New book by Dr. Jill Stevenson examines end-time performance • Theater Arts • Marymount Manhattan College
If you watched AMC The Walking Dead or NBC The right placeyou have had a front row seat to witness a spectacle of the end times.
End times performances, presented in both fiction and non-fiction formats, are an integral part of American culture. Real-world threats like climate change are usually documented in mass media with an apocalyptic tone. Similar end-time scenarios have been depicted in books, articles, movies, plays, and other media. In Feeling the future during Christian performances of the end times, MMC Theater Arts Professor and Department Chair Dr. Jill Stevenson analyzes how end-time performances allow people to live in and through future time.
Her new book, published by University of Michigan Press, focuses specifically on end-time Christian performances, such as Hell Houses and Judgment Houses, where theater is used to provoke deep reflection on spirituality, time, and reality. end. “These houses are trying to create an experience of the future based on actions of today,” Stevenson says. “They create this idea that even though an End Times is biblically pre-written, the present moments determine how you are going to participate in it.”
Most of the End Times depictions analyzed in Stevenson’s book take place in October. To paint a picture: imagine going to a haunted house on Halloween, except instead of running away from vampires, werewolves, or similar conventional creatures, you’re an audience member of a shocking live performance depicting decisions personal morals that defy biblical injunctions. These performances are constructed to force a person to wonder what will happen to them after their death. The performances suggest that an individual’s final destination depends on the decisions they make every day.
The creators of end times Christian performances intentionally add powerful theatrical elements to put the participants in a vulnerable emotional state that depends on life and death. “Houses are considered a Christian alternative to Halloween,” Stevenson says. “Some of them sell like, ‘What’s actually scary? Ghosts, demons and jump scares – or the reality of what’s going to happen at the end of time?'”
End-time Christian performances use the power of live performance, Stevenson says. From special effects to movement, space and audience interaction, performances have a unique way of captivating participants and instilling powerful messages. “A lot of these performances are about how to prepare your soul for your own death or the ultimate end of time,” Stevenson says.
In addition to describing the phenomena of the performances themselves, Stevenson’s book explores the preparation for the end times in the real world. Such preparation includes meetings, workshops and survivalist forums that take place in local contexts and even on a global scale. While these meetings aren’t directly tied to End Times performances, they share many similarities, including a focus on threat and time. “There is a lot of overlap. Secular theology underpins much of the cultural preparation,” Stevenson says.
Although Stevenson has yet to develop a course on performance and end-time preparation, she has repeatedly taught a course on the ethics of performance re-enactment. Discussions with students in this course led her to become increasingly interested in exploring how theater creates historical time – in this case, future time.