Tag Archives: Playwright

Execution Lessons

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Luke 23:42 (NIV)

Just last week I read a news blurb of a convict who was executed. It was your typical news flash on such stories in which just the basic facts were starkly recounted with little embellishment. Years ago, he was convicted of murdering his own wife. Before he died he expressed regret for what he’d done. He apologized to his loved ones, acknowledging the he understood why they couldn’t forgive him, but expressing the hope that they might someday be able to do so. He then said that he couldn’t wait to meet Jesus. He was given a lethal injection and died a few minutes later.

Fascinating. For some reason, I’ve found those few lines of news unusually coming to mind in the days since I read it. There’s more to that story.

Today’s chapter is Dr. Luke’s account of Jesus’ execution. Much like the news blurb, it recounts many facts with little embellishment. What embellishments Luke adds create more questions in me than answers.

With the eye of a playwright and storyteller, I find myself making a mental list of the characters in the story and how they contribute to the narrative.

Jesus, the lamb led to slaughter, refusing to speak or offer a defense.

Pilate, Herod, and the Jewish religious leaders are the power brokers playing their own chess matches of personal power, public opinion, and political intrigue.

Jesus twelve appointed male disciples and heirs to His earthly ministry are the key characters not present (John was there, according to his own account, but Luke does not record this).

The oft forgotten women who have traveled with Jesus, supported Jesus, and provided for Jesus and his disciples are there at a distance, witnessing the execution. This includes Jesus’ mother. One of the women is, ironically, the wife of the head of Herod’s household.

The Roman soldiers are carrying out their duty and having their sport with the victims. As an added perk they get their choice of the victims’ spoils.

The presiding military officer, a Centurion, is observing.

Then there are the three executed convicts.

What struck me was the convict who was crucified next to Jesus and came to Jesus’ defense. The only character in the entire saga of the passion who comes to Jesus’ defense is a convicted, guilty (by his own confession) death-row inmate. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he said.

How did he know about Jesus’ kingdom?

There’s more to this story.

Had he been among the crowds in Galilee, or in the temple courts, who heard Jesus teach? Had he and Jesus spent time talking in a holding cell as they waited to hear the Roman soldier announce “Dead man walking.”

I find so much intriguing about this man. Jesus didn’t explain the Four Spiritual Laws and lead the man in the sinner’s prayer. Jesus only defense was to one of the weakest and least powerful characters in the story, an executed criminal by another executed criminal. The only act in this man’s “death-bed conversion” was simply to acknowledge Jesus before another convict, and humbly ask to be remembered.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the spoken faith of two guilty, convicted, executed criminals. I find myself thinking about my own guilt. I find myself thinking about Jesus’ repeated teachings about simple, small faith being all that is required. It is indicated from the story that this is true no matter the moral standing of the one expressing such simple faith.

Sometimes I think that we religious humans complicate things that Jesus presented as very simple.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Featured photo on today’s post courtesy of PWBaker via Flickr.

Line Gisters and Line Nazis

Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!”

He answered, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”
Numbers 23:11-12 (NIV)

I have found among actors that there is a rarely discussed spectrum. It parallels the ongoing legal debate about our Constitution here in America, between those who interpret the Constitution as a “living document” versus those who interpret it in context of its “original intent” as written.

On one end of the on-stage spectrum are those who memorize their part of the script and present the general gist of a line. They call it good. Let’s call them the “Line Gisters.” At the other end of the spectrum are those we will lovingly refer to as “Line Nazis.” Line Nazis are rabid defenders of the script, word-for-word, as written.

The playwright wrote these words for a reason,” a Line Nazi will passionately admonish his/her fellow actors. The Line Nazi then explains that changing a word or two here or there can change the entire interpretation of a line (and thus the play itself, and the intent of the playwright).  In my experience it’s at this point that the “Line Gisters” proceed to roll their eyes, the Line Nazis grumble in frustration, and the rehearsal continues.

I’ll confess to you that I have spent most of my theatre journey at the Line Gister end of the spectrum. Then, I actually wrote a couple of plays and had the privilege of watching them being produced. For the first time I began to feel personally what my Line Nazi brethren had been preaching to me all along. I was suddenly on the other side of the spectrum seeing things from a different perspective. Line Gisters would memorize and deliver a loose version of the words that I had written. Sometimes it wasn’t a big deal, but other times I had specifically crafted that line for a reason! Just getting the “gist” of it didn’t cut the mustard.

In today’s chapter, the mysterious seer Balaam continues his cameo role in the story of the Hebrews wilderness wanderings. King Balak of Moab hires Balaam to curse the Hebrew hoard camping on his borders. Multiple times Balaam speaks the words God gives him, and each time it is not what Balak paid Balaam to say. Rather than cursing the Hebrews, Balaam blesses them.

Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?” Balaam asks his prophetic patron.

Balaam understood that it was important to deliver the line as written.

God’s Message is just like the Constitution or any playwright’s script. Words can be interpreted in context or out of context. Lines can be quoted verbatim or butchered in an effort to communicate the gist. The words end up in the hands of the expositor and out of the control of the originator and/or author.

As a reformed Line Gister I confess that my years on that end of the spectrum were rooted in a generous portion of laziness and a general lack of discipline. This morning I find myself appreciating Balaam’s fidelity to deliver the words as given to him by God, heedless of the reaction of his patron. I find it honorable. I’m not sure you can call me a full-fledged Line Nazi (still working on that laziness and self-discipline), but it is a character trait I increasingly desire to exemplify in my own life, both on stage and off.

(Line Nazis Unite!)

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

Understanding Michal

English: Maciejowski Bible, Leaf 37, the 3rd i...
English: Maciejowski Bible, Leaf 37, the 3rd image, Abner (in the center in green) sends Michal back to David. Palti is shown on the left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” 2 Samuel 6:20 (NIV)

Writing plays has been a great learning experience for me. One of the creative challenges that I’ve had to embrace is that every character in the play has a unique “voice” the comes from a back story the audience will never know or see. If I’m going to write a character well, then I have to understand that character’s story, person, and perspective. I’ve come to believe that I must truly love each character, even the unlovable ones, if I am going to give them their true and authentic voice and words.

I’ve always said that God’s Message changes every time you read it not because it has changed but because I and my circumstances have changed since the last time I read it. As I read today’s chapter I suddenly realized that I was reading it with the eyes of a playwright. I’ve always read this chapter and focused on David’s “undignified” worship, but today I found myself focused on Michal’s rebuke of her husband. I’ve always read Michal’s words and thought, “Sheesh, what a wench!” This time through, however, my playwright brain began asking what was really going on between Michal and David. There’s a larger back story there. Michal and David seem to have been those people who had the seeds of affection doomed never to take root:

  • Michal had a young girl’s crush on the young stud warrior David.
  • Michal’s father sought to wed her to David, not because he wanted what was best for his daughter but because he saw she could be used as his pawn in a desire to follow the Michael Coreleone playbook of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Michal obviously was little loved by her father. He saw his daughter as a “snare” for his enemies.
  • Despite any teenage affections between them, David initially rebuffs being betrothed to her on the grounds he wasn’t worthy to marry the king’s daughter. I wonder how that made her feel?
  • Saul gives David a “price” of earning his betrothal to Michal of bringing him a 100 Philistine foreskins (Gross, I know. It was a brutal time in history). Saul figured David would be killed in the attempt, but instead David brings back two hundred Philistine foreskins to claim Michal. Pissed off and humiliated, Saul tries to assassinate David, but his newly betrothed wife Michal helps him escape out a window.
  • David flees the area for many years abandoning Michal in the home of her mentally ill father. Saul marries Michal off to another man.
  • Many years later David shows up the conquering hero. In a relational and political power play he demands his childhood bride be returned to him. Michal is ripped away from the man she’s been married to and made a home with. She is forcibly taken to David. Her husband follows in tears begging not to be separated from her. I wonder whom Michal truly loved. Was it her husband who was begging in tears not to lose her or the man who rejected and abandoned her and was now demanding her like she was a piece of impersonal property and a spoil of war?
  • We are told that Michal had no children until the day of her death. I am ashamed to confess that in my ignorance I have always seen this fact as some sort of divine punishment of Michal. I can’t see it that way now. I hurt for Michal and the difficult circumstances she was placed by her culture, her mentally ill father, and her betrothed young husband who treated her with indifference and contempt. As we begin to see what a messed up family system David creates as a horribly flawed husband and father, I begin to contemplate that Michal’s barrenness may have ultimately been for the best.

Michal’s rebuke of David’s actions may have seemed inappropriate on the surface of things, but I now see that they were motivated by feelings of abandonment, rejection, anger, and bitterness. Given the circumstance and the backstory, I totally see why there was so much conflict between the two of them. Their story is a tragedy. I wish David would have been man enough and loving enough to allow Michal to live out her life in peace with the only man in her life who ever really seemed to love her.

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So, I Wrote a Play. Here’s Your Invitation to See It.

Ham Buns Poster

So, in case you haven’t heard, I wrote a play and it’s being produced by Union Street Players here in Pella. If you’re in the area I would love to have you come see it.

Pella Community Center
712 Union St.
Pella, IA 50219
Thu-Sat April 10, 11, 12 @ 7:00 p.m.
Sun April 13 @ 2:00 p.m.

