Friday, July 29, 2011

Pretending in order to Get Real


If God exists, then He is real. In fact, He is that which is Most Real. He is Ultimate Reality. He is more real than we are, for our reality is a participation in His.


Indeed, every human being communicates with other human beings in an attempt to discover and to share That which is Real. If there is no Reality, then there can be nothing to talk about - except to hear our own words bounce around or to feel better about ourselves.


But only fools or scoundrels communicate for selfish or meaningless reasons. All authentic communication is predicated upon Reality, the attempt to discover and share with one another That which is Real.


Even atheists believe this. Atheists simply claim God is unreal, a comfortable illusion; but the good and thoughtful atheists share our devotion to That which is Real (the bad and thoughtless atheists tell you nothing is real) and the well-intentioned atheists still serve God in seeking what is Real, even without knowing it is Him they seek.


But look at us - even at us Christians - and look at our miserable and pathetic devotion to the Unreal.


In our economy, we blow bubbles and ride them until they pop.


In our personal lives, we have virtual relationships or barring that we simply get off with internet porn.


In our politics, we pretend as if marriage is whatever we say it is, life begins when we say it does, and man is what we want him to be.


And we fight to the death to maintain the illusions, the Unrealities that comfort us.


But the Unrealities don't comfort us. God made death, sin, and hell so that the world would be Real and our choices Real choices.


Think about the people you know whose lives are the most unreal, the old fools trying to act young, the addicts ignoring the destruction their addiction brings, the morally blind and deaf who continue to repeat the same behaviors in their lives over and over again despite the despair this breeds in themselves and others.


We want our sex sterile, our emotions numbed, our awareness fogged.


And we are lonely and miserable in our house of cards, our hall of mirrors.


But every now and then we read a good book, see a good play, watch a good movie, hear a moving song, and everything changes for just a moment and we remember that - thank God - we are not sufficient unto ourselves and the pretense we have built, the lie in which we live, the gauze in which we wrap ourselves, is not the country club prison we make it to be.


It's sad to say this rarely happens in church. But it often happens in a darkened theater.


Thus all artists, and actors in particular, can function as a kind of priesthood, for the function of a priest is to bridge the human to the divine, and in the case of good dramatic art to bring to the audience a glimpse of the truth that lies behind the scenery, the Reality illuminated by the gels of the footlights.


It is our job to communicate with good art, with well-written plays, and in our playing and our make-believe, to show forth That which is Real.


May we never forget this awesome responsibility that we, who ourselves are sinners devoted to the comfort of the Lie, bear. May we always serve what is real, what is True - that is to say, What is God.


St. Genesius, pray for us.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Christians and Usury


I have an article published in the Distributist Review this week. If you wander what usury is, what the Church teaches on it, how it is ruining our economy, and how Christians shold respond to it, click here!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Actor as Child


I had promised a post on the Actor as Priest, but before we get to that, let's talk for a minute about the vulnerability of acting - or the Actor as Child.


Actors wear masks and costumes, but in some ways they're quite naked on stage. Especially in an emotionally demanding role, an actor puts a very intimate part of himself out there for all to see, under the glare of spotlights, the gaze of the audience, the judgment of critics, the potential ridicule of the director. And actors do this because they are very trusting people, in a way.



And playing upon this, many directors or acting coaches will have actors do "trust falls" at rehearsal, in which an actor stands on stage, closes his eyes and simply plummets off, to be caught (he trusts) in the arms of his fellow cast members standing below (I would not advise doing this in a one-man show). This is meant to emphasize our dependence on one another and our need to abandon ourselves to the "experience", for being distrustful or closing one's heart can really block the creative process and hamper the kind of give-and-take actors need to develop with their peers in performance.


And actors tend to be vulnerable people to begin with, and both child-like in the good sense and childish in the bad sense. They are generally quite willing to trust and put their faith in something or someone (though most actors today are pagans and the last thing they'll do is trust in God).


This often opens actors up to the potential for serious abuse, some of it sexual, but most of it psychological. There are a ton of charlatans posing as acting coaches and directors at workshops and grad schools around the country, cult leader types who use mind games to mess with the actors under their care in order to bed their bodies and break their spirits. From what I hear, most grad school acting programs are simply Mind Games that you pay for.


And yet cynicism is the worst response to this. For cynicism in an actor or in anybody is a hardening of the heart. And as I said this hardening of heart chokes off the creative process.


For all artists need to keep this vulnerability, and all Christians need to have a vulnerability as well. We know Our Lord tells us that we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless we become like little children, but He also tells us something similar that's profoundly mysterious, something connected to being vulnerable - to being receptive.


In the Old Testament, David says to God, "With the pure thou dost shew thyself pure; And with the perverse thou dost shew thyself contrary." (2 Sam. 22:27) In the New Testament, God says to us, "Take heed what you hear. In what measure you shall mete, it shall be measured to you again, and more shall be given to you." (Mark 4:24)


These passages may not seem at first to be related to vulnerability, to circumcision of heart, or to becoming like children, but really they are. In some mysterious way, God - and all of life - responds to the approach we take, to the measure with which we measure, to the openness with which we hear the Word. We receive more than we expect when we don't shut ourselves off to the awful pain and splendor of life - and our cup overflows, with living water from flinty rock - if our cup is empty and ready to receive. It is the "cup of suffering", and if it is clean inside it will shine on the outside as well (see Mat. 23:26 & 26:39).


