Balancing Truth and Love

from Classblog via Flickr
from Classblog via Flickr

Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!” Genesis 37:9 (NLT)

In today’s chapter, the book of Genesis takes up the story of Joseph who was Jacob’s son by Rachel. One of the stark contrasts we immediately see in the young Joseph is that he is a plain spoken truth teller born into a family system steeped in deception. Joseph had a dream and shared the dream with his brothers despite the ill-will and retribution it generated from his brothers. In this way, Joseph foreshadows the prophets who would also share God’s message through their dreams and visions and earn the ill-will and retribution of the nation.

Followers of Jesus are commanded to “speak the truth in love,” but I have come to appreciate the courage required to faithfully do so. Speaking truth often requires us to say what others do not want to hear. Doing it “in love” requires us to bless and be gracious with those who will respond to truth the way Joseph’s brothers did.

I have always struggled to balance my desire to be an obedient truth-teller with my personality of being a people pleaser. So often I err too far to one extreme or the other. When I speak truth I often harden myself so as to build up the courage to do so and it comes out as callous and angry. When I try to speak in love I often soften myself to the point that I conceal truth and avoid any potential unpleasantness it would generate. Once again, I find myself trying to find the point of tension between the two extremes. I hope as I get older I’m learning to get it right once in a while.

Preparing for a Role: Keeping Focus When Siri Joins You on Stage

One of the things that I love about live theatre is the fact that it is, in fact, “live.” Movies and television spend countless hours honing and perfecting exactly what they want you to see how they want you to see it. Actors get to deliver their line over and over and over again for a camera. The cinematographer gets to make them look good, the sound editor makes them sound good, and the editor gets to choose the perfect take or use computer wizardry to alter it so that it’s the perfect performance for the audience in the movie theater to see. Stage actors, on the other hand, are out there on their own live and in person. While the lighting and costume crew have done an admirable job to make the actors look good, the truth is that the actor is out there on their own in front of a live audience. Despite weeks of rehearsal to ensure that everything goes as planned, the possibility exists that almost anything can go horribly wrong in the moment.

Talk to stage veterans and they will have plenty of stories about the crazy, unexpected things that happen on stage for which you have no control and must find a way to improvise and carry on as best you can. In my post 10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success, the number one thing on my list was the way that being an actor and a theatre major taught me to keep focus and improvise in any number of difficult and unexpected situations:

The great thing about the stage is that when it’s live and you’re up in front of that audience anything can, and does, happen. Dropped lines, missed entrances, or malfunctioning props require you to improvise while maintaining your cool. Theatre taught me how to focus, think quickly and make do while giving the impression that you’ve got it all under control. It’s served me well when clients, airlines, coworkers, or technology wreak unexpected havoc at the worst possible moment.

The other night in dress rehearsal for Ah, Wilderness! I had one of my most humbling and unnerving experiences on stage in 35 years. First of all, I must start with a confession that I committed a cardinal sin of the stage by having my iPhone in my suit coat pocket. If you’ve followed my blog or Facebook feed you’ll know that I love to capture pictures of the hidden world of the theatre backstage and moments that the audience never sees. So, during the rehearsal process I’ve kept my iPhone close so as to snap a few of these pictures back stage.

On Tuesday night my iPhone was in my breast coat pocket, but I had also slipped my reading glasses in that pocket without giving it a thought. As we got into the first scene of Act II the reading glasses, which must have been resting against the phone in just the right way, pushed the button on my iPhone kicking in the familiar tone for Siri, the iPhone’s talking digital assistant.

Ding-Ding
Dong-Dong

I will not print the words which entered my brain at the moment I heard those tones coming from my coat. Panic struck, but I realized that I had to ignore the sounds coming from my suit jacket as I calmly played out this family scene set in 1906 as if nothing happened out of the ordinary.

Ding-Ding
Dong-Dong

I fumbled my line as my brain raced, trying to figure out a way to inconspicuously get my phone out of my pocket and off stage or turned off or anything that might keep Siri from making her unwanted stage debut in the Eugene O’Neill classic.

Ding-Ding
Dong-Dong

#$&@! It kept happening! I told myself to ignore the phone and to try to keep from moving in such a way that it would go off again. “Just focus!” I told myself, “and play out the scene as if nothing happened.”

Ding-Ding

At this point in the scene my character was trying to convince his son, Arthur, to sing a song for the family. Continuing to muster all the concentration I could, I calmly delivered my line center stage:

…Why not give us a song or two now? You can play for him, can’t you, Mildred?

Dong-Dong

It was right about that time I heard Siri’s robotic female voice answering from my breast pocket:

I’m very sorry, Tom. I can’t play any music for you right now.

