All the World’s a Stage
“The Theatre Chaplain was there to talk and pray with, which made the situation clearer,” said Janie Dee, award-winning actor of stage and screen.
For over 130 years, a dedicated group of chaplains have been serving the theatre industry across the UK. Recently, the Theatre Chaplains UK (TCUK) held a celebration of their year and commissioned clerics to serve these dramatic institutions up and down the land.
Many people think that the chaplains are there to assist the public who watch plays, but their real role is to give spiritual guidance to anyone on the stage or behind it. They exist to serve, not to proselytise, to support, not convert; and should be available to folk of all faiths and none, regardless of age, gender, sexuality or creed. They should be ready to respond appropriately and sensitively to any conversations about faith and spirituality as they arise.
The senior chaplain of the Theatre Chaplaincy, the Revd Lindsay Meader suggests her role (at the Apollo Theatre in London), is to counsel not just actors, but stagehands, electricians, carpenters, stage managers and the front-of-house staff too. She is often grabbing a word in a dressing room, on the stage wings, or finding short moment amid the chaos when the front door is open.
While there is no formal training to become a chaplain, many have come from the Church of England background since the late-19th century. It all started when a London curate noticed that Sunday was a moving day for nomadic touring companies and actors never accessed a priest. Nowadays, chaplains have provided religious and spiritual care, be they trained priests or in lay ministry, with all chaplains commissioned by the TCUK.
One of the Chaplains commissioned at the celebration service is the Revd Katharine Rumens. As well as being Rector of St Giles Cripplegate, she is the Chaplain of the Barbican Arts Centre next door. She explains:
“I’ve discovered the sofa in the Systems and Maintenance office, which is four floors underground in the very depth of the theatre. Here the staff have a kettle and a supply of biscuits. I drink tea and listen to what’s going wrong and what’s going right on stage, and all the normal stuff like holidays and the children’s new schools. Backstage you realise how passionate everyone is about the theatre and how well informed they are about plays, playwrights, directors and actors.
“Theatre is something that makes a difference in people’s lives. After a good play, the audience will leave the theatre changed in some way, as the shared experience of liturgy transforms a worshipping community. I really enjoy being a theatre chaplain and I am thrilled to be commissioned at the annual service. You never know from one week to the next who or what you will find on a visit backstage.”
As well as the commissioning of theatre chaplains, the yearly celebration showed stunning performances from the Sylvia Young Theatre School, the Royal Ballet School, and there were readings by actors Janie Dee and Malcolm Sinclair. Candles were lit for each of the London theatres, regional theatrical centres and drama schools.
Janie Dee noted commented:
“During the service it felt inspiring to be lighting a candle for each of the London Theatres. I recalled times I’ve been in almost every one of them. I would always ask God to bring his light and blessing to each of them.
“A theatre chaplain is really important and when real life has interrupted the flow of theatrical life, the Chaplain has often appeared just like magic at the right time. Once, about an hour before curtain up, I had a lump in my throat unable to speak, after receiving some bad news. But together we prayed and through faith the situation felt much easier and I was able to perform.”
Others beyond the ordinary stage professionals have also found benefit from the organisation. A director from the chaplaincy’s management team, Mrs Alison Woodnutt, widow of the late stage actor and writer, John Woodnutt, says that the Chaplaincy still adds value to the families of deceased actors.
“The chaplaincy allows us to connect to the theatre world which was once a huge part of our lives. We really still value this connection with the theatre world. My husband John supported the work of the Actors Church Union (ACU), which was replaced by the Chaplaincy, as they provide such a vital service to those in the business and its families.”
Looking ahead, the Theatre Chaplaincy UK will continue to serve the actors on the stage with more Christian professionals taking up roles at venues across the UK. In the coming months there are also a few events including lunchtime conversations in conjunction with Christians in Entertainment and at the TCUK Christmas Carol Service will be held at St Paul’s Covent Garden, on Wednesday 9 December.
More information and contacts be found on the TCUK website.