Tag Archives: Production

Memorized Lines

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

When I became a follower of Jesus as a teenager, I soon found myself being spiritually mentored by a gentleman who was my boss in an after school job. Every Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. we would meet in his office. Very quickly he began to instill in me the discipline of memorizing verses and passages from God’s Message. The verse I’ve pasted at the to of this post was among the first that I committed to memory.

This morning as I woke and began to think about starting my day meditating on today’s chapter, I immediately associated Isaiah 41 with the verse I had memorized some 35 years ago. My soul smiled as I looked forward to journeying through the entire chapter once again.

As an amateur actor, I am used to memorizing words. I have memorized lines for many parts in many shows. In just the past few months, I had to refresh myself in memorizing that same lines for the same part I played 10 years ago. It’s amazing how few of them I actually remembered. I’m not sure having memorized them ten years ago was much of a help.

I find it fascinating that words from God’s Message memorized 35 years ago come so quickly to mind, while words memorized for a part 10 years ago were completely lost to me. I think there are reasons for this on a number of different levels, but I believe one of the key differences lies in fact that the lines of Eliot Herzog in The Christmas Post were committed to my brain for a finite period of time. I had to get through the handful of performances and then the lines had little value to me. Isaiah 41:10, however, was committed to both my mind and my heart. It became spiritually useful and beneficial to me whenever I traversed a particularly rough stretch of life’s journey.

This morning I am thinking of words that live inside my spirit, and words that I have buried in my mind. I am thankful for my old mentor and the discipline he instilled in me during those spiritually formative years. I am grateful for these words of Isaiah that have bubbled up to the surface once again as 2016 wanes and 2017 is about to begin. I am, once again, reminded not to be afraid of what the future holds, as I know Who holds me in the palm of His hand.

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.

An Epic Production; A Bit Part

2012 12 USP Joseph Backstage Grovel LR

All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.
Ezekiel 17:24 (NIV)

Ezekiel’s prophetic parable in today’s chapter is specifically related to the political circumstances of his day. Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem and carried off her royals, nobles and promising young talent back to Babylon. A royal family member, named Zedekiah, was set on the throne as a political puppet of the Babylonian king. But Zed had his own ideas and conspired with the Egyptians to deliver Jerusalem from Babylonian control. Today’s chapter is Ezekiel’s prophetic prediction of Zed’s failure and downfall.

Two things struck me this morning as I read the chapter this morning and considered the regional intrigue of Ezekiel’s day.

First, I am mindful of the Israeli Prime Minister’s controversial address to the U.S. Congress earlier this week and the reality that the political intrigue of that region of the world continues 2500 years later. The Israel of today has its capital in Jerusalem, the same capital city destroyed by the Babylonians in Ezekiel’s day. The Egyptians to whom Zedekiah pled for help remain a nation to this day. The ancient Babylonians are today’s Iraq. The Assyrian empire of Ezekiel’s day is today’s Iran. The names are slightly changed, but the peoples and the players are the same as are the regional power struggles and conflict. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Second, I was struck by God’s word through Ezekiel that there is a divine plan being worked out in all of this. God can bring down the powerful from their lofty heights and raise the lowly to positions of prominence. All the world’s a stage and there is a Great Story being played out amidst the proscenium of time. We are part of the same production.

All of this makes me and my silly little troubles feel small and insignificant. And yet, Jesus reminded us that there are no small parts. I may be a bit player and an extra in the chorus of this epic production, but the costume department considers me important enough that  every hair on my head is numbered and the Producer/Director knows my name. I have a part to play, as small as it may be and as insignificant as it may seem. It starts with loving my neighbors as I love myself, and acting accordingly.

The Power of a Play

Michael Buesking painting depicting the events of today's chapter. His artwork can be found at prophetasartist.com. Click the painting to be taken there.
Michael Buesking’s painting depicts the events of today’s chapter. His artwork can be found at prophetasartist.com. Click the painting to be taken there.

“They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear.”
Ezekiel 12:2b (NIV)

I received an inquiry yesterday from a community theatre who would like to do a group reading of a play I wrote, Ham Buns and Potato Salad. What excited me about the request is that it came from a town not far from where I live and in my reply I inquired about the possibility of sneaking into the reading anonymously to listen to the reading and to hear what the readers thought of it.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about watching a play I’ve written being produced is listening afterwards to what others saw and heard in it. I have been struck by the wide range of perceptions. Some people catch the jokes and enjoy the characters but clearly don’t get the things I was really trying to say about humanity, community, family and faith. Others really perceived the themes I wove into the fabric of the story and were touched deeply by them. 

