LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Spoleto: A Few Art-Filled Days in Charleston

We just returned from Charleston where we spent the last three days at the Spoleto Festival, www.spoletousa.org. In that short time we saw an opera, two chamber music programs, one piano concerto, two plays, and more. It was a wonderful experience.

The opera, Faustus, The Last Night, was interesting. The French composer, Pascal Dusapin, put a contemporary twist on the old story: Faustus was not redeemed but rather condemned to spend eternity in nothingness. The singers were gifted, the set marvelous, but the overall effect of the music and mood was strange and bleak. We knew the truth—the alternative to eternal damnation—but how many in the audience did not? I prayed that God would use the questions raised by Faustus to bring people who do not yet know the truth closer to Himself.

We attended two programs of chamber music at the historic Dock Street Theater. The funny and charming Charles Wadsworth, an artistic director of Spoleto, emceed and performed two pieces with other musicians. Each ensemble was fabulous—it was hard to choose a favorite. The musicians included: Courtenay Budd, soprano; Chee-Yun, violin; Andres Diaz (cello); Wendy Chen, piano; Tara Helen O’Connor, flute; Todd Palmer, clarinet; Catrin Finch, harp; and the St. Lawrence String Quartet.

We also enjoyed Intermezzo I, in which pianist Andrew Von Oeyen, who looks like Brad Pitt, conducted members of the Ginn Resorts Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra in Kurt Weill’s Kleine Dreigroschenmusik and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

We saw a comedy called The Constant Wife by Somerset Maugham, produced by the Gate Theatre in Dublin. We laughed throughout the whole piece. Set in London in 1930, the beautiful, charming, intelligent, and witty Constance puts her husband in his place after he has an affair with her close friend. The play is actually a sad commentary on the state of marriage in upper class London then (and some might argue, anywhere now). But the dialogue is so witty and well-done that we laughed and laughed. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

Before that, we sat in on “Conversations With…”, an on-stage interview conducted by Martha Teichner, Emmy award-winning CBS News correspondent. She spoke with the director of The Constant Wife and the producer of the Gate Theater. We learned a lot about the history of Irish theater as well as about the play. For example the costume designer for The Constant Wife was a couturier with several designers in Paris, which explains why the costumes were so gorgeous that I wanted them all.

We also saw Thomas Ward’s play, Keeping Watch, for the second time. It’s a funny, poignant, and surprising Southern drama. Ward won CiTA’s 2006 National Playwriting Competition for Keeping Watch. We saw the world premiere last year at Tom Key’s Theatrical Outfit in Atlanta. This production, with its cast comprised of College of Charleston alumni, was good too.

After I bought appropriate footwear, we enjoyed walking through the streets of historic Charleston, browsing through the outdoor market with its basket weavers and other vendors, and eating fresh seafood. At Magnolia’s, a white tablecloth kind of place, I ate every bit of my shrimp and grits, after sharing the fried green tomatoes appetizer. At Poogan’s Porch, a more casual café, I had a yummy Shrimp PoBoy, finally abandoning the bread all together to concentrate on the shrimp covered with Cajun remoulade.

Yesterday morning, just before we left town, we walked across the street from our hotel, the historic Francis Marion on King Street, to the Spoleto artist market. We wandered through the park, stopping to look at booths filled mostly with lowcountry landscapes and other regional art. We came upon Elaine Berlin, whose art was chosen for the festival poster. Her work is abstract and filled with color and vibrancy. It drew us both. To celebrate our wonderful time at Spoleto, we bought a small piece of Elaine’s for a certain small piece of wall in our home that’s not already covered with something.

We’re already planning our trip to Spoleto next year. Although I don’t think it could top my first experience my husband, a veteran attender, says it can. I believe him.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Memorial Day Moments

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. Take a moment to remember our soldiers who have given their lives for our country and those who still serve. Remember the families who are grieving.

Take a moment to enjoy some art today, whether it's a new or a favorite piece of music, a painting hanging in your home, a gorgeous piece of writing, or children dancing at a picnic. Look for the beauty around you wherever you are, whatever you're doing.

On Thursday I’ll have a report from Spoleto, an arts festival in Charleston. Next week, I’m featuring Tyrus Clutter of CiVA. You won’t want to miss our interview.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Francis Schaeffer’s Art & The Bible

I have more from Francis Schaeffer’s essay, “Some Perspectives on Art.”

The first [perspective on art] is the most important: A work of art has a value in itself. For some this principle may seem too obvious to mention, but for many Christians it is unthinkable. And yet if we miss this point, we miss the very essence of art. Art is not something we merely analyze or value for its intellectual content. It is something to be enjoyed. The Bible says that the art work in the tabernacle and the temple was for beauty…

As a Christian we know why a work of art has value. Why? First, because a work of art is a work of creativity, and creativity has value because God is the Creator…

Second, … man is made in the image of God, and therefore man not only can love and think and feel emotion, but also has the capacity to create. Being in the image of God, we are called upon to have creativity
[pp. 33-34].

I’d better stop there. Schaeffer’s little booklet holds some great ideas. You can find your own copy of Art & The Bible at Amazon or CBD.com. Let me know what you think of it.

