I truly feel I am like clay in God’s hands

A woman dances at the front of a church.
Carlynn Reed performs at Chinese New Year celebrations at St. Philip on-the-Hill, Unionville in January.
 on April 1, 2020
Michael Hudson

Carlynn Reed is a dancer and teacher.

Twenty-five years ago, I was teaching academic subjects and drama at a private high school in Toronto. Then a car accident radically changed my life. After a leave of absence, I managed to continue teaching part-time for a couple of years, but then had to stop because of the pressure to teach full-time. At the very moment of transition, I got a call from the Rev. Canon Kim Beard asking me if I would be available to run an adult drama program at St. Bede’s in Scarborough. I said to him, “Funny you should be contacting me at just this time.”  Long story short, I worked at St. Bede’s for the next three years, growing the program into a community-wide theatre outreach. It was a wonderful collaborative and creative experience in which I was encouraged to write a lot of scripts, including full feature performances. During my time there, I continued to heal until the pain totally left my body.

After Kim left St. Bede’s, I opened my drama studio, Imagiscape, in our basement, writing and directing shows for kids and adults from the community. I taught classes, coached kids for auditions, and ran improv theatre sessions. I wrote all the scripts, tailoring them for the specific kids training with me at the time. Then I got a call from the Rev. Canon Jim Garland to head up the children and young adults’ ministry at St Paul, L’Amoreaux. For a while I tried to work for both the church and my studio, but it was too much. I finally had to let my studio work go and devoted myself to the ministry at St. Paul’s, which happily included doing theatre with kids and adults. After seven years there, I was feeling God was calling me to fine-tune my ministry and calling. By then I was getting more involved in the Toronto dance community and needed more flexibility in my schedule, so I left St. Paul’s, not knowing exactly how God was intending to organize my life and gifts. A week later, I got a phone call from St. Philip’s, Unionville, asking me to consider leading a drama ministry there. Two weeks later I began my first group. That was eight years ago!

The drama ministry at St. Philip’s has grown to three groups, ages four to 15. We also do a musical theatre camp for one week in July. I am super excited about all of this! I get the opportunity to play a significant role in the spiritual formation of kids, some of whom in the high school group have been training with me for all eight years. They perform in church on Sunday mornings every six weeks. Scripts are dramatic interpretations of the scriptures. Because of this regular exposure, the kids are well known to the adults in the congregation, and they are gaining confidence in speaking up publicly, which I believe is helping their leadership formation.

Outside the church, I work on dance and theatre projects that emerge out of my own life themes and issues. Several years ago, I co-created a piece on care-giving with Jonathon Neville and Dennis Hassell, which we toured across Canada as well as parts of New England.  Jonathon’s mom had Alzheimer’s and my son had a disabling pain condition which was confusing and life-stopping.

At the present time, at the age of 75, I find myself interested more and more in thoughts around aging and loss, and I’m thrilled to be working with Harold Tausch, actor and dancer-in-training, who is 70 years old. Through honest dialogue, anger, tears, a generous supply of humour, and five dance pieces, we are creating a 45-minute show that we hope will be ready in the fall. We plan to perform it as a stage production, and possibly to film it as well. In this piece, we are exploring that crossroad in later life where we have to decide if we’re going to give up, coast or engage.

I did not have the privilege of dance immersion and training as a child. I even grew up without TV! Being an army family, we moved often from one military camp to another. I had zero exposure to the dance world, and with five kids, money was scarce. My physical outlet was sports, so I played on all the school teams. In high school, I had some small opportunities to act, and then in my senior year, our family moved again. So it wasn’t until I was a young adult that the dance world became a viable force. In the midst of going to school and having my own kids, I began a modest training program. From the beginning, I was interested in choreography and liturgical dance. When we lived in Connecticut, I formed a group called “With Timbrel and Dance” that performed throughout the diocese and at a West Point wedding. In our church, I began “The Church Street Players,” an adult, then intergenerational theatre group that also performed throughout the diocese. One year we won best play for the National Episcopal Liturgical Commission.

I did not grow up in a religious/spiritual/church family. If anything, they were anti-church. But at the age of 16 I felt the hunger and began to search for God. Again, I had no guidance, so I started by getting a few philosophy books out of the library. Then I started attending a nearby mainline church. Both of these options turned out to be quite dry and unsatisfactory. But my hunger to know God was growing. At the age of 18, I went forward at a Billy Graham crusade.  Someone prayed for me and gave my information to the dry church pastor who visited me and thought I was quite bright. He asked me to teach Sunday School. I did, but I knew I was a big fake. I knew nothing about the Bible and my hunger for God was still suffering. Then I met my future husband, David Reed, who at that time was active in the Pentecostal Church. Now, here was someone who actually had a confident, knowledgeable, intimate relationship with God. Our dates invariably included long interrogations on my part about God and the Church, to which David happily responded. I met with his pastor, who gave me instructions on how to pray, which boiled down to my talking (out loud) on my knees to God. For awhile my voice just bounced around the walls, until one night I knew I was within a whisper of the Holy God. A heavy curtain had been removed and I knew I was in the presence of the Divine.

I consider my faith journey and dance/theatre development to be inextricably intertwined. Today I am training and practicing more than I have at any other stage in my life – around 20 hours a week. Besides my own daily two-hour training sessions, I take three ballet classes and one tap class, and practice with my dance partner three afternoons every week. It takes this level of commitment to bring a level of excellence to the work. I have only gradually begun to understand this over the last 10 years. Although it can be a maddeningly slow process, it is also full of epiphanies when my body teaches me something about God and creation. Dance requires an unlimited supply of patience mixed with a ferocious hunger for elegance and strength and movement clarity. I truly feel I am like clay in God’s hands while being shaped into a more articulate artist. I thank God in wonder at each minor sign of progress.

Five years from now, I hope I am creating and teaching and shaping stories through dance and theatre.

I get excited about whatever scripture is currently inspiring a project. I love the Sermon on the Mount, which I have written into a movement theatre piece called Mountain Top Talk, performed in duet or group. I am moved by scriptures that speak of the confidence we have in God, as in Romans 8:38-39, or ones that speak of our clear journey with God, as in Romans 8:25,  or how intricately God has created us, as in Psalms 139:14, or how we can do so much more than we realize when we are being coached by God, as in Ephesians 3:20.


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