Fortunately, the exceptional young actors from Central College admirably maintained their composure and carried on as if nothing happened. Humiliated, I got through the scene and put my iPhone in my backpack where it should have been all along. Leave it to the old veteran to get caught making a rookie mistake. Mea culpa. Mea culpa.

Once again, however, it illustrates the exciting nature of live theatre. When you’re watching  fallible human beings playing out a story on stage live and in the moment, you never know what what you might happen to witness.

We are Family

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 36

This is the account of the descendants of Esau (also known as Edom). Genesis 36:1 (NLT)

As I read today’s chapter I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering to “the rest of the story.” All of these descendants of Esau (also known as Edom) would become the Edomites who would live in constant conflict with the descendants of Israel. The prophet Obadiah’s message was against the Edomites. The conflict was between tribes who shared a common ancestor.

That is also true of the conflicts we read about on the internet and see on the television today. The nation of Israel trace their lineage back through Isaac to Abraham. The arab nations trace their lineage back through Ishmael to Abraham. They are all sons of Abraham.

We can cast the net even wider. DNA projects being carried on by National Geographic and other groups are tracing the common genetic strands of everyday people all over the world in order to learn more about how tribes and nations and peoples spread across the earth. What modern genetics has determined is [surprise!] we all, every person on this Earth can trace their genes back to the same woman.

I can also pull the net in close to find this theme played out around me each day. I live in a small Iowa town founded by a small handful of Dutch immigrant families. “Dutch Bingo” is what we call the game that locals play when they start conversationally tracing family trees in order to find a connection. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard or witnessed casual friends or neighbors playing Dutch Bingo only to find that they are third or fourth cousins and never knew it, I could buy you a Starbucks Grande Latte in Oslo.

I don’t know what to make of it all. I scratch my head and mull it all over as I sip my morning coffee and watch the snow falling outside. The one thing that it does make me appreciate is that we are all connected. I can’t do much about world politics or global conflict, but I can choose each day how I treat my fellow human being family member. I can be a little more deferential to that jerk uptown who drives me nuts. I can choose to respond to a personal attack with grace. I can take that money I’d spend on your Oslo Grande Latte and feed a distant cousin on the other side of the world, help dig a well for a community of far off relatives who daily live without clean water, or help free someone with whom I’m genetically connected from human trafficking.

 

Sometimes You Have to Go Home

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 166...
Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1662–1669 (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. Genesis 35:27-29 (NIV)

There’s something fascinating to me about the theme of going home. I find it one of the most powerful themes in life and in literature, and it is the core theme of a play I wrote. As a matter of fact, it’s also one my favorite things about baseball. How cool is it that the object of a game is to arrive safely home? Jesus even tapped into this theme in the parable that has become arguably his most famous and powerful story: the prodigal son.

One of the common experiences of being human is leaving home. Sometimes the leaving is a natural and healthy part of the process of becoming an adult and making your own way in life. Others have a more harrowing tale to tell of brokenness, abandonment, or escape from an unhealthy family situation. No matter the personal story, I’ve discovered along the journey that at one time or another almost everybody faces this life situation of returning home. Sometimes it’s a fun an nostalgic event, sometimes it’s a journey of repentance, sometimes it’s a confrontational situation or an event fraught with anxiety, fear and uncertainty. Very often, that return home is forced upon us by the death of a loved one as it was for Jacob as he returns to bury his father, Isaac.

I’ve also come to realize that this concept of going home is about reconciliation and about personal peace. I’ve witnessed a restlessness of spirit in those who live with broken relationships or unfinished business back home, especially with parents. The process of facing the issues which are churning that restlessness of soul can be one of the most pivotal and powerful in a person’s life journey. No matter what the outcome, the journey home and the confrontation can be the key to finding a sense of healing – even if it’s only with one’s self.

Sometimes, you have to go home.

Preparing for a Role: Production Week

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In a stage production, the final week before opening night is generally referred to as “Production Week.” It’s the home stretch when all of the various elements of the show must come together before that first performance. My previous posts have been about my role as an actor, but much of what makes the actors look good on stage is dependent on an invisible army of people who work long, hard hours preparing things like:

  • Lights
  • Curtains
  • Audio/Sound Effects
  • Set
  • Flies (Set pieces that can be “flown” in and out via pulleys)
  • Scene changes
  • Costumes
  • Make-up
  • Hair styling
  • Props (all of the things people handle on stage)

A good stage production is a symphony of various individuals and teams all playing their part for the good of the whole. Production week often starts with a rehearsal called “Cue-to-Cue.” In this rehearsal, the actors take a back seat so that all of the lighting, sound effects, scene changes, and curtain cues can be rehearsed and set. A Stage Manager is typically the person tasked to “call the show” which means they have their headset on and are connected to all of the crew members around the theatre. They follow the script, the action on stage, and all of the outlined cues to make sure that everything happens exactly when it’s supposed to happen.

