Sacred plays in sacred places – how does embodying the chains of religious memory become a transformative encounter for Latter-day Saints?
Date: 2 November 2020
University of Exeter
PhD in Drama
Post modernity, some argue, has made grand narratives no longer meaningful. Others critique this view as Eurocentric and its own metanarrative. However, despite the forecast of a fully secular society and the inevitable demise of religion in Western, enlightened society, we now live in a post-secular world, characterised by a resurgence ...
Post modernity, some argue, has made grand narratives no longer meaningful. Others critique this view as Eurocentric and its own metanarrative. However, despite the forecast of a fully secular society and the inevitable demise of religion in Western, enlightened society, we now live in a post-secular world, characterised by a resurgence of some religious practices, the decline of others and the immergence of still more. Yet, our performance studies theoretical and methodological frameworks do not always reflect this. In counter-measure, this thesis explores large-scale theatrical productions by twenty-first century Latter-Day Saints. They are a religious people, who theatrically embody their own sacred histories, in locales holy to them. In so doing, the materiality of these performances is shot through with the metaphysical, becoming a case study in the complex nexus between theatre, performance studies and theatre practices informed by faith-based practices within organised religion. The case studies examined are two annual performances (2005 – present, and 2013 – present) by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois, America and Chorley, Lancashire, Britain. These performances become transformative encounters for many participants, and this thesis seeks to understand why. In answering, after laying the preliminary groundwork for the study in Chapter One, Chapter Two builds upon performance scholar Jon McKenzie’s work on liminality to propose symbiotic efficacy, which explores how the spaces between cast members and audience become inscribed with Buberian I-Thou holiness to facilitate transformative encounters. Building on this, Chapter Three explores the transformative spaces between the living and the dead they represent on stage, seeking to understand how performative embodiment of one’s ancestors can reshape linear chains of religious memory into circular chains. Furthermore, this chapter explores the rupture of “the miracle” on stage. Chapter Four examines the site-specific nature of these performances, and building on both anthropologist Tim Ingold’s work on landscape, and Rana Singh’s work on faithscape, explores a culturally inscribed frame to reveal the impact of faith on the landscape of site-specific performance locales. In concluding, Chapter Five examines the transformative unity experienced by participants: unity with fellow cast members and audience, unity with the dead represented on stage, and unity with the landscape of the site-specific location. Such unity for participants is liberating, and ultimately leads to unity with the Divine.
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