Yesterday I played a card game with my lovely sister, a theater major at Desales University, and we talked about life. At one point Marian asked me:
“What is the point of theater?”
We both agreed that, from our point of view, theater is about truth.
The more I study acting theory, the more I run across the concept of truth. From Stanislavski’s chapter “Faith and a Sense of Truth” (the longest chapter in the first installment of his acting trilogy), to Meisner’s emphasis on the truth of the moment, and Westbrook’s Truth in Action, there is a call for truth, not pretense, in theater. I find it ironic that in a largely postmodern society, there is a beacon for truth burning in the theatrical arts – undoubtedly what many Christians consider to be one of the most liberal and pagan institutions of our culture.
Many in the theatrical world, like Westbrook, maintain that “That there is no objective truth, but there are personal truths.” Others hint at a longing for something deeper, more durable than “personal” truth. A Practical Handbook for the Actor, a book written by several authors, states that “the world needs theater, and the theater needs actors who will bring the truth of the human soul to the stage. The theater may now be the only place in society where people can go to hear the truth.”
Isn’t it tragic that theater has supplanted the church as the house of truth? Tragic, yes, but not surprising given the wide spread perception that the church is an instittion of hypocrites.
In The Sandford Meisner Approach: Workbook One Larry Silverberg writes an imaginary conversation with a student about her execution of an exercise. He comments that: “you allowed yourself to have a very personal experience here, which we witnessed and which opened us up to our pain, to our feelings of brokenness, to our deep desire to have real connection, and also, to how very precious life is.”
Out of context, that statement could and should be said about believers, but what do we often see in the church? A hypocrisy and pretense that denies our pain, denies our brokenness, denies a need for a connection with God and others, and, most scandalously, denies the need for a Savior.
Perhaps that is why the Church has stopped being seen as a place to find the truth. When it comes to matters of God and who we are, Christians aren’t known for honesty and transparency. We are greater hypocrites (in both the modern and Greek senses of the word) than many of the actors and playwrights we condemn as immoral for the debauchery they perform on the stage.
When I think of the many crossovers between theater and everyday life, the pursuit of truth is always the most gripping one for me. The power that theater has to speak truth into our lives is what makes it such a rewarding craft. Often my art, be it theatrical, visual, or literary, is a direct result of some truth I am trying to understand. It is an awesome privilege to handle truth in an artistic way. Every performance is an opportunity to explore truth together in the community that is created by the actors and audience.
This quote from St. Augustine is a inspiring way to think about acting: “The Truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.”
Here’s to the pursuit of truth, on and off stage!