Friday, July 1, 2011

Going Up

From my point of view as an actor and producer, any show is a good show if the audience doesn't try to kill you and if you get the check.

My favorite actor was killed by the audience and never got the check.

Today, July 1, is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and tomorrow, July 2, is the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Fraternity of St. Genesius to which I belong, has as our co-patrons the Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Genesius, patron saint of actors. In the Fraternity we pray daily for those in the theatrical and cinematic arts that they may be granted the grace St. Genesius had, who, while appearing on stage in a play mocking the Christians, received a miraculous conversion of heart during a mock-baptism. This conversion so struck him that he "went up" as we say in show biz. He dropped his lines and began to ad-lib - only he ad libbed a spontaneous witness for Christ - which did not fit in a play the whole purpose of which was to ridicule Jesus and His followers. This did not go over well with his fellow actors, or with the Roman emperor, for whom this play was being performed, and who was sitting right there in the audience. Genesius was imprisoned, told to recant, refused, and was martyred - finding a true baptism of blood to answer the false baptism on stage.

So not only was Genesius killed because of this performance - I'm almost certain he also did not get the check.

Anyway, I have for a while considered the time between the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Feast of St. Genesius (which is Aug. 25, also the feast of the patron of my archdiocese, St. Louis) to be a kind of third season of penance, in addition to Advent and Lent. So join me then, on this blog, between now and then, between these two great feasts, for fifty days or so of suffering! Or at least for reflections upon the relationship between Acting and the Faith.

One of the great connections between Acting and the Faith is also a great potential temptation. It is what Touchstone calls "The virtue of IF."

Pretending is a wonderful gift. Man, alone of the all the animals, has the ability to pretend, to make-believe. As actors we don masks and pretend to be what we are not, we act out stories that the audience knows are not literally true but true at a deeper level: for the purpose of masking is revelation - we mask that we might unmask, we veil ourselves onstage that the veil might be lifted offstage. For the stage is a microcosm for life, a toy theater in which we get a perspective on existence itself. The proscenium is a frame in which we can safely, for two brief hours, view reality from a distance.

Now the flipside of this, the temptation I talked about, is Unreality (see yesterday's post, "Not Built with a Full Deck"). Actors are so good at make-believe that we tend to apply this talent to our lives, we tend to live in a fiction, to make our beds in a house of cards. And actors aren't the only ones who do this. We all tend to devote ourselves to things that are unreal, and some of us give our whole lives to the unrealities we serve.

Serving Unreality, devoting ourselves to our private fictions, giving ourselves over to mere pretense, is idolatry. When the stars in your eyes don't lead you to the stars of heaven, you and your life become unreal. All the world may be a stage, but when your private stage becomes all the world, you've got problems. When American Idol slips into American Idolatry, we need help.

"For the worship of infamous idols is the reason and source and extremity of all evil." - Wisdom 14:27. Scripture tells us here that idolatry is the SOURCE of all evil, for idolatry is putting a substitute in place of God, and living for the unreal is living for idols, which these days tend not to be statues or pictures but false images of ourselves and of others, to which we give credence, we give the gift of faith proper only to God.

This is why so many actors are gay. I'm being quite serious here. You will find a disproportionate number of active homosexual men in the theater not simply because they get to wear make-up but because they get to wear make-believe. For perversion is the ultimate form of Unreality. There is a secret thrill to denying our natures. Twisting our desires away from where they would normally and powerfully drive us, twisting them toward something utterly unreal, something affirmed only by our own will, something the love of which will bear no fruit - giving ourselves over to a hollow, empty fraud - this is vanity, this is idolatry, this is sin. And the exact same thing applies to contraception, which is simply the heterosexual's way of making his own eros "unreal" - sterile, make-believe, self-indulgent, self-consumed and self-consuming.

Here I insert my caveat - sodomites and birth control junkies are simply sinners like the rest of us and should be loved like the rest of us. We all are idolators to some extent, all devoted to our private, consoling fictions, our little perversions that give us an illusion of power and control and that keep us from the great reality beyond the footlights.

The point here, though, is not simply the potential that play acting has to draw us to sin, but the fact that making believe is a great gift, and an element of the virtue of faith. This is why its misuse is so tragic - tragic in the most true (and dramatic) sense of that word. May we have the grace to use this gift to serve Him Who is Most Real, and not our own legion of unrealities.

Anyway, this will serve as the start of Fifty Days of Meditation on Acting and the Faith and on how we can be better Actors and more Faithful.


Teresa Ann Elizabeth Shrader said...

Glad I stumbled upon your blog!

Your writings are so refreshing and I look forward to more!

PAX Vobiscum,

Jared said...

As an actor (though one who's been--hopefully temporarily--out of the biz due, in part, to my unwillingness to compromise my faith for a gig), I wholly concur.

Looking forward to reading more reflections ....