Our Cue-to-Cue rehearsal for Ah, Wilderness took place this past Saturday. Actors reported for a 9:00 a.m. “call” to be ready and on-stage. Actors were instructed to bring homework or something to read because there is a lot of sitting around quietly waiting for the technical crew as they adjust lights, sounds, flies, and sets. In stead of running entire scenes, in a Cue-to-Cue you run “cues.” I had to leave the rehearsal at 4:00 p.m. for a previously scheduled engagement, but the rehearsal went on for a few more hours and I’m sure some crew were there late into the night making adjustments.

Let me give you an example of the types of things you work in a Cue-to-Cue.  In the first act of Ah, Wilderness! there are a number of sound cues that call for exploding firecrackers. The sound effects are a combination of recorded sounds and live blank rounds fired backstage. To practice these cues, the actors will start with a line or two ahead of where a sound cue is to take place in the script. The person responsible for making the sound will practice their timing. Typically we will run the same couple of lines over and over again until the director is satisfied that the crew has it right and the cue is “set.” The director then announces “Moving on!” You then skip to the next cue in the script which might be several pages of dialogue later.

Cue-to-Cue can be a booger of a rehearsal to get through, especially for actors who do a lot of sitting around. The rehearsal is critical, however. The last thing you want is for technical problems to disrupt the flow of a performance. You don’t want a cue for a trolly bell to be a marching band instead. A dropped cue for a firecracker shot means the actors line about the firecracker (which the audience didn’t hear) suddenly doesn’t make sense. A long scene change can wear an audience’s patience thin. You get the picture.

Production week continues with Dress Rehearsals in which you run the show exactly as you would during a performance. Our first Dress Rehearsal was yesterday afternoon and it was the first time for actors to be in (almost) full costume and make-up. Dress Rehearsals are the last chance for everyone to get their lines and cues right and to polish up scenes which need some touching up before an audience sees it. Typically the director will not stop a Dress Rehearsal for anything less than an emergency. Then, after the rehearsal and after the cast get out of their costumes, the cast and crew gather for “notes.” The director, legal pad and pencil in hand, will go through and try to decipher all of the notes they took down to give to actors and crew.

Production week is also a good time to blow off some steam. Everyone has been working long, hard hours and a little fun before performance can help keep everyone loose. So, Wendy and I invited the cast, Stage Managers, and the Theatre Profs from Central over for a little pizza and Oscars party at our house. Wendy whipped up a cheesecake and some cupcakes and we packed our little house with twenty-some guests. A good time was had by all. If it’s one thing theatre people know how to do – it’s have fun (and eat).

Two more Dress Rehearsals. We open on Wednesday. Here we go!

Production & Ticket information for Ah, Wilderness!

 

Make No Mistake… It’s Personal

Simeon and Levi Slay the Shechemites (illustra...
Simeon and Levi Slay the Shechemites (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 34

Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. Genesis 34:13 (NLT)

Being human is so fascinating. I find it interesting how certain things are common to the human experience. I’ll hear people talk about circumstances in our lives as being “like a Greek tragedy” or “Shakespearean.” Yet the the truth is that we make parallels to these fictional stories because those fictional stories are founded on universal human themes. All good stories are simply a reflection of the Great story God is authoring through us, and that is why they become so much a part of our culture and weave themselves into our thoughts and lives.

I couldn’t help but notice the parallels in today’s story with The Godfather. The strong patriarch with a flock of sons and a thriving family business that is dependent on managing a tenuous peace with other powerful families and power centers around them. When the daughter is defiled (remember Carlo beating Connie?), the hot headed older brothers exact their revenge (remember Sonny starting a war?) against the wisdom of the patriarch (remember Vito waking up to find his family falling apart?). Make no mistake, despite Jacob’s desire to protect the family business, this is all personal and it doesn’t bode well for the long term peace. [cue: Godfather Theme]

One more observation is that right at the moment of crisis the pattern of deceit once again creeps its way through the family system. So it is with the human experience. When faced with supercharged amounts of stress and emotion, our conscious choices tend to give way to base instincts and reactions. We’re now into the third generation down from Abraham and each family story carries the familiar theme of deceit. It’s amazing how certain tragic flaws or sinful behaviors can perpetuate themselves in a family system for generations. It takes a person of wisdom and strength to break those kind of cycles and the result can be chaotic for both the individual and the family system.

In fact, get ready. In a few chapters we take up the story of the truth teller: Joseph.

Doing the Harlem Shake with Theatre Central

When my fellow cast members told me we were going to do the Harlem Shake, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. As Carl Bales used to tell me: “If you want to feel young, hang around with young people. If you want to die young, try and keep up with them.”