Tickets are $8 in advance for adults ($10 at the door) and $6 in advance for students ($8 at the door).

Tickets are available on-line by clicking HERE, and can also be purchased at the door of any performance. If you need assistance contact USP’s virtual box office 641.204.1094.

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Five Lessons this Playwright is Learning in Production

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We are a couple of weeks into rehearsal of Ham Buns and Potato Salad, which is a play I’ve written and re-written over the past five years. It will make its stage premiere April 10-13, 2014 in Pella, Iowa thanks to the hard work of Union Street Players.

FYI: I do not have a part in the play. I am working with the director, Ann Wilkinson, and am enjoying the luxury of observing the process as writer and playwright. Most rehearsals I simply sit back and watch and document things with my camera. I’ve had to make some small changes to the script, and have chosen to make others. Ann consults with me once in a while on whether I think this or that choice will work. She and the actors are doing a great job, and I’m anxious to see the finished product.

Here are five things I’m learning in the process of watching a script I’ve written be produced:

  1. The contribution of others makes it stronger. Over the past five years Wendy and I have hosted a number of readings in our home with a number of different people. I’ve received a tremendous amount of feedback and have revised the script based on that feedback. I also had the privilege of taking the script to the Missouri Playwrights Workshop at the University of Missouri where I received incredibly valuable feedback from objective sources who understand the writing process much better than I do. What I’m discovering is that not only did the feedback allow me to make my script better, but all of the readings allowed friends and community members to feel a vested interest in the piece. They’ve had a hand in it. They feel a sense of ownership and responsibility that I find humbling.
  2. You can’t please everyone. Because I received a lot of feedback, I had to make very thoughtful and sometimes difficult decisions about which feedback I wanted to embrace and which I wanted to respectfully leave alone. In the end this is still my vision, my story, my characters, and my script. I have to be true to the voice inside of me and what I’m expressing.
  3. It will never be exactly what you envisioned in your head. I can picture the little town of  Hebron. I see the houses, the yards, the porch, and the swing. I envisioned these characters. I heard their voices saying their lines in my head. Now that the show is in production, I’m finding that the set doesn’t look like I envisioned. The characters aren’t always saying the lines the way I heard them in my head. Sometimes the director and actors don’t get the things which I just intuitively know and understand about these characters and this story. Perhaps a movie script writer can storyboard, direct, shoot, manipulate, and edit the video to get exactly what they envisioned. The stage is a messier artistic playground. The bottom line is that I have to accept that I will never see on stage exactly what I envisioned in my head.
  4. There’s more there than you ever knew or intended. At the same time, I am finding that Ann and the actors are finding things in the script and characters that I never envisioned and that’s a good thing. I’m finding that there are layers to the story and the characters which I didn’t consciously write into the script. In the hands of capable artists the script takes on a life of its own. Things emerge. I’m blown away by it.
  5. You’ve got to let go. A professor of mine, and a playwright, always spoke of the process of writing in terms of birthing. You conceive an idea, it grows and is knit inside you, and then you give birth to it. The birthing process can be scary, painful, and messy. As with parenting, you’ve got to let go and let your baby become the person it was meant to be. Trying to cling and control will ultimately only serve to harm all parties involved.

Ham Buns and Potato Salad will be produced by Pella, Iowa’s award winning community theatre, Union Street Players, and performed April 10-13, 2014 on the stage of the Joan Kuyper Farver Auditorium in the Pella Community Center, 712 Union St., Pella, IA. Tickets are $8 in advance for adults ($10 at the door) and $6 in advance for students ($8 at the door). Tickets are available on-line. Click here to order tickets online.

Character Arc

scriptworkThis means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

Writers, actors and playwrights will often talk about “arcs” in a story or a particular character. When preparing for a role, I think through where my character is (as a person, in relation to himself, to other characters in the play, to God, and etc.) as the play opens and where he ends up at the end of the play. The real work of the play is to discover the thoughts, actions, conflicts, and obstacles that occur between the two.

Art imitates life. The same questions I ask myself as a character in a play are worthy of being asked in my every day life. Those who profess a relationship with Jesus are living out a spiritual character arc and should quickly be able to describe the following:

  • This is who I was before I entered into a relationship with Jesus
  • This is who I have become in my journey of following Jesus
  • This is who I am becoming and and ever hope to be as I am transformed by Jesus

Of course, like all good plays, we don’t know the end of the story until the final curtain. And, like all good stories and plays, if I cannot point out and see my own character development then something is dreadfully amiss (and critics will likely rip me a part).

Personal transformation and and character arc are evidence of those who truly follow after Jesus. As God works in us, our lives become a living, compelling story.

What’s your story?