The Latest 01-31-2016

January was an unusually busy month for me. Along with two business trips there was a lot of extra-curricular activity that filled our evenings and weekends.

Rehearsals continue for Almost, Maine. Wendy and I have really been enjoying the 3-4 rehearsals each week. The fellow cast members are awesome to work with and we’ve loved the ensemble. Our friend, Kevin McQuade, is a blast to work with as a director. Wendy and I play three scenes together as three different couples. We’re loving the challenge of developing completely different characters and quickly moving from one to another. On Thursday night Kevin called an early halt to rehearsal and took the cast to Kaledra for drinks. He knows how to keep his cast happy! Almost, Maine will be performed here in Pella April 14-17.

Taylor will be moving out next weekend. She’s decided to move to Des Moines and live in the Catholic Worker community full-time. She’s working on a couple of different creative projects and has taken up gaining a more in-depth understanding of photography. She and I took a couple of hours this week to play around with light and lenses in my office studio.

Matthew and some of the men who attended the More Than Conquerors workshop at Westview.
Matthew and some of the men who attended the More Than Conquerors workshop at Westview.

My friend Matthew Burch and I have been doing a four-week series of Sunday morning messages in the Third Church auditorium on the subject of shame (audio here). The messages were a microcosm of our men’s workshop, More Than Conquerors which we then presented at Westview this past Friday evening and Saturday. Wendy and I headed to Des Moines on Friday. While Kevin Roose and I were at the workshop, she and Becky enjoyed some girl time and Wendy helped Becky organize their basement storage room.

The More Than Conquerors workshop uses Shakespeare’s trilogy about King Henry V as a backdrop to discussing issues of shame. We loved our time with the 24 guys who attended. It was a great journey. How did it go? I think the answer to that question is in the picture (above) I snapped of Matthew sitting at a table of guys who stayed well after the conference was over to ask more questions and continue learning. When men give up their weekend, sit for almost 12 hours listening to you, and then want to stay for more…I’ll take that as a good sign.

Wendy and I are looking forward to a quiet day today. Here comes February.

A Raving Fan of the Fairer Sex

I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people….
Romans 16:2a

This morning, I am pleasantly struck by the number of women Paul mentions in his final greetings to the followers of Jesus in Rome, as well as the honor he bestows on them:

  • Phoebe, a deacon and benefactor of believers
  • Priscilla – who risked her life for Paul and others, and opened her home to be a meeting place.
  • Mary, who worked hard for the Roman believers
  • Tryphena, who works hard in the Lord
  • Tryphosa, who works hard in the Lord
  • Persis, who works hard in the Lord
  • The mother of Rufus, who mothered Paul
  • Julia
  • The sister of Nereus

Paul’s ministry, like Jesus’ before him, was made largely possible by incredible, honored women who were providers, risk takers, and tireless co-workers.

Today, I’m thankful for the incredible, honored women with whom God has surrounded me. Intelligent, diligent, industrious, capable, passionate, priceless, tireless, (and gorgeous, btw). I am a raving fan of the fairer sex.

The “Sui Generis” Moment on Stage

It happened last night at rehearsal for Almost, Maine. It surprised me. It’s early in the rehearsal process and, while it’s not unheard of at this point in that process, it’s relatively rare in my experience.

The Latin term “sui generis” means “one of a kind,” and there is an experience that occasionally, mysteriously happens on stage that I find to be sui generis in life. It is an experience I have found unique to the art of acting, and actors who experience it once usually long to experience it ever after. It is a moment on stage that is other worldly, when actors cross over into another dimension, into the reality of the scene they are playing. It doesn’t happen all the time. You can’t predict it and there is no formula for conjuring it. But, when it happens you never forget it.

When this moment happens, when you cross over, you feel the emotions your character feels and think the thoughts that are flying through your character’s brain. You are at once in both dimensions: being two actors on the community center stage in Pella Iowa, and being two characters in a living room at 9:00 p.m. on a dark winter’s night in northern Maine.

It is an indescribable experience. It is sui generis.

Wendy and I were rehearsing our scene Getting it Back last night. We haven’t rehearsed it many times. Our lines are not memorized, we don’t have all our props, and we’re still struggling to remember our blocking. Yet, as our characters began to argue and things escalated between Gayle and Lendall, it happened. We crossed over. It was incredible. When it happens, I can sometimes also feel those watching being ushered into the moment with us. That happened last night, too.

Wendy and I often comment that we love the rehearsal process almost more than performances. Last night was an example of why. It is in the rehearsal process that you do the work of excavation and exploration. It is in rehearsal that you seek out the doorway to that sui generis moment. Like the portals into Narnia the portals to those moments can mysteriously appear and disappear. The same entrance can sometimes usher you to that moment multiple times. Then, suddenly, the way is shut and you pick up the quest once more.

