On Acting and Living in the Character of Jesus Christ

Both are Inside Out Affairs...

As usually, when it comes to acting at least, Ms. Streep has it right. “finding myself in [the characters I portray]” is, to a large extent, what it’s all about.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Howard Fine’s book, Fine on Acting: a Vision of the Craft. I like what I see so far. For example, from p. 85: “If you want to get better at cold readings, READ! All art is derivative.” In chapter 4 on “Common Mistakes,” he notes: “The first common mistake that will lead you down a very bad path is judging the character. To me the root of all prejudice stems from our inability to see ourselves in other people.” Review the Streep quote above!

But here’s the core of it: “You don’t have to do a lot in order to get the message across…know your performance from the inside…not from standing back and looking at any of the externals, like how you look, but focusing on what’s coming from within you,” (p. 157, emphasis mine).

This is what I’ve been teaching and trying to embody for years. Here’s a handout I give (edited for you) to all my acting students. I hope it’s helpful as you try to re-present the character of Jesus Christ to the world.

“Learning to use the stage, speak lines, re-present a character requires constant discipline. It’s like learning to ride a bike. In the beginning our mechanics are clunky, awkward. Same thing with a performer. His lack of excellence is a matter of immaturity in the craft.

So, we rehearse. Mastery of any craft, from plumbing to singing opera, carries with it the demands of disciplined apprenticeship. We all must acquaint ourselves with the tools of the trade and then use them with such frequency and precision that, if I’m a plumber, the wrench becomes an extension of my hand, or my movement on the stage becomes natural and doesn’t come across as mechanical, or unmotivated. Acting is no less true for being well-rehearsed. It is more so.

My blocking/choreography is always conscious at first, and will need polish to appear natural to the point of nonchalance, and to allow me to fully inhabit my character. Eventually, over years of rehearsal and performance, we find that characterization and blocking become more and more natural because we have trained ourselves to go to the “right place” for so long. None of us wants a “paint-by-number” style of performance—predictable. Boring. It should appear as natural, anticipated and yet as surprising as the first leaf in spring.

But art is not natural in and of itself any more than the Christian life is “natural.” As artists we present edited life, lest we drone on about humdrum affairs that fail the “grace/seasoned with salt” test (Colossians 4:6). The Christian life should be considered a work of art. We don’t live it willy-nilly, according to the whim of the moment, but after careful consideration, prayer, and the discipline required by the spiritual life (editing out the fleshly desires of the old man), we re-present the Lord Jesus to the world with beauty and grace.”

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