The Prophetic Vocation of (Theatre) Artists

One of theatre’s great prophets: Augusto Boal

by John Ellis

Are artists prophets? Specifically, are theatre artists prophets? Your answer, in large part, will depend on how you define prophet (and artist). For me, the controlling definition of prophet is found in the biblical distinction between prophet and priest: Prophets speak to the people on behalf of God; priests speak to God on behalf of the people. With that in mind, I believe that artists should be prophets. The role of the artist is to speak truth to people.

Throughout the history of art, a problem constantly emerges. Artists have traded their prophetic birthright for cheap applause. But when people are applauding you, are they really listening to you? Likely, if an artist has “earned” the esteem and applause of the crowd, that artist is merely telling the audience what they want to hear. And audiences rarely want to hear the truth.

For my further thoughts on this topic, I encourage you to click the link below. My friend Kristin Post invited me on her podcast to discuss this very topic (you’ll also get my mini review of the documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond and, in the middle of it, you’ll get to hear my son get a glass of water. I didn’t realize my mic could pick that up – sorry, Kristin). Please listen and tell me if you agree with me and Kristin that artists are (should be) prophets.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

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