Interview: Philip Shorey on Killing Your Art

For this interview, I got to sit down with Philip Shorey from the Suitcase Sideshow, and talk to him about his new book, Kill Your Art. He shared with me the heart behind his book, where God is leading him, and how we, as a community, can be praying for him.
Isaac Hurst

Isaac is Provoke&Inspire producer and staff writer. His roles include producing the Provoke&Inspire Podcast, and serving as a writer for other P&I web and social media content. Isaac is also the drummer for the evangelistic band, No Longer Music.

Philip, for those who missed our previous interview with you, could you explain what the Suitcase Sideshow is?

The Suitcase Sideshow is a traveling, street theater that presents the Gospel. I like to say it brings a message of hope to hard to reach corners of the world. It’s most known for its marionettes and steampunk, trunk theater, including shows like “Blessed are the Poor,” a modern story of Jesus, and “The Sailor and the Boat.” But it’s grown into being a sort of house where lots of things are happening in its different rooms - like new resources coming out on sharing the Gospel through artistic means. We’re making a musical album, too, which is like a marionette soundtrack with all the background music from our previous shows. We basically go wherever people hangout, and present a very mature story about Jesus; it’s not just for kids.

You recently released a book. Tell us about it, and what inspired you to write it.

It’s called Kill Your Art: A Street Performer's Guide to Being a Messenger of Jesus Christ. I came back from a tour in Istanbul in 2015, and what was going on there was really exciting. It reminded me of the need for some sort of tool for sharing the Gospel on the streets through art. Typically, when I train a new team of people, I share a list of things I’ve learned - like the “DNA” and mindset that I have - so I felt like this should be written in a book. I know much of it has been said before, but not in the way that I would say it, and not for my specific audience.

I started writing it as one book about the 100 years of puppet history in my family - of using puppets to share the Gospel. Then I was going to put all this Kill Your Art stuff at the end, as an appendix. However, I realized the material was for two different audiences: the puppet stories could be for anybody, but Kill Your Art was more specifically for ministry-minded people. So I decided to write two books, and I chose to start with Kill Your Art because it seemed easier, while the other would require a lot of historical research.

Are you already in the process of writing the second one?

Yeah, but I’m taking a little break from it now. I’ll start it again in the Fall, when I visit my family, as I’m going to do some interviews with them. The title of that book will be Travelogues of a Family Sideshow.

What’s your vision for how God might use this book? Did you have a specific purpose in mind, or was it just write it, release it and see what happens?

The first circle of people that this book is for is anyone in ministry, especially people involved in missions, that are using art to share the Gospel. There are a lot of YWAM bases and youth groups going on missions trips and doing street mime or drama. I feel like a lot of the leaders of those short-term teams are constantly trying to “re-invent the wheel” on how to share Jesus’ message in an artistic way. The next tier would be Christian artists who are wanting to use their art to share the Gospel, but aren’t sure how. Then beyond that, it would be for people who are artists and Christians, but aren't really sure what to do with their art. It’s not really meant to inspire people to use their art, although I hope it does. It’s more of a teaching tool for those who are already there and want to go all in.

That being said, I’ve had business men and women, who are not artists at all, say they love the book and found it very inspiring. There’s even a book club of people who are not artists - some aren’t even Christians - and they’ve chosen to go through Kill Your Art together. I think many different kinds of people will get something unique from it.

I imagine some people might be offended by the book - Christians who are artists, but don’t really like the idea of using art to share the Gospel because they want to “make it” in the secular scene. As I state in the book, I’m not trying to create a set of rules to manipulate people or to say that somehow you’re a really bad person if you don’t use your art to share Jesus. However, I do challenge people to go into the woods and pray and ask God for His heart. Because anything that you do, if it isn’t from a heart of love for people, becomes legalistic and pointless. But if God actually gives you His heart for people who are broken and lost, and you think maybe your art can be used as a really powerful tool for the kingdom of God, then you better do something about that. The heart comes first, though. “Heart over Art” is my motto throughout the book.

Is this the first book you’ve written? How was the writing process for you?

Yes, it is. I’d been thinking about writing it for the past ten years, basically since I started the Suitcase Sideshow. It’s been in the back of my mind like: “Someday, I’m going to write a book about this.” It took me about four months to write everything. A lot of it was just compiling journals and things that I had written over the past ten years, and then finding the overarching theme which was Kill Your Art. John 12:24 says that unless a seed goes into the ground and dies, it won’t produce much fruit. It’s like the principle of the resurrection: kill your art so it can truly live. This idea that if you surrender your “seed” to Jesus, and let it die, then it produces fruit, and great things happen. But first, it’s that step of surrender, where you die to yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Jesus. That is the theme.

What is your vision for the future, whether it is Suitcase Sideshow-related or ministry-related in general? What do you see happening in the near future or next couple of years?

Man, I am sort of a day-by-day kind of guy - not literally, but I usually make plans for six months to a year. This is mostly because I don’t know what’s going to happen in that year, and how that’s going to alter future priorities. However, our vision remains the same. The book is becoming a new platform for me to mentor artists; to challenge them and teach them to preach the Gospel through their art. I think in the future, we will probably start a Kill Your Art Bible Study with Steiger Minnesota, or at least just go through the book together. I’m trying to get the book out into lots of different circles, to many different gatekeepers. We do plan to tour again, but we’re trying to be faithful to our calling in our current young family situation. This means sometimes not touring, but having a local bible study. I just came back from Brazil, where I was talking about Kill Your Art and getting some work done for future releases. The book is going to be translated into Portuguese along with my comic, Curse of the Vampire, which is coming out soon. We have some local shows coming up, and we’re training a new local team to do our “Sailor and the Boat” show. We just do what we can to keep going with what we have and in the season where we are in.

Lastly, how can the Come&Live! Community be praying for you?

I think we all need prayer. For those who aren’t doing this full time, the distractions of the world can really turn us away from the vision. I think we have to pray for a renewal and understanding of the Gospel - that our message doesn’t get old. You know, you preach the same message for years, and it can easily just become words. Like, “This is what I say at the end of a show,” or “This is how I share the Gospel.” We need to stay impressed with the Gospel, and continue finding new ways to share it. I guess that’s my biggest prayer request as I move forward, and I imagine it’s the same for a lot of other people.

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