When Kevin O'Brien was an atheist, he credited a "creative force" for the inspiration that went into his acting, playwriting and composing. Without it, he said, performances tended to be flat and uninteresting.
Then he realized there was more to the creative process. There was, he said, "something tangible," and that insight led him to believe in "something spiritual." By 1997, he was calling himself a generic Christian and soon after a Protestant.
In 2000, he and his wife, Karen, were received into the Catholic Church.
Now he has no doubt about the source of his creative inspiration. "I believe it's the work of the Holy Spirit," he told Our Sunday Visitor.
O'Brien is the founder of Theater of the Word Incorporated, in St. Louis, Mo., and "incorporated" is not just a legal designation.
"Incorporated literally means the Word became flesh, and I think that all art, and dramatic art in particular, is incarnational," he said. "We take words on paper and flesh them out. If you are acting, you flesh out an idea. If you are working in stone or clay, or whatever, you do the same. I think the Lord has given us the tremendous grace of entering into something similar to creation, and we create because he creates."
Since 1989, O'Brien has run Upstage Productions, a dinner theater with interactive comedy-mysteries that are popular as parish and school fundraisers. But he wanted something more.
"We were zealous for our faith, and we thought for a long time that it would be a good idea to evangelize," he said. "But we had no idea how to do this."
The providential journey began with doing scenes for EWTN's series on G.K. Chesterton, "The Apostle of Common Sense." Then he did a one-man show on Catholic apologist Hilaire Belloc, and took that on the road. Next were shows with Catholic themes and characters.
The breakthrough came when their work caught the attention of Father Joseph Fessio, the founder of Ignatius Press, who encouraged O'Brien to develop a serious plan for evangelization through theater. In 2007, O'Brien founded Theater of the Word Incorporated as the umbrella for the live drama and his projects with EWTN and Ignatius Press.
"We are not trying to reach Catholics as an intellectual audience, but rather we are hoping to reach the more ordinary Catholics who are in a little more need of a true conversion," O'Brien said.
"We're out to capture the muddled middle -- the people who go to church and mean well, but because of poor catechism, they don't know much about the faith. We are reaching Catholics who may not go to a lecture or buy a book, but they may be drawn to see a play at their parish."
O'Brien performs solo shows as Belloc ("Old Thunder") and King David, and stars in "St. Paul the Apostle," the most popular now in the Church's Pauline year.
"We tell the story and bring him about to the point of martyrdom," O'Brien said. "People see how this man had an incredible conversion and then gave his life. I think this astonishes them. A lot of Catholics don't really know who this man was, and when they see this show, they are very moved."
The company also performs "The Passion of Christ" and a powerful pro-life drama called "Sarah's Secret." In "Socrates Meets Jesus," based on Peter Kreeft's book, the ancient philosopher comes back to life in a contemporary college setting and uses intellectual reasoning to confront students with a case for Christ. "The Quest For Shakespeare" is based on the book by Joseph Pearce, an apologist and a former agnostic and political radical. The premise is that the point of view in Shakespeare's work suggests that he was a Catholic.
"The Great Adventure of Faith" is packed with action and fun as young members of the audience are called on stage to participate. The hero, Any Kid, gets baptized at the beginning but is stolen by the villain, Deadly Dark. Any Kid has to make choices, and the outcome of the play is based on those choices.
TWI's newest drama is "Little Saint of the Poor," the story of Jeanne Jugan, the founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor who will be canonized in October.
The theater company has its own series on EWTN and makes regular appearances in "The Apostle of Common Sense." They also perform the drama on Shakespeare for a television audience. The made-for-TV movie "The Surprise," by Chesterton, is a Christmas classic.
"I see all of this as a way of more intensely living out my faith," O'Brien said. "I feel very blessed and it was clear that I was made for this and called to do this."
Visit www.thewordinc.org for more information.