My Origin Story
I've enjoyed a number of the Marvel films released lately, and because of that (and a host of villains looming on the horizon), I'm intrigued by the idea of an origin story, especially the point of crisis. This event ultimately shapes the hero's passions, values, mission catapulting him or her on a journey, whether the hero likes it or not.
Here is my origin story. I hope it encourages you.
I can look at my story from a number of different angles, but I'm presenting just one to you today. It has a theatrical bent. Very few of the following details are exaggerated. (If you want to find out which ones, ask my lovely wife.)
I grew up in a home with high ceilings and a staircase with a landing that looked just like a stage. My parents still live there and I love returning.
What this means is that for much of my life I grew up in a theatre. Yes, sort of like the tortured Phantom who haunted the opera, although I wasn't tortured, I don't haunt, and I'm not a fan of opera.
In eighth grade, my parents decided to school me at home. This influx of free time inspired me to take advantage of the natural theatre I lived in. I started writing sketches and staging plays. I gathered the neighborhood kids to act and run lights while I made the curtains and promoted the production to anyone willing to watch.
Skip a number of years later, I finished college and was living in a basement with no windows (rent free!) in Kentucky with my young bride. (Here she is below. How did I get her to say "yes"? God's miraculous providence.)
During this time, I was working through seminary and also teaching at a wonderful classical Christian school.
>>THE HINT THAT STARTED IT ALL
A few months before my wife and I married, one of my students mentioned that he wished he had a way to learn acting and participate in plays at the school. I took it as a hint. I actually did study theatre in college, but I didn't know how to start and run a program! Oddly, they don't teach you that in school.
So, I did the reasonable thing and said, "Let's do it!"
On our honeymoon, driving from CA to KY, I shared with my new wife what I had committed to. Instead of exiting the moving vehicle, she kept all limbs inside and dove right into the idea. And the foundation for the first play we ever produced was detailed on that honeymoon roadtrip.
Just as soon as I carried my bride across our basement threshold, we started staging this show of ours. She agreed to do the costumes and makeup and design the set and gather the props. Now that I look back, she seemed to carry the brunt of the work! What was I doing this whole time?
>>THE TERROR-FUL CRISIS
Well, tech week arrived (the week leading up to the performance) and I soon discovered a better name was terror week. The reality that I had actually never directed a full-length show and now all the details (the not-so-fun things) were demanding to be finished started catching up with me. Confidence and positive thinking can only do so much when you stop and realize that tomorrow...parents, grandparents, students, uncles, aunts, administrators, and faculty will be sitting in the performance hall watching your show.
Whether I was ready or not...that didn't matter! They were coming.
So, with a set made of heavy PVC pipes wrapped with bed sheets and props taken from a desperate raid of my basement home, 7 PM came and the lights rose. And the kids started started saying their lines (the ones we had written!) and they started moving around the set (the one we had "built") and they picked up props (main staples of my home...like my chairs and my theology books) and wore costumes (some which I recognized from my own wardrobe).
Like lightning, the lights went off, and I barely breathed. We made it to intermission! I ran (literally) backstage, planning to leap and yelp and hug the kids in excitement. We may very well make it through this evening, I thought.
But as soon I entered backstage, I froze in terror. Six or seven feet off the ground were actors (or at least one) climbing through the transom window to exit the backstage. He was mid-straddle. One leg inside the room and the other outside.
Why? Why wasn't he using the door right next to the transom? I may never know. I looked around backstage and the chaos had consumed the room! Hairspray and bobby pins everywhere. Props and costumes everywhere. Kids everywhere!
>>TICKETS TO BAJA!?
I returned back to my perch in the performance balcony once again asking myself, "Why? Why did I so confidently say I could do this?! I wonder how much tickets to Baja will cost. By some standards, 10-minutes is short notice to book a flight, but I can't face all the people who gave up an evening to watch this spectacle." But my time was cut short as the intermission came to a close.
>>LAST NIGHT'S REHEARSAL
The lights dimmed and I remembered last night's final rehearsal.
Yes, the one where mid-rehearsal one of my main set pieces -- my personal bookcase full of theology books -- started leaning, tipping, and falling. I dropped my script and sprinted down the middle aisle barely catching it before it smashed my lead's unsuspecting head. In shock, I stopped the rehearsal and re-situated the stage, trying not to think too hard about the fact that the only audience member in this final rehearsal was...the head of the school.