God, the Author of Life, was having frustrations with His people in today’s chapter: “They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear.” God instructs Ezekiel to produce another performance art piece. This time, Zeke is to metaphorically act out being taken in exile. It is clear that God intended the play (that’s really what it was, Ezekiel was an actor playing out a scene) to communicate to people in ways that all the sermons delivered by the prophets had failed. The goal was to provoke thought and prompt questions as God asks his actor, “Son of man, did not the Israelites, that rebellious people, ask you, ‘What are you doing?’”

Today, I am reminded that a good story, well produced and performed, can be more powerfully moving and create more productive conversation than a Sunday sermon. Today’s chapter is evidence to me that our creator/artist God knows this to be true. It’s a tragedy that the institutional church, by and large, abandoned the arts centuries ago. I am excited that this Saturday night our local group of Jesus followers is having an “Original Works Night” which we do periodically for artists among us to have a venue to present their works. It’s a start. There is hope.

The Christmas Ham Puts it in Perspective

Source: Tennessee Traditions
Source: Tennessee Traditions

When you give blind animals as sacrifices, isn’t that wrong? And isn’t it wrong to offer animals that are crippled and diseased? Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Malachi 1:8 NLT

When I am neck deep in a stage production, my heart and mind tend to get focused on the play. Last night was first rehearsal for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which I’m directing. Here in the early morning hours my brain is already pondering last night’s rehearsal and what needs to be accomplished in the weeks and months ahead. So, it’s no shock that when I read this morning’s chapter I made immediate connections with the story. It’s one of the things I love about God’s Message. It always meets me where I happen to be in the journey.

In the play, a family of bullies from the “wrong side of the tracks” invades the small church Christmas pageant. It’s sweet, funny, and heart warming. In the process of the play this rag-tag group of sibling ruffians hear the story of Christmas for the first time and began to internalize what it means.  The older brothers, who play the three wise men, decide to forget the fake  props of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and instead bring the ham from their family’s welfare Christmas basket (still wrapped with a bow) to the baby Jesus. After the show, they refuse to take the ham back even though it’s their family’s Christmas meal. “It’s a present, and you don’t take back presents,” one brother explains.

I was reminded of the Christmas ham this morning by Malachi’s prophetic rant about the cheap props we too often offer to God. We have everything and yet we tend to give to God what we don’t want or need. We offer our leftovers and hand-me-downs. Then, just like the old widow that Jesus spied at the collection box one day, someone who has nothing gives everything they have and reveals our paltry offerings for what they truly are in the eyes of the Great Recipient.

I’m guilty as charged this morning. Have mercy, O Lord. I’m sorry.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 45

Stage Manger at work backstage. "Clearly, you are a God who works behind the scenes…." Isaiah 45:15a (MSG)

I have been involved in stage productions since my youth and have spent the last five years in leadership of our local community theater organization. In fact, just last night Wendy and I found ourselves helping with auditions for the summer production. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people involved who the audience never see on stage. The audience sees and enjoys the actors' performance but they never see the Writer, Producer, Director, Stage Manager, Costumer, Lighting Director, Audio Director, Marketing team, Make-up Artist, and Production Assistants.

A month ago, I was acting in a show. At the end of one scene I needed to make an exit and come right back in at the beginning of the following scene. My coat was on a coat hook at the opposite end of the stage and it was my responsibility to exit through that far door and grab my coat. I made my exit through the nearest door without thinking about my coat which was now abandoned stage. I was going to look really silly entering a few minutes later without my coat when the audience could see it was still hanging on the hook by the door.

I scrambled around backstage, cursing myself for my mental lapse. As I approached, the opposite end of the set, I found my coat hanging on a hook backstage. In the scene change, one of the backstage crew had noticed I'd left the coat. They immediately ran to grab it and put it back stage where I would find it. Crisis averted. Without a a crew backstage making sure everything was under control, I'd have looked really silly.

When I read "you are a God who works behind the scenes," I really appreciate what that means.

Yesterday I wrote about a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day I had the previous day. It would have been easy to say to myself, "God, why are you absent?" I could have looked at the evidence of what I saw and concluded that God had let me down. I know that's not true. God is at work. In the spotlight, on the stage of my everyday life, things appear to be going wrong, but backstage God is actively at work. I may not see it until after the scene is over, but the Great Stage Manager is behind the scenes administrating far more than I can comprehend. He is aware of more than I see, and actively engaged to make sure I don't blow my next entrance.

Relax. We've got the best possible Stage Manager at work behind the scenes of our life.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Ervin Noordin