WITH rave reviews under her belt, Kristin Scott Thomas is
treading the boards as the Queen in The Audience, at the
Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London. Downstairs, the
front-of-house team are playing Uno, waiting for the interval and
the crowds that will swarming into this hushed space.
Sitting alongside them is the Associate Rector at St James's,
Piccadilly, and senior chaplain at Theatre Chaplaincy UK (TCUK),
the Revd Lindsay Meader. It is only the fourth day of this run of
The Audience, but Ms Meader has known these young people
"I've never had any connection with anyone in the Church,"
Sophie, one of the theatre staff, says. "I don't see you [Ms
Meader] as someone from the Church, but just as a friend, which is
nice. There is not any sense of 'You have to believe this,' or a
judgemental attitude. You just have a nice presence. It's not that
you are trying to change us."
Josh agrees. He assumed that Christians had a problem with gay
people, but says that Ms Meader is "not narrow-minded". "If you
were anti-gay, this would be the worst for you," Sophie jokes.
Adam, who, like many of the team, is an actor, recalls how a
theatre chaplain gave him "fantastic support" when he broke his leg
during a run at Drury Lane. "I didn't know that theatre chaplains
existed until he came to visit me," he remembers. "Then I was made
aware of weekly meetings in the theatre, just for a chat and
getting worries off your mind."
He speaks of a misconception that actors are confident.
"Actually, we are very scared. We worry about what people think
about us. Realising that you are not the only one helped me."
The easy atmosphere is testament to the rapport that Ms Meader
has built with the staff. When she helped relaunch the Actors'
Church Union three years ago (it was rebranded as TCUK in 2013),
she discovered that theatre chaplains were not universally
cherished by those in the business. In conversation with company
managers, she learned about chaplains who were known as "celebrity
stalkers", or who sought to convert the cast.
Some of the managers had never had a chaplain, and others were
nervous about employing one. It took Ms Meader 18 months just to
get in the door at her first theatre.
A turning point was the partial ceiling collapse at the Apollo
in December 2013. Three months later, the CEO of Nimax Theatres,
Nica Burns, invited Ms Meader and the Revd Simon Grigg, Rector of
the "Actors' Church", St Paul's, Covent Garden, and Chaplain to the
Garrick Theatre, to conduct a blessing for the refurbished
They developed a liturgy together, and, wearing robes and using
incense and holy water, led a procession through the stalls,
"rehallowing and reclaiming the sacred space".
The response from those present - which included builders,
painters, and technicians as well as the theatre staff - was
initially sceptical. But it was felt to be "healing", and, with the
endorsement of Ms Burns, now a patron of TCUK, other theatres began
to open their doors.
"Theatre demands a lot," the Revd Edward Olsworth-Peter
says. He is about to become the diocesan adviser for Fresh
Expressions and Young Adults in Ely, and was the chaplain who had
supported Adam. "It is quite an uncertain profession, and you can
be in work, then out of work. Chaplains are there to help people in
an uncertain industry."
Ms Meader has listened to people talking about relationship
problems, bereavement, and unhappiness within companies. Some
people may feel bullied or isolated.
It is not just - or even primarily - about the actors, she
explains. "The whole point is to be there for everybody. Most of
the actors are well established, living in London already, with a
really good support network."
Front-of-house staff are often talented people with dreams of
acting, writing, and directing, she says. She can sympathise: she
took a degree in drama and post-modern literature, before joining a
training theatre in Exeter. But two bad car accidents ended her
hopes of a career on stage.
"I never blamed God, but realising that that dream was not going
to happen was like a huge bereavement," she says.
It was partly through meeting an actor who was open about his
faith that led her to seek ordination. At the first service she
attended with her mother, the priest compared the beauty of the
language in Genesis to that in Shakespeare, and something
Ms Meader hopes to add more chaplains to their number. "I feel
extremely blessed being ordained," she says. "But to end up still
being part of the theatre community, in what feels like the most
appropriate role - I feel very lucky."
The Inaugural Theatre Chaplaincy UK lecture, by the former
Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, takes place at St Paul's
Church, Bedford Street, on Wednesday 27 May.
Long history In 1879, the Revd Stewart
Headlam formed the Church and Stage Guild, to "get rid of the
prejudices widely felt by religious people against the stage, and
by theatrical people against the Church." In 1898, the Revd Donald
Hole and an actor, Charlie Cameron, formed the Actors' Church Union
(ACU), so that actors could receive "helpful ministrations from the
Church". By the outbreak of the First World War, there were 1828
members and 349 chaplains.
The ACU was a practical organisation. It produced a "digs list"
to help companies locate accommodation.
The TCUK's website says that theatre chaplains still seek to be
a source of stability and support to theatre professionals. There
are now 16 chaplains in London, and 20 around the country, as well
as five in Scotland.
The Bishop of Stafford, the Rt Revd Geoff Annas, a stager in his
youth, has been a theatre chaplain for 20 years, currently at the
Regent Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent. He has conducted communion
services in dressing rooms, dealt with deaths among the company and
in the audience, and said prayers before curtain-up.
"I think there is something about artistic people: a spiritual
awareness and sensitivity," he says - though they often lack
someone to pull things together. He remembers one production when
he went from from dressing room to dressing room, hearing in each
that the occupant was disappointed to be the only Christian in the