Fri 02 Jun, 2017

Having Fun & Learning From The Mardlins

Lessons from the Brum Sputnik Hub

Jonny Mellor / #community, #Sputnik Hubs, #theatre

‘Why do we always have to make things for a purpose?’ asked Timo, wide eyed and animated. ‘Can’t we just make art for fun?’ At this, he handed Joel his phone and queued up a song that some of his friends had made.

It had been conceived and recorded in an all night session on the back of an evening’s banter and creative messing about. It was a jaunty funk track with lots of slap bass, comic autotune overdubs and flamboyant guitar solos. It was about Romeo and Juliet. That was about all I could work out, as it was entirely in Finnish. As the song ended, smiles were plastered on every face, except possibly Joel’s who stood up to interject seriously and authoritatively about the Christian Finnish hip hop scene.

This was my personal highlight of our last Birmingham Sputnik hub meeting, and topped off another informative, challenging, inspiring and possibly even, dare I say it… fun creative meet up in England’s second city.

Our guests this time were Phil and Harri Mardlin (who are doing the rounds at the moment!) They are actors and run LifeBox Theatre Company and Stagewrite, Bedford’s premier annual new writing festival. They also run the Sputnik Bedford hub. It was great to hang out, eat Danielle’s famous chocolate chilli and watch Benjamin Harris and David Benjamin Blower whisper together conspiratorially in a corner, but for those who disagree with Timo, and think that ‘fun’ is not quite enough, these were some nuggets of wisdom I took away from the day:

Acting is a tough gig

There are considerable challenges to be unearthed in all art forms, but, for me, I’m continually taken aback by those faced by actors. There’s the obvious task of making a living, something that Phil and Harri have shown great determination and ingenuity to pull off. However, there’s also the added immersive dimension of the actors’ craft. Most artists have to depict the fallenness and unpleasantness of the world, but actors have to put themselves into characters who often embody those features. The emotional toll this takes must be significant. Note to the church leader side of my brain- we need to look after actors better.

We’re as good as the company we keep

The Mardlins opened up a little about the amateur/professional divide in their work. Harri had made a definite decision a few years before to only work on professional jobs, not in amateur or community theatre. They explored the question of what makes someone professional or amateur at the Bedford hub last time around, but on this occasion, Harri just gave one little glimpse into why she had made this decision. She talked of how she had grown in confidence from working with a certain calibre of actors and directors, and it had caused her to raise her own game. Neither Phil nor Harri were dismissive of amateur theatre and show a real keenness in helping others improve in their artistic gifting, but I think there’s a lot in this observation. If we spend most of our time working with and collaborating with people whose bar is set lower than ours, it is likely that we will ultimately come to set the bar at their level.

There is a more holistic approach to our perennial ‘Where Is The Line?’ question

Perhaps this is the thing I have been thinking about most since the get together. As you will know if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, we like to ask artists the question where they draw the line ethically in their work? What work will they take or not take as they live out their call to be artists and also followers of Jesus? What things will they do or not do? Say or not say?

Unsurprisingly, this question came up at the hub gathering and Phil’s answer was simple yet striking. He said that he liked to consider the artistic merit of the whole project rather than parts of it. He wasn’t so concerned about whether the character he was being asked to play said or did things that he wouldn’t usually say or do as a Christian, he was more concerned about whether those things had merit in the whole project, and whether the whole project itself was a worthy venture. He still had to listen to the Holy Spirit in making such decisions and also use wisdom to sometimes tone down unsavoury elements of scripts that did not add to the power and authenticity of the story, but such a holistic approach struck me as incredibly wise.

So there you have it.

If you’re involved in church leadership, are you looking to support your actors? If you’re an actor, are you seeking out support from your church as you face the challenges of your profession? 

Who are you working with who is stretching you in your practice and making you step up in your skills?

Where do you draw the line in your own artistic practice? 

And of course, do you know what it is to stop asking all these important questions, and just have some fun?

Thanks Phil and Harri and all the guys who showed out. See you again in the Autumn.

I rap. I write. I help run Sputnik. Yes yes y’all.

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