My heart, mind, imagination sprung back to the performance, and again, like lightning, the second act roared by. I called for the final light cue, the kids bowed and I turned blue holding my breathe. If I grabbed this black cloth, could I sneak out unseen? I wonder if there's a Starbucks in the airport?
>> THE GREAT CONTRAST
But I'll never forget the great contrast between the fear of wondering how the audience would respond compared to the thunderous explosion that soon took place. The audience rushed to the stage and overwhelmed my small cast and crew with choruses of "well done!"
I worked my way backstage to congratulate the cast and crew, but I soon found myself alone, wide-eyed, out of breathe, astounded that we made it through. My prayers were like..."Wow! I just...I can't believe...Thank you so much!!"
This one performance eventually led to more auditions and more performances. Our actors quickly grew in enthusiasm and skill, and to my surprise the head of the school resolutely supported the expansion of the arts, including our humble drama program.
A decade later, my wife and I look back on that time with humility and gratitude. The school, the actors, the families took a chance on us. God used this little performance to place us (and many of those young actors) on a new trajectory, one we could never have plotted. It may seem silly to you that this drama performance could qualify as a journey-forming crisis, but to each his own. God used it to awake something inside me. What crises has God used in your life?
>> A DECADE OF DRAMA
A decade later, my wife and I have started two other theatre programs in schools in TN and CA. As we felt called to move to new schools, I trained individuals (all lay people like myself) to continue the programs in my stead, and not to my surprise, they brought growth in ways I don't think I could have.
Today, as I write this, I'm running a theatre program in the mountains of CA for an astounding group of young people and also working at LifeHouse Theater in Redlands, CA. There are very weeks when I don't think back on my first terror week, drawing inspiration, courage, purpose.
At LifeHouse, I work alongside true professionals, watching them in amazement as they produce nine main stage shows a season, not including a host of youth-oriented programs and other specials sprinkled throughout the year. They stage a dizzying amount of high quality musicals and dramas.
What's most impressive is that the vast majority of these productions are original musicals written by the founder, Wayne R. Scott. LifeHouse welcomes over 30,000 guests to our theater a year, as we celebrate our 25th anniversary this season.
Graciously, God has allowed me and my wife (the same one who lived in a window-less basement with me) to continue learning how to produce shows and influence lives by the stage.
>>REFLECTING ON FAITH AND THE ARTS
As an INFJ (my Myers-Briggs personality type), I spend a vast majority of my days reflecting on what I've experienced and am experiencing (aka my story).
For over twenty years now I've journaled about my story, which has helped me re-tool my convictions and beliefs about how the world works. Beginning in high school and college, I started drenching my journals with the question of how to integrate my faith with whatever work God placed in front of me.
But it was during seminary when I started considering how to see creativity and storytelling through the lens of the historic Christian faith. As I continued to teach and write and stage plays, I sensed a burden forming in my heart to help others know how to make their faith in Christ an organic part of their creativity, not just something tacked on as an after-thought.
I had made wonderful connections throughout KY, TN, and CA, and so I also wanted to find a way to connect these people. We had developed plays and guides and documents together that I thought we needed to share. What we were doing was not a competition, for our mission to see Christ magnified through the arts was one.
This burden eventually led me and a colleague to start Stage & Story. At Stage & Story we're helping people like you engage the stories you encounter with a Christian perspective, connecting you with others and equipping you with resources along the way.
As I wrap up my origin story, I'm interested in helping you define and live in light of yours.
In upcoming posts, I'd like to share some leadership and personal development principles I've learned through trial and error (and error and error) in running our theatre programs.
These principles won't make you wealthy or famous, but they can help you be faithful with the time, energy, and ideas God has given you. If you, too, sense a burden to engage this culture for Christ with the power of storytelling, then check back soon! I look forward to continuing our dialogue.
Find out more about Stage & Story, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Consider supporting us with your prayers. If we've encouraged or challenged you or you know your origin story and would like to share it, I'd be honored to hear from you. My personal email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dane Bundy is president of Stage & Story and cast chaplain at LifeHouse Theater in Redlands, CA.