Coming soon: Features with CiVA, a culture expert, poet, composer, musician, dancer, and more

Monday, May 21, 2007

Our Greatest Work of Art

If you haven’t read theologian Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible, a small pamphlet comprised of two essays, I recommend that you do so as soon as you can. The first essay discusses art in the Bible, and the second outlines a Christian perspective on art in general. It’s an important work, especially for those interested in Christians in the arts.

I think it’s time to reread it myself.

Here’s a little taste:

All of us are engaged daily with works of art, even if we are neither professional nor amateur artists. We read books, we listen to music, we look at posters, we admire flower arrangements. Art, as I am using the word, does not include just “high art,” that is, painting, sculpture, poetry, classical music, but also the more popular expressions—the novel, the theater, the cinema, popular music, and rock. In fact, there is a very real sense in which the Christian life itself should be our greatest work of art. Even for the great artists, the most crucial work of art is his life. (“Some Perspectives on Art”, p. 33).

Coming soon: Q&As with a culture expert, poet, composer, musician, dancer, and more

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Debut of Elysium

Last Saturday night, my husband and I saw the debut performance of a new chamber orchestra and chorus in Atlanta called Elysium. Elysium means paradise, and as these gifted musicians and singers performed, I thought about the music of paradise, of heaven. What will it be like? Will our ears be able to take in such exquisite sounds? Will the quality of our own voices astonish us as we use them to sing praise to our God?

If we’re watching and listening, the arts can give us a tiny glimpse of the paradise that is heaven. Music as beautiful as Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings and as powerful as Mozart’s Requiem must glorify our Creator God. As my ears filled with the glorious sounds, I worshipped Him--how could I not?--and I know I wasn't the only one to do so. In the third movement of Serenade for Strings, Elegia, my soul took wing as the music began to build. The Requiem, with the chorus and soloists, was as moving as always.

For more information about Elysium:


For a review of the performance:


Monday, May 14, 2007

Emily Saves the Orchestra

Yesterday we took our daughter, who is seven, and my sister and her daughters, who are seven and eleven, to see the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (www.atlantasymphony.org) and Platypus Theatre present Emily Saves the Orchestra (www.platypustheatre.com). Why did it need saving? A monster in a bad mood wanted to destroy all music because it gave him a headache. If Emily could help the orchestra play Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, the monster's power over music would be cancelled out. With help from friends and musicians, she learned about rhythm, melody, harmony, tempo, dynamics, and more through selections like Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 6 and No. 9, Grieg’s “Morning Mood” from Peer Gynt, and Pachelbel’s Canon.

Along the way, each type of instrument was spotlighted so Emily and the audience could see what they look and sound like. My oldest niece, recently named first chair of the woodwinds section in her school band, was especially excited to see the clarinets. Our daughter recognized some of the music we have played for her over the years. During the Overture to William Tell, she and her younger cousin “galloped” in their seats. (I felt like cantering after them but reined myself in before embarrassing our group.)

It was a pleasure to introduce the girls to the beauty of a live orchestra (beyond their school field trips), and I’m sure we’ll be going again soon. Last night, as our daughter was praying before bedtime, she said, “And thank you that we got to go see the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.” For such a creative, educational, and fun presentation as Emily Saves the Orchestra, I’m thanking Him too.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Laura Millar, Part 2: Stepping into Someone Else’s Shoes

Today I’m finishing my interview with Laura Millar. Laura grew up on stage. She was in her first production at the age of five and has performed in one almost every year since. She has acted and sung in both professional and community theater. Her favorite roles include Annie from Annie, Get Your Gun!, Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie, and Maria in The Sound of Music. She also has taught drama and choreographed productions.

LeAnne: You have taught drama to kids. What draws you to teaching?

It’s my gift, and my passion is working with kids. I want to get the kids to love performing. I like to help them think about the motivation of a character: “Why is this character doing what he’s doing? Why do you think she said that?” Understanding why someone does something is the first step in being able to convey them to an audience. Stepping into their shoes, so to speak, helps in the communicating process of acting.

The discipline of getting something performance ready is very valuable. For children, being in a play is the perfect scenario. They are “playing” someone and it naturally goes along with what children do in their own play times. By letting them know it is an art and that is a creative, subjective thing, it takes a bit of pressure off of them and helps to make it more fun.

LeAnne: You’ve been performing for most of your life. What would you say is one of the most important things you’ve learned through acting?

As a Christian, and having the benefit of walking with the Lord a lot of years now, I look back and see the benefit of having to become a lot of characters. I think God uses this understanding of motivations on me. Many times He has reminded me to step into their shoes. It has enabled me to reach down inside and understand someone and thus be able to forgive them. Not that it is necessarily any easier, but it certainly convicts me quicker when I am not doing it!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Laura Millar: Trusting God Every Step

Laura Millar grew up on stage. She was in her first production at the age of five and has performed in one almost every year since. She has acted and sung in both professional and community theater. Her favorite roles include Annie from Annie, Get Your Gun, Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie, and Maria in The Sound of Music. She also has taught drama and choreographed productions.

