Tag Archives: Character

Healthy Shame

I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children.
1 Corinthians 4:9-13 (NIV)

A friend told me the other day of his teenager who had been faced with the truth of their self-centered, uncaring attitude. When the reality of the teen’s selfishness set in, the teen was crushed in spirit and retreated to their bedroom to sulk. The father chose not to rescue the teen from their emotions in that moment, but to allow the realization and resulting feelings of shame to set in.

I have done a lot of study on the topic of shame and have even given messages and workshops on the subject. Unhealthy shame can certainly be toxic to life in an abundant ways. Shame, however, can and does serve healthy purposes as well.

When I was a young teenager I was gently shamed by a teacher when she publicly pointed out in front of my peers that I acted selfishly towards the group. It was not unhealthy shame which says, “You are an awful and completely worthless individual. There is no hope for you.” It was, rather, healthy shame which says, “Your actions are self-centered and hurtful. You can, and should, be better than this. Something in you needs to change.” That moment of healthy shame in the Home Ec room of Meredith Junior High School, and the awful feelings it created in my soul for a long time, was one of the most important moments in leading me to the realization of my deep need to change, and my utter need of a Savior.

My friend chose to let his teen sit in their room stewing in healthy shame, even though it was hard to see his child struggle. There’s a piece of a parent’s heart that always wants to rescue our child from pain, but it is absolutely critical that a parent have the wisdom to know that some pain and suffering is essential to growing up and maturing spiritually, emotionally, and in relationships.

I am concerned as I see a generation of children growing up with parents and a culture intent on shielding them from any and all discomfort or suffering. We seem to be under the delusion that any pain is bad for us: Cheer up. Take a pill. Entertain yourself. Throw a party. Whatever you do, don’t feel bad.

God’s Message says the opposite of that. We should rejoice when we suffer discomforts in this life because of the truth that our suffering produces perseverance, character, hope. I think it’s important to point out that the opposite is equally true. If we avoid suffering it produces in us laziness, foolishness, and hopelessness.

Today, I’m thankful for suffering healthy shame which taught me humility and my need of God. I’m hopeful that I have been wise in knowing when to shield my children from pain and when to let them feel their discomfort. I am prayerful that their continued struggles and sufferings in their young adults years are producing measurable depth of character, perseverance, and hope.

Costumes & Perceptions

But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning….
Joshua 9:3 (NRSV)

Last night at rehearsal for Almost, Maine, I was in five different costumes over a two hour period, playing five different characters.

Pete is on a very important date and dressed to impress in a fashionable leather coat, along with his hat and gloves to keep him warm as he and his date gaze at the stars and the northern lights.

Steve is an awkward young man who is both simple and cautious. He wears simple jeans and a simple plaid button down. He buttons every button on his shirt out of his need for caution. You’ll have to see the show to understand why.

Lendall is in construction and roofing. He’s dead tired after working hard all day and already in bed. Thus, when his girlfriend of eleven years comes knocking, he’s in his underwear and an old worn, bathrobe.

Randy works for Lendall. He’s a single young man who hasn’t had much luck with the ladies. There’s a reason for that. He’s still wearing his worn and weathered work coat, snow boots he hasn’t taken the time to tie, and a hat that’s not very becoming.

The fifth man, is home watching television in his sweats and zip-up hoodie. He is very different than all the rest. Hate to get all mysterious on you, but you really have to come to the show to learn more about him. [tickets here!]

Five different characters. I exit stage right, take off one set of clothes, put on another, and in seconds I am transformed for the audience into a completely different person. It’s amazing what a costume and a few hand props can do.

In today’s chapter, the people of Gibeon knew the power of perception. They knew that an effective costume and a few hand props could transform them in the eyes of Joshua and the Israelites. It worked. Joshua saw their dirty clothes and dusty sandals. He saw their moldy bread and broken, dry wineskins. Perceiving that these characters were from a distant land, Joshua and the elders made a peace treaty with the shrewd actors, only to find out that the Gibeonites lived right around the corner.

It is said that “perceptions are everything.” We create perceptions with our clothes, our look, our words, our physicality, and our actions. Do I give mind to these things? This morning I’m reminded of two, make that three, things, and asking myself two questions:

  1. When Jesus sent his followers out to do ministry among the people and towns of their region, He was careful to instruct them to go with nothing but the clothes on their back. He wanted them to be perceived as simple, honest men. How does Jesus want me to present myself, and to be perceived?
  2. Jesus once told a fascinating story about a man hired to manage his masters accounts. When faced with impending dismissal, the manager shrewdly prepared for his future by going to his master’s debtors and telling them to reduce the amount they owed his master. In doing so he earned their gratitude and favor.  Jesus complimented the manager and his shrewd ability to use what was in his means, not unlike what the Gibeonites did in today’s chapter to ensure their survival. How am I to be wise and shrewd with the means given me?
  3. Shakespeare wrote: “…the play’s the thing.” Indeed.

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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.

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.

“Almost, Maine” Rehearsals Begin

Last night the rehearsal process for Almost, Maine began in earnest and it killed me not to be there as I’m traveling on business all week. Wendy and I were cast as part of the ensemble back in December and the show will be performed in Pella April 14-17.

