Currently, 4th Line Theatre is remounting Robert Winslow’s play, Gimme That Prime Time Religion. Robert wrote the play in the late 1970s as a response to the rabid popularity of extreme televangelists, most notably, Reverend Ernest Angley. The play is a satire which targets people who use their charisma and influence over the faithful for their own personal glory and profit.
There has always been a theatrical element to religious gatherings; the church has attracted charismatic showmen throughout its history. Winslow himself has even confessed that in another time he might have been a minister. Winslow explores this fascinating tradition through his performance as Reverend Bobby Angel. In the late nineteenth century, tent revival meetings became a popular form of entertainment; hundreds of people attended meetings of the faithful and were driven into an evangelistic frenzy by impassioned orators like Billy Sunday who became major celebrities of their time. Sunday would preach to thousands of people without the aid of a microphone or amplification, demonstrating vocal prowess that would be the envy of any actor.
After the Great War, tent revivals began to decline in popularity, and evangelistic Christians discovered the power of radio. Radio gave preachers a global platform for their sermons and popular pastors like S. Parkes Cadman reached millions in their homes by way of this medium.
As televisions became a ubiquitous presence in the North American home, preachers quickly recognized their power, people like Rex Humbard, Oral Roberts and Later Jimmy Swaggart and Billy Graham produced some of the highest rated programs of the time period. The popularity of these powerful personalities is credited as one of the causes of the spike in American Protestantism in this time period.
The “Televangelists” as they are popularly known, became increasingly scrutinized by those within the religious community and in the secular public. The sensationalism of television didn’t favour the sober message of sacrifice and humility which characterize the values of many Christians; it favoured charismatic, manipulative men who sold a message of quick healing miracles and instant prosperity and success for the faithful.
When he wrote Gimme That Prime Time Religion, Robert was disgusted by these men who manipulated people’s hope and faith to obtain a profit; he was also fascinated by the magnetism and influence that they possessed. Robert’s play is an exploration of these themes, he asks, what are people looking for in religion, and how might a charming but avaricious businessman corrupt an individual’s desire for faith and hope?
Gimme That Prime Religion written by Robert Winslow, Ben Henderson, Marianne Copithorne, Murray McCune and Edward Lyszkiewicz runs Mondays through Saturdays until August 29, 2015 at the Winslow Farm. The play is directed by 4th Line Theatre Managing Artistic Director Kim Blackwell and stars Robert Winslow, Alison Palmer, Jeff Schissler, Tim Ziegler and Dian Marie Bridge as well as a youth chorus.
To book your tickets contact the box office at 705-932-4445 or 800-814-0055, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org