I think it’s a good sign if you can hold the hands of someone playing a corpse and just feel so much life, you know?
Ripeka: Yeah, we just hit it off. Everything’s sped up with the theatre because you’re spending nearly six days a week together; you’re spending all this time together, and you’re working on these big projects, and it really just becomes your life. You’re so passionate about the play, and that’s when I think we found that we can actually work together really well. We’re both so passionate about Shakespeare, and we just got on. We just wanted to hang out, didn’t we?
For many people in the arts, encountering Jesus changes both how they see the world and how they approach their art. What’s that been like for you as you’ve navigated life as artists and also as Christians?
Eddie: I think one of the things that definitely shapes the whole experience and process that I want to take people on as a director is that through the work, I want be a living witness to Jesus in the work that we do, and to make sure that for everybody in that experience, that all their mana is recognised, that they are uplifted, and that they find it a really positive experience. I’ve worked with some Christian theatre companies as well where prayer has been included in that process. We’ve also worked in secular environments where that hasn’t been so explicit, but we’re caring for people as we make that work and, really, nobody is left behind. I’ve also worked on productions where they have a really strong commercial basis—it’s quite transactional in some ways. But I think it’s about creating ensemble, doing everything that we can to create that ensemble—it’s about the heart and a living witness rather than about any sort of commercial transactional basis.
Ripeka: I never worked with a Christian theatre company. In London, it seemed like your faith and your art were very separate, and I didn’t think about it. Those worlds didn’t really meet for me. I had my own faith, but I didn’t shove it in people’s faces. I didn’t hide it either. But then I came to New Zealand and we ended every day with a karakia, and it was just such a natural integration—Indigenous integration, Christian integration. It was just a whole new world. It was like, “You can be that light,” and it’s totally fine—you don’t have to separate these things. I was really sort of annoyed when God asked me to be a minister because I thought, “Oh, I just want to be an actor. I don’t understand why you’re calling me to the ministry.” Now I get it because you don’t leave it behind—I’m not supposed to be separating the arts and ministry, I’m supposed to be doing it together.
Eddie: I think there’s this idea that people in a church context throw about, which goes, “Are you going to be bivocational?” I think I’ve struggled with the idea of being bivocational. Actually, my vocation encompasses both things. I am a whole person, and the whole of me is going to be thrown into both of those things in whatever way, shape, or form that takes. I mean, what are we doing in the Eucharist? What are we doing in church? It’s theatre, connection, and art—it’s got the comedic moments as well—and it’s wonderful. All the mistakes too.
So, what do you see as the place of the arts in the church? What dreams do you have for bringing your acting and directing backgrounds into church?
Ripeka: I think we and the congregation could all together put on a play, tell a story—whether it be a historical event in Aotearoa [New Zealand] or whether it be Shakespeare … perhaps we want to bring to life a particular story of Scripture. There’s just something wonderful that happens when you’re putting on the play. That would be the dream for me—maybe once a year we all put on this play, whether people are costuming, or selling tickets, or making the cups of tea, or doing the hair and makeup, or acting, or music …. That would be the dream for me—that we actually start telling these stories together.
Eddie: I would love to see some more gospel narratives in a highly dramatised way. I hate to say that theatre is like an evangelistic tool—it’s more about being a living witness to Jesus in the work that we make as artists—but I think that we’re able to explore so many emotions and the beauty of the human experience through play and drama, whatever that story is. I have a deep love of Shakespeare, and I have my suspicions that Shakespeare’s plays actually present a very strong gospel narrative. I would like to lean into that and see how far we can push a gospel narrative through Shakespeare’s plays.