LeAnne: You're in a choral ensemble. Tell me about the group and the type of music you do.

I have been in a couple of great groups through the years -- Christian and non Christian. I only do Christian ensembles now, as I have such limited time. I’m taking a break from it this spring but we sing in churches (to give worship leaders a Sunday off) as well as secular venues, such as parties, festivals and other entertainment arenas. The idea behind the group is to be very portable. We have a lot of a cappella pieces. We also have a subtle music set that we perform at secular venues, but we always end the show or set with a song with a Christian message — to be a bit of a mission, if you will. There is such a wide diversity of wonderful music out there that you can put together an entire show with secular-popular music that has themes of high purpose. We always end with a song with a godly message. A couple of great songs we have done through the years are “The Reason We Sing” and “Would You See Jesus More.” They are great songs with great messages as to why we are here and why we do what we do.

LeAnne: You are currently writing a musical. What have you learned about God and theater in the process?

It is one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life. I sometimes feel I am writing something that is too godly for the secular world and too secular, if you will, for the godly world. I am learning that I have to trust God every step. Every line. Every note. It is a day-by-day faith building experience for me. It may only be about the time God and I have spent together doing it — it may never be put on anywhere, and I really think I have reached the place where I will be OK with that. But I do believe in my heart that He is guiding me on this and it is my job to finish the race. Sometimes I feel it is going to kill me off. Other times I feel it is the most exhilarating thing I have ever done.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Jeffrey Overstreet: Experiencing Movies

This week my guest is Jeffrey Overstreet, author of the new book Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the Movies. Jeffrey calls upon a decade of experience as a film reviewer and columnist for his popular website, www.lookingcloser.org. He is a weekly columnist and critic at Christianity Today’s movie website, and his perspectives are regularly published in Risen and Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine. His work has also appeared Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion and Paste, and he frequently speaks about the arts at Seattle Pacific, in churches and on radio talk shows around the U. S. His film reviews were celebrated in a front-page feature of The Seattle Times’ Sunday magazine (Pacific Northwest), and his work has been noted in Time Magazine. He and his wife, Anne, a poet, can be found writing in the coffee shops of Shoreline, Washington.

LeAnne: Tell me about three movies that would not be considered Christian but have strong spiritual themes.

There are so many, I hardly know where to start. In every chapter of Through a Screen Darkly, I take a look at several movies with spiritual themes. Here are three that spring to mind:

I wrote about Amadeus. That movie is about how God gives grace to all human beings, and sometimes, just to keep his servants humble, he gives the most extraordinary gifts to the most childlike… and childish… characters. Amadeus was a womanizing, rowdy, offensive party animal, according to this movie. And yet he was the one who could pull back the veil and show us glory, which incensed the courtly "Pharisees" who considered themselves superior.

I ran out of room to write about Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors in the book. It's all about a man who decides that there is no God. He decides that it doesn't really matter if he commits murder. He rationalizes his decision, and sees that he is able to sin and go on living without punishment. And as he does, the film seems to suggest that sinners will get away with it, and thus there is no God. But I am impressed by the emptiness of that conclusion, the inescapable sense that a soul has been ruined.

How do I pick just one more? The Truman Show is about conformity, freedom, and what life would be like if God was a tyrant instead of a benevolent deity. The films of Dreyer, Bresson, Kieslowski, Tarkovsky, and Kurosawa — oh, Ikiru is a fantastic film about redemption — are overflowing with spiritual insight. Just this last year, I was deeply moved and challenged by the spiritual insights in The New World, Babel, and Pan's Labyrinth.

I even find The Muppet Movie to have some powerful spiritual insights — The Great Gonzo sings a song in that movie that makes me think about my own longing for heaven, for arriving at my heart's true home.

LM: There are Christians in Hollywood who are creating good work and making a difference. Can you talk about one or two of these directors or producers—about the work they've done and what they hope to accomplish?

Ralph Winter, who has worked as a producer on films in the Star Trek, X-Men, and Fantastic Four franchises. Winter has done such good work on his Hollywood blockbusters, that he has clout and influence in the industry. His work is a testimony that excellence matters. But he's not a snob... he does smaller projects in order to work with up-and-coming filmmakers, and in contributing to their growth, he sometimes discovers promising new talent.

Scott Derrickson, the director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, has a good sense of the potential for horror films to cause us to think about the consequences of sin and the reality of spiritual warfare. Derrickson has a lot of ideas for future projects for mass audiences, but he's also an artist — he wrote a thoughtful film for director Wim Wenders, called Land of Plenty, which is available on DVD, and which features an inspiring Christian character played by Michelle Williams.

LM: Is there anything you'd like to add?

For me, seeing a movie for the first time is just one small step in experiencing it. The best part comes when moviegoers start discussing their thoughts and feelings about the film afterward. I hope that readers of Through a Screen Darkly will start up vigorous conversations with their moviegoing friends, and that they'll share their experiences with me at my web site: www.lookingcloser.org.

Home | About | Articles | Speaking | Links | Contact | FAQ
Blogs: Christians in the Arts | Beauty and the Beholder

Copyright 2007 LeAnne Martin. Site designed by ChurchGraphics.org