By Nancy Cawley Zugschwert ’19 M.A.
“When I surrendered my art to Jesus, God changed my life. He equipped me and gave me what I needed to do, more with Him than I could have ever done on my own. God revealed to me how to make a big impact with small means because of his power, not my own. He broke me and fit me back together according to his plans, not my own. He saved me from my plans!”
These words, written in his book “Kill Your Art: A Street Performer’s Guide to being a Messenger of Jesus Christ” (Steiger Press, 2017), give a glimpse into what makes Philip Shorey ’01 tick. And surrendering his art and his heart to God’s leading has led him to be a minister of the Gospel in unusual ways and places.
Shorey is the founder of The Suitcase Sideshow and The Curse of the Vampire Orchestra. He and his wife, Sari, serve as career missionaries through Steiger. The very names of his endeavors may cause a believer to raise an eyebrow or even bristle, but unpacking the figurative suitcase of Shorey’s art leads to a cornucopia of creativity for reaching the lost.
The Suitcase Sideshow is a portable street theater. From the streets and parks of Minneapolis to neighborhoods and brothels in Brazil, Shorey and his troupe have transformed a trunk into a theater to do 25-minute shows featuring dance, music, and marionette puppets. “Right now, we have ‘The Sailor in the Boat,’” Shorey explained, “which is a parable of a parable—The Prodigal Son.” The stories can translate into any language, and Shorey often sings in the local language while playing his accordion.
“It’s for all ages,” Shorey said, “and we prefer to go to fringe places where there is no theater. Our call is to homeless shelters, orphanages, safe housing for women, encampments, and people on the streets. We’ve taken it to environments where you won’t typically find art or theater, and we bring it in as a gift for people to experience this moment of sanctuary in a hard situation.”
Shorey points out that the idea of a traveling theater experience for evangelism is not original. He is the fourth generation in his family to use puppets as a tool for sharing the Gospel. In “Kill Your Art,” Shorey said, “My great-grandfather, Aksel Rasmussen … joined the Salvation Army as a preacher and a street performer in their marching band after receiving Jesus into his life at one of their meetings in the 1920s. Later, Aksel picked up marionettes with his son and traveled all over Canada and the United States doing the same sort of thing.”
Street performance is never perfect, and Shorey has a trunk full of stories about when things didn’t go as planned. In his book, he recalled one particular show where everything went awry—no power, tangled puppets, messed-up props—and although they did the show, he felt foolish for all its faults. The experience reminded him of his reliance upon God and God’s mercy in rewarding obedience. “A man came up to me, completely touched by the [disastrous] show,” Shorey wrote. “He shared with me about his terrible day and how he was struggling with going back to the bottle to numb his pain. But after seeing the show, he had changed his mind and would not give in. Afterwards, I thanked God for his mercy. My art was killed in its quality, worldly success, and pride, but God was able to awaken new life from it for His glory!”
Inroads for the Gospel
An original project came to be when Shorey debuted The Curse of the Vampire Orchestra, which he describes as “a volunteer orchestra that uses both proclamation and discipleship to reach classical musicians and the general public”—particularly youth.
“We incorporate into this community of an international volunteer orchestra a relational discipleship process, and we share the story of the Gospel in an allegorical way” based on different silent films.
Shorey composed an original score to accompany the silent film “Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror” (1922) and recruited musicians in the United States and Europe for the production’s launch. The show has played at major festivals in Europe, and its Minneapolis debut was at The Music Box Theater in October 2018.
“I see my work like any type of missions,” Shorey said. “It’s just like you would send a team to build some low-income housing in Africa or build an outhouse in a village or dig a well—that’s their inroad to share the Gospel. My inroad is film scoring and being a composer for an orchestra.”
‘God has lifted me up’
Shorey sees beauty in the process not because of what he does but because of what God does through it. “It’s not that I’m the best at it, but God is still able to use it,” he reflected. “I’m someone who gave it up, went to the street, and God has lifted me up.”
The unexpected venue of an old silent film set to music impacts the musicians who make up the orchestra and those who come to see the show. “They’re all in it for different reasons,” Shorey said, “but by the end of the time, some are ready to receive Christ, others’ faith has gone deeper, and together we all proclaim a message of God’s love in a creative way to thousands of people.”
During the pandemic, Shorey finished working on a second film score that will be used with a classic Charlie Chaplin film, hopefully opening later this year. He has learned that surrendering his art means letting God do something with it that he can’t. “Once you submit to the Creator,” Shorey said, “success is defined by obedience, not popularity—it’s a reframing of your mind. It may mean that for a while you don’t do something or may need to let it go. But when He calls you to do something, He’ll give you the means to do it.”
Learn more about Philip and Sari Shorey at steiger.org/shorey
This article first appeared in the Spring 2021 NCU Magazine