The quest for that sui generis moment is part of the mystery and magic of acting. It is what draws me back again and again. And when the moment surprises you, like it did at rehearsal last night, it is a one of a kind experience of Life.

I can’t wait for rehearsal on Thursday.

“Yes, And”

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had….
Romans 15:5 (NIV)

This past week my friend Matthew and I gave our final message in a four-week series on the topic of overcoming shame (audio can be found here). The series focused heavily on our need to own the darkness of our souls where things hidden and secreted away grow to wield power over us. We urged listeners to find safe and trustworthy places to expose things hidden in darkness to the Light.

There rose an argument among some that 1) Christ should be all we need, therefore 2) we shouldn’t need to take this step of revelation. And, if 1) we are saying that what we need to reveal our shame to another, then 2) we are saying we don’t need Christ.

Let me introduce you to a concept we use in the world of acting called, “Yes, And.” When an actor on stage is trying to figure out what his or her character is thinking we box ourselves in a corner by asking, “Does my character want this or that?” Sometimes the answer is, “Yes, my character wants this and that.” Sometimes things are not “either or” but “yes and.” Our friends on Sunday approached our message saying “its either Christ or confession.” Matthew and I were teaching that “Yes, it’s Christ and confession.”

Why else would God’s Message urge us to:

  • Wash one another’s feet?
  • Confess our sins to each other?
  • Encourage one another?
  • Admonish one another?
  • Build each other up in love?
  • Bear on another’s burdens?

The path to following Jesus includes both the vertical (me and God) and horizontal (me and my fellow believers) axis. It’s not either the vertical or the horizontal. It is, yes, the vertical and the horizontal. That’s why Paul, in today’s chapter, prays for God’s encouragement and endurance. You need both when you are in relationship with others.

In a black and white, either-or world of legalism, the mind loves to categorize information into exclusive compartments. With these exclusive mental compartments we can quickly determine that certain people, thoughts, or ideas don’t fit neatly in our compartments, and conclude therefore that they are wrong and we can dismiss them. But, Jesus has never fit neatly into any one person’s or denomination’s box and He never will.

 

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“‘Tis a Silly Place”

One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.
Romans 14:2-3 (NIV)

There’s a great moment in the classic film comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table look at Camelot from a distance and utter the name in reverential tones. The scene cuts to a farcical musical number with knights singing lines like:

“We dine well here in Camelot
We eat ham and jam and spam a lot.”

When the song is over, King Arthur changes his mind. “Let’s not go there,” he says to his knights, “‘Tis a silly place.”

After 40 some years attending, working, and volunteering in various local churches of diverse denominational bents, I have to admit that I often feel King Arthur’s sentiments whenever I look at a church from the outside.

Along my life journey I have experienced a number of divisive conflicts inside the walls of the church:

  • Clappers vs. Non-Clappers
  • Liturgy vs. Free Worship
  • Hand raisers vs. Stoics
  • Pre-Trib Rapturists vs. Amillenialists
  • Predestination vs. Free Will
  • Sprinklers vs. Dunkers
  • Wine  vs. Juice
  • Wafer vs. Bread
  • Sunday Sabbath vs. Saturday Sabbath
  • Hymns vs. Modern worship
  • Social drinkers vs. teetotalers

Like I said, “‘Tis a silly place.”

In today’s chapter, Paul addresses some of the silly arguments that, even in the earliest days of the Christianity, were dividing the followers of Jesus. Can you eat meat that was sacrificed to an idol before it went to market? Is it more virtuous to be a vegetarian?  Should we worship on Saturday like the Ten Commandments tell us or on Sunday because Jesus rose from the dead on that day?  These types of arguments were as prevalent in the year 57 A.D. as they are in 2016. People are people.

Paul’s message to all who follow Jesus was very simple: Love your fellow follower of Jesus enough to respect his or her feelings and beliefs. Don’t major on the minors. Don’t lord your own opinions over them and dishonor a fellow believer’s heart-felt, personal stand on things that are non-essential to our faith. Love, respect, grace and honor should always trump our desire to be proved right. Take off the Jr. Holy Spirit badge. Let God handle it.

This morning I am reminded to be gracious. To me, the institutional church “‘tis a silly place” most of the time. For other followers of Jesus I know, the local denominational church is deadly serious stuff. Even in this discrepancy, my role is to be respectful, honoring and loving with those whose thoughts and feelings differ from my own.

