A new, innovative type of acting has begun to pop up around central London focused on bringing theatre to the public, instead of bringing the public to theatre. Saltmine Theatre, which “seeks to tell God’s story and values with grace, truth, and an inclusive heart to all,” has a new programme, the “Theatre of No Fixed Abode,” that aims to bring the message of Jesus to passers-by on the streets of London.
The company often begins their performance by approaching strangers on the street, enthusiastically inviting – and in some cases even herding – them into a theatre space on the side of Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. Their production on Monday began in exactly that manner, and once the 3pm start time had come and a substantial group of both adults and children had gathered in the performance space, the company burst on the stage with overwhelming exuberance, singing traditional sea shanties and giving each other robust slaps on the back. An interpretation of Jonah and the Whale as nautical lore followed, then a wordless sketch about breaking the mould of the world and being true to oneself.
The 30-minute performance consisted of a selection of three- to five-minute pieces that mean to engage the audience and prompt them to ask questions that centre around a biblical worldview. Each sketch was executed with equal amounts of enthusiasm and polish, and each sketch was received with a wholehearted round of applause.
Throughout the performance, the company employed a few unconventional techniques to involve the audience and add another element of entertainment to the already raucous show. On several occasions, the troupe began a sketch out of doors, encouraging the audience to follow and watch outside, and then ended the sketch inside, waiting for the audience to shuffle through the doors and reclaim their seats.
The final skit took place entirely on the street, where an Olympics-style race was re-enacted completely in slow-motion. Contestant “Goodsoil” took dramatically prolonged lunges toward a “gold medal” finish while contestants with names such as “Thorn” and “Bird” stumbled and fell on their way toward the finish line. After the routine, the theatre group posed a question to the audience gathered on the sidewalk, “If life is a race, how do you want to finish?” With this question, the ensemble’s performance ended.
Jon Buckeridge, member of the company for five years, explained the group’s approach to evangelism through acting. “We want to inspire people to have conversations. We want to break down social barriers and interact with people through presenting gospel and issue-based messages through our performances.”
Buckeridge believes theatre to be an excellent way to break social barriers because its unorthodox approach and exciting, fun atmosphere negates the presumptions that the public often holds about Christianity and Christians themselves. “People will so easily sit in a theatre piece about Jesus,” said Buckeridge, “but they’ll shy away from someone preaching on the streets. In my experience it breaks people’s preconceptions.”
Though Saltmine has been active for over 30 years, this is the first time the theatre company has done skits on the street. The group was approached by Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and asked to put together a programme designed specifically to tell people at the Olympics about Jesus, and share a biblical worldview with tourists during the Games. Though it’s not their main ministry, Buckeridge predicts that the “Theatre of No Fixed Abode” will continue even after the 2012 Olympics are over. “We’ll definitely do it again – we’ve had some really good responses.”