Almost, Maine, is likely unknown to many people though in a short period of time it has become arguably the most produced play in schools and community theaters across America in the past few years. It is a wonderful script.

The setting is a moonless night in the dead of winter. The action takes place in the mythical, unincorporated small community of Almost in northern Maine. A solar storm has kicked the the northern lights, the Aurora Borealis into a spectacular display of heavenly fireworks. At exactly 9:00 p.m. there is a magical moment for several people in Almost.

In a series of eight scenes (plus an ninth story that acts in an overarching theme) we meet and witness that magical 9:00 moment for 18 people who are all searching for and struggling with love. The show is poignant and thought provoking. It’s the perfect show for a date night or a small group evening out to the theatre.

A few reasons I’m excited about Almost, Maine:

  • Wendy and I get to play opposite one another in three different scenes and there is no one I enjoy being on stage with more than Wendy. We’ve had precious few opportunities to actually act together, and I’m so pumped to work with her.
  • The show is being directed by our friend, Kevin McQuade, whom I love and respect as a fellow lover and student of the stage. I am really looking forward to being directed by Kevin, exploring the world of Almost, Maine, and putting together an awesome show.
  • The ensemble cast and crew are a spectacular group of talented individuals. Some I’ve worked with before and a couple people are new to me. It’s so much fun working with a great team.
  • In the course of two hours I get to play five different characters. While I’ve occasionally played dual roles, often that means one or more characters are smaller, secondary roles. In Almost, Maine I get the challenge of creating five fully developed characters and presenting them to the audience in a way that their unique differences are distinct and believable.

featured image by Mat Kelly

A Simple Act of Integrity

“You shall purchase food from them for money, so that you may eat; and you shall also buy water from them for money, so that you may drink. Surely the Lord your God has blessed you in all your undertakings; he knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.”
Deuteronomy 2:6-7 (NRSV)

Many years ago I did a short stint as youth pastor of a fairly good sized youth group. I would often find myself taking large groups of kids on various outings throughout the year. There were mission trips, ski trips, camping trips, trips to conferences, trips to concerts, trips to sporting events, and trips to the amusement park. It was common for me to lead a bus full of middle and high schoolers into a restaurant for a meal while we were on the road.

I made a point of talking to my kids about the integrity of not only paying for what you eat and drink, but also paying the human beings who served us in restaurants. I could see the look of agony behind the counter as my little nation of teens poured into Pizza Hut. My kids and I talked about putting ourselves in the shoes of our servers, the integrity of paying for both what we consume and the service we receive from others.

One evening I had a my usual throng of kids in the city for I can’t even remember what event. Knowing that their hunger was voracious as always, I herded them into an all-you-can-eat spaghetti joint and we loaded up on carbs Italian style. It just so happened that our server that night was a girl who was in my high school youth group when I had been part of the herd a few years earlier. After the meal, as I was rustling my kids out of the restaurant, my old friend from high school tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned to receive a warm hug.

With tears in her eyes, she admitted to me that she swore when she saw our group coming in. She knew from experience that a group of teens meant she was going to work her butt off for a bunch of rowdy adolescents and then get stiffed for the effort. She told me how kind the kids had been, how well they had conducted themselves, but most of all she couldn’t believe how well they had tipped her.

Along my life journey I’ve observed our culture increasingly given to cost shifting. As long as something is free to us, we ignore the fact that someone else has paid the price for it. I was struck this morning by the very simple command God gave to His herd of Hebrew children on their trip to the sea: “Pay a fair price for what you eat. Pay for the water you drink. Don’t take it. Don’t expect someone else to pay for it or incur the cost of it.

This morning I am reminded of a waitress weeping over a couple of bucks that she both earned and deserved by her good service. I’m reminded of the simple integrity of paying for what you consume.  More than ever, I find it a differentiating mark of character in this world.

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featured photo:  global panorama via Flickr

The Significance of One Word

For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.
Ezra 7:10 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve learned in the process of writing scripts is that words are not chosen idly. When writing what a character says, the writer is trying to capture and communicate that character’s voice. With an eye to what the story is trying to communicate as a whole, the author often chooses a word very carefully for a foreshadowing or subtle thematic effect. Actors, myself included, are notorious for playing fast and loose with the script (e.g. “I know it’s not word perfect, but I got the gist of it!“). Writing has made me a better actor as it’s made me pay more attention to the script and to be more honoring of the words the playwright crafted.

So it is that over the years I’ve increasingly found that when I’m reading God’s Message in the morning I experience a word jumping off the page at me. I try to pay careful attention when this happens because it generally leads me down important paths of thought and meditation. This morning it was the word devoted that jumped off the page at me.

Devotion is not just about duty or obedience. Devotion carries with it a component of the heart. There is a yearning and desire that comes with devotion. I thought what a great legacy Ezra left behind to be known as a person who devoted himself to studying, living, and teaching the earliest chapters of God’s Message.

This morning I find myself asking the question, “to what or whom am I devoted?”

Tom is devoted to _________________________.

When others observe my life, if they are asked to fill in the blank, what would they say? Am I devoted to things that matter? Things that make a positive difference in the lives of others? Things that are eternal? Or, am I devoted to silly things that are temporal and of no consequence? To what or whom am I devoted