comes with writing for the theater and radio.  It’s incredibly liberating to write for a medium that interacts with your audience’s imagination, compared to writing for television or movies where everything is put on open display for them.  Radio is especially freeing for the writer because the story can occur any time, any place and include anything.  But this creates its own sets of challenges. 

That’s quite a dichotomy: complete freedom makes doing it so much more complicated!

At least, if there were boundaries, even if you don’t like where the boundaries are, you could write within them.  The same goes in life: life is easier with boundaries.  When people are given absolute freedom, it becomes quite scary.

This is also true regarding the Ten Commandments.  They were given to us in order to actually make us free.  God actually said, “If you stay within these rails, your life will be free and open.  These are simply things you shouldn’t do, in order for you to enjoy that freedom and openness.

But, back to Entertaining Angels.  The one hangup Sir Michael Codron had about the play was its title.  He didn’t get where those words came from.  Richard then explained that they came from the Epistle to the Hebrews, regarding showing hospitality to strangers.

Sir Codron asked if perhaps there were a better title somewhere else in the Bible – maybe within the Lord’s Prayer?  Curious if, in fact there were something there, Richard and Michael prayed the Lord’s Prayer right there on the phone, out loud together.  When they arrived at “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen”, they both agreed to stick with Entertaining Angels.

Richard’s own spiritual journey began when he was a young struggling actor and a friend told him that he had recently become a Christian.  Richard couldn’t wrap his head around what those words even meant.  Had his friend recently begun doing charity work or something?  This began a conversation between he and his friend that lasted a complete fortnight (or two weeks for us Americans).  After two weeks of discussing every day about Christianity, Richard couldn’t argue at all, intellectually, but as his friend’s new worldview began to reveal Richard’s own life in ways that he had never before considered, it made him quite uncomfortable… yet interested.

Richard hadn’t thought much about Jesus before that discussion.  He knew the concept of Jesus, but hadn’t really thought of Him as an actual historical person, much less the power of His story and His resurrection.

If anything, Richard thought of Christ’s resurrection as something akin to fairy tales.

But then he began to look at the evidence of it.  And he realized that simply because he couldn’t quite explain something does not mean that it didn’t happen.  And, while he was very cautious – even apprehensive – about joining some “looney tunes movement”, he began to realize that all of his preconceived ideas about Christianity were merely his own prejudices rooted in his completely uninformed biases. 

His friend then began to quietly, lovingly, and effectively convey that his faith in Jesus was actually very immediate and real and Richard was the one living in fantasy.  It was about that time where Richard surrendered his intellectual battle and dared to venture into a relationship with his Creator.

Richard said, “God, if you are really there, and if this Jesus Christ figure really is who He seems to be, then I’m left with three options:  He is either crazy, or He is thoroughly evil as He has misled millions of people, or He is truly Who He said He is.  And if this last option truly is the case, God, then you are going to have to make this real for me.”

Then, Richard was expecting something miraculous and dramatic to happen.  But, actually, something much deeper occurred.  He found himself in a place that felt like “coming home”.  And that is where he discovered reality – not in fireworks in the sky.

And that was 35 years ago.

What Richard finds most interesting is that the further along the road and the longer that he walks along that road with God,  the more questions he has.  Therefore, his relationship with God isn’t about getting the answers, but discovering more and more interesting questions.

Which is what brought him to the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

He met Ravi at an event, very briefly.  They shook hands and Ravi asked him where he could get one of his books, and they began to talk more and Ravi invited him to his conference.

L'Arche Ireland

Richard is also actively involved with the L’Arche Community.  L’Arche is an International Federation dedicated to the creation and growth of homes, programs, and support networks for people with intellectual disabilities. It was founded in 1964 when Jean Vanier welcomed two men with disabilities into his home in France. Today, it is an international organization operating 147 communities in 35 countries, and on all five continents.

Worldwide, L’Arche is organized into regional and national groupings of independent, locally operated agencies which it calls “communities.” Each L’Arche community normally comprises a number of homes and, in many cases, apartments and day programs as well, offering people with autism, down syndrome and other special needs a degree of independent living. 

Richard does drama workshops with them, which has become the most rewarding thing in his life today.

He has learned that although he reads, listens to, and learns from Christianity’s great thinkers, everything that he knows doesn’t compare to the people who he works with.

They know that they are known.

You could have a team of the greatest writers in the world, but they wouldn’t be able to see the world in the same way that the members of L’Arche do.  Their autistic, down syndrome, aspergers, and sensory processing disordered minds approach the world around them and their God in such a way that supersedes our “rational” minds.

You can learn more about Richard’s comings and goings at his website: www.richardeverett.co.uk

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