You might remember that a few weeks ago on this site, I mentioned that Robert L. Short wrote The Gospel According to Peanuts in 1965. Well, I got that book out of UT’s excellent library, and since our rehearsals for YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN begin very soon, I started reading.
Mr. Short was able to clearly articulate something that I have always felt very deeply, but could never explain very well. My best explanation for how we choose plays for The WordPlayers has always gone something like this: “There’s a difference between good preaching and good theatre. We love good preaching and God bless all good preachers, but we want to do good theatre.” Um, OK, Terry, but what does that mean exactly?
Mr. Short helps me to know what I mean: “Art has a way of getting around man’s intellectual and emotional prejudices. This is because art always speaks indirectly – whether in being the vehicle for delivering a new answer, or in causing a new kind of question to be asked.” (Short 13)
I might disagree that all art speaks indirectly. However, excellent art, including theatre, usually does. It’s this indirectness that disarms people of their prejudices and allows them to enter into a discussion or a new way of seeing themselves or others or some aspect of the human condition. It allows for the story to resonate without being shut down by preconceptions.
Then, Short shares with us one of the Peanuts strips where Charlie Brown learns that indirectness might be more effective than in-your-face directness. In the first panel, Charlie Brown shouts to Violet, “BELIEVE IN ME!” Violet walks on by. The second panel shows him shouting “BELIEVE IN ME!” to Snoopy, who also walks past. Then, Charlie Brown tries shouting “BELIEVE IN ME!” to Lucy, who, of course, ignores him. The last panel shows Charlie Brown dejectedly saying to himself, “I just can’t get people to believe in me.”
In 1965, Robert L. Short regarded this to be an important lesson for the American Church. I suppose it’s a lesson that, nearly 50 years later, many churches, individual Christians, playwrights, and actors must continually embrace.
– Terry Weber