A hand-picked group of 13 potential “Christian thought leaders” (see anyone you know?) sponsored by Veritas Riff (itself sponsored by Harvard-derived Veritas Forum) were recently put through an interesting proving-ground. They were given lessons in improvisation, theater, and media relations, one of the event participants, David Skeel, writes in The Wall Street Journal.
In late June, the fellows gathered in Cambridge, Mass., with the organizers and four “coaches” for four days of intensive training. Michael Cromartie, the group’s guide to the national media, listed, as journalists every Christian should know, such unlikely bedfellows as David Brooks and Camille Paglia. The fellows were given hands-on media training from Jody Hassett Sanchez, a former producer for ABC World News Tonight. Ms. Sanchez, who had carefully researched each of the fellows, conducted on-camera interviews, and then dissected the fellows’ performance.
Then came our theatrical training, led by Marianne Savell, the director of Actors Co-op Theatre Company in Hollywood. It started tamely enough, with a game called zip-zap-zop. (One fellow pointed to another and said “zip,” the other pointed to a third and said “zap;” those who spoke before pointing or said the wrong word were ousted from the circle). This exercise was supposed to teach us to maintain eye contact and be aware of how we physically interacted with each other.
But we soon found ourselves in the land of improvisation. In one game, two of the fellows sat on a bench discussing their friend Charlie; a third fellow was then instructed to join the group, and to act out whatever qualities the friends had attributed to him. One Charlie was, according to his friends, capable of playing two instruments at once but jerked his shoulders at odd times. In another game, the fellow was a precocious magician who could make people disappear, assisted by a woman with whom he’d once been in love. You get the idea. Communication, Ms. Savell told us, is about story, emotion and being in the moment—not just the ideas you are trying to get across.
What exactly is going on here? Tryouts for a new reality series to find the next Billy Graham? Veritas Forum says it’s looking to create university-level forums led by
presenters who are respected practitioners in the discipline or topic they address, have the ability to teach in a way that connects otherwise disconnected knowledge into a cohesive meta-narrative, and engage with participants with humility and grace.
This is all in the vein of “[exploring] the radical and ancient possibility of truth in the person and story of Jesus Christ” at any of the many college campuses in which they have an already established presence and at which an odd admixture of speakers from Madeleine L’Engle to Dallas Willard to N.T. Wright have spoken.
We wonder if The Episcopal Church has time to ponder such things for itself.