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Power of the Art of Acting

I have observed along my life journey that acting is largely misunderstood and under appreciated as an art. To many who have asked me about my experiences on stage, acting is perceived to be nothing more than adults engaged in a child’s game of make believe. That notion certainly contains a nugget of truth, as good actors tap into a child-like sense of play and imagination. It does, however, fall short of the whole truth. One might equally say that a painter is simply “coloring” or a composer is simply “making up songs.” In every one of these examples the notion falls far short of understanding both the art form and the work of the artist.

Acting, to steal a term used by Tolkien and Lewis with regard to their writing, is a form of sub-creation. It is the art of creating an individual being, from the inside out, in all of his or her (or its) infinite complexities. Think how intricately layered each one of us are in our unique experiences, gifts, talents, intentions, thoughts, feelings, desires, quirks, flaws, handicaps,  strengths, and idiosyncrasies. What a Herculean task to start with nothing more than words in a script and attempt the creation of a living, breathing, believably real human being on stage. Even more challenging is the fact that the actor must fulfill this task utilizing his or her own existing body and voice. Imagine a composer being asked to take exactly the same notes, key, and time signature that exist in one piece of music and rearrange them to make a uniquely different work.

An actor’s task is made even more difficult when his or her creation must interact with others on stage whom they do not control.  Your creation, in all his or her uniqueness, must react and respond to others in the moment without the assurance of knowing exactly what will happen or be said (or not said) in that moment. Like all other artists actors put their creation out there for all the world to see. It is a courageous act fraught with the risk. Unlike artists in other mediums, actors are, themselves, the canvas, the composition, the sculpture, the sonnet. When actors step on stage they present their own flesh and blood as part and parcel of the art itself. The risk is more personal and more public than almost any other art form.

In the process of creating this living, breathing creation on stage, the actor becomes psychologist, historian, private investigator, sociologist, theologian, and priest. Actors become among the world’s most accepting and empathetic inhabitants because they are required to find understanding and empathy for some of literature and history’s most heinous villains. In this pursuit of the embodiment of a real person on stage, an actor comes to embody love and grace that believes, hopes, and endures even for the most tragic of characters.

As with all art mediums, there exists in this wide world of actors a diverse panacea of education, talent, experience and ability. You may not find Olivier, Hoffman, Streep, or Theron at your local high school, college, or community center. You may, however, be pleasantly surprised if you take the risk of venturing out and buying a ticket. You will find courageous actor-artists stepping into a real world created on the other side of the fourth wall. They will transport you to another time in another place. You may just find yourself swept up in a story that not only entertains, but also causes you to think, laugh, weep, and feel. Your disbelief may be suspended just long enough for you to care, truly care, about these characters, these persons, these living, breathing, real creations and their stories. That is the power of the art of acting.

Related Posts

10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Past
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Script
Preparing for a Role: The First Rehearsal
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Character
Preparing for a Role: The Rehearsal Process
Preparing for a Role: How Do You Memorize All Those Lines?
Preparing for a Role: Bits and Moments in the Grind
Preparing for a Role: Production Week
Preparing for a Role: Keeping Focus When Siri Joins You on Stage
Preparing for a Role: Ready for Performance
Theatre is Ultimate Fitness for Your Brain!

 

Photo: Arvin Van Zante, Wendy Vander Well, and Karl Deakyne rehearse a scene from Ham Buns and Potato Salad. Pella, Iowa.

I Have a Dream: The Love Party

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Romans 13:10 (NIV)

For those of you reading this who live outside of the state of Iowa, please understand that our entire state population is near the point of going postal. Every local ad on television and radio is a political ad for President or a PAC ad taking shots at this or that candidate. Our phones ring countless times a day. We are surveyed to death or treated to recorded messages from the candidates. The Iowa caucuses are this week and we are ready for them to be over.

It’s impossible to escape the political conversation in Iowa every four years in January. My friends and acquaintances are representative of the entire spectrum of political ideology from staunch conservatives to progressive liberals. The one thing that I hear everyone along the ideological continuum agreeing on is that 1) not one of the candidates is particularly great and 2) our election process and political system is in need of reform.

I have been day dreaming of late. It’s a pipe dream, really. I’ve been dreaming of a political party called the Love Party. The Love Party would operate under the umbrella of the law of love. Political ads of the Love Party would never be negative or attack others. Love Party candidates would seek to unite and not divide. Our platform would seek good for subsequent generations and not quick profit for ourselves with no thought of the long term consequences. We would seek our citizens genuine welfare; Not giving free handouts and subsidies in exchange for votes (into perpetuity) but requiring that those who receive assistance, in turn, must assist themselves and their community. Love Party candidates would model self imposed term limits, refusing to lord over others and line their personal fortunes and rigging rules for their own benefit.

Today, I’m dreaming. But, it’s a good dream on which to start a Monday. There may never be a national Love Party, but maybe I can be a Party of one. This is America. I am free to be the Love Party.

 

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