I have written elsewhere of the mystery of the soil, the strange way in which reception of the Word allows the potential life in the Word to come forth. Mark follows up the "measure for measure" speech in his gospel by going straight to this (Mark 4:26 & 27) - "And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow - how, he does not know."


Indeed, how we do not know. Our "know how" is less impressive than we think, and actors learn this all the time. "Know how" on stage only gets you so far. It's the presence of the Spirit that really matters, not your sophistication or technical prowess.


We do not "know how" the Word takes root and grows within us, but we do know that it can not do so without our willing reception of the Word, our cultivation of it - which requires at the very least a heart circumcised, broken like good soil by the plow of suffering, a heart open to the mystery that the seed contains. Only through our child-like vulnerability, trust, and openness (un-worldly-wise as these qualities are) can we become channels of grace - both on stage and off.


Thus actors must always be broken, broken like the alabaster box that contained the ointment that was poured upon Jesus' head, broken like the heart of Our Lord when it was pierced with a lance, broken like soil that the plow turns up to receive the seed, broken like the apostles who had nothing else to live for without Christ, broken like the pride of St. Paul knocked off his high horse, broken like an actor who's so broke can't pay his rent and whose heart is so sensitive that it shatters at the smallest of things.


For if we hear with good measure we will be hurt, we will be broken, and it is then that we will be able to Act.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Meaning of Life and Why We Act


A friend of mine was living in Chicago and he was miserable. Not because of the Cubs. And not because of toll booths. And not because of the winters!


He was miserable because he wasn't famous.


He was slaving away auditioning everywhere and doing some sort of comedy improv thing on local access cable TV and he was angry and sore that nobody noticed him. His whole life was focused on getting noticed! getting seen! getting famous!


And this is what happens to actors when they forget that it's not all about them. It's about the work.


But before I say that again, let's examine the question of The Meaning of Life


Earlier this week we had a backyard meeting of the ChesterBelloc Drinking and Debating Club, my men's only group that sits around discussing philosophy, life, religion, while arguing and drinking. Two of our members have tremendous faith - not faith in God, but faith in Evolution as the Answer to all Questions.


I finally got one of them (my favorite atheist, Steve) to admit the following:


From a subjective point of view, which is to say from the point of view of a human whose vested interest is the survival of his self and his species, man is better than other creatures. From an objective point of view, however (the point of view of an observer from space or an impartial eye in the sky), man is no better than any other creature. And the things that make man different from other animals - art, music, literature, will, reason, love - these things we value subjectively because they have a biological or evolutionary function in that they give us a reason to get out of bed in the morning, to eat, defecate and copulate. Culture, will and reason serve our animal existence by making us more adaptable and varied, etc.; in Steven's view the higher serves the lower, for really there is no higher or lower, it's all level.


Indeed, Favorite Atheist Steve was consistent enough to admit that only within the framework of life does life have meaning. Natural selection and adaptation are meaningful only because living things struggle to adapt and live - but from a purely impartial point of view, life has no inherent advantage over non-life: living matter is no better than non-living matter: indeed, something is not better than nothing, except for those selfish living somethings under the illusion that it is. Thus a rabbit exists only to make more rabbits and not to chew some grass and enjoy the beautiful day. We don't live to understand and appreciate and love; we understand and appreciate and love in order to live - for reason and will and even joy and laughter are only biological tricks to keep us eating and defecating and copulating so our kids can eat and defecate and copulate some more.


And this fascinates me.


Actor Erik with a K (our other man of faith) noted, "Are people better than animals? Let me put it this way, if a house were on fire and I had a chance to save either serial killer John Wayne Gacy or a dog, I'd save the dog."


"And I'd save John Wayne Gacy," I replied. "That's what makes me Catholic. Even the worst sinner is made in the image and likeness of God and is infinitely more valuable than all animals."


Now this does indeed all relate to acting - because either Steve is right that art, culture, music, reason, will, faith, love, have no intrinsic value, no objective value, are in and of themselves worthless, and are valuable only from our own points of view, and even then for reasons that are biological and chemical and deterministic; or I am right they have a transcendent value that rises above the dog-eat-dog world of natural competition and selection. "Prove that," Steve challenged me. "I can't," I replied, "You either see that or you don't."


But if you see that culture has value, that man has value, that life has value, then you can see that God probably does exist - for if any reality is transcendent, then the greatest reality must be transcendent. If reason is there - and it is - then life is not just about matter, for even if reason is a function of matter, reason transcends matter. If will is real, then there is a spiritual reality, for will is a spiritual thing. There is not just matter, there is form as well, as there is no matter without form. These unseen things (reason, will, form) are real and quite literally transcendent. So is beauty. So is goodness.


At any rate what you do see if something is better than nothing, if life is better than non-life, if man is better than a dog, if reason and will are better than robotics, if art is better than eating and defecating, and if good art is better than bad art, then, actors, listen up ...


FOCUS ON THE WORK.


You are made to make. You were created to create. "Ourselves we do not own" as Shakespeare says. It's not about you being the hero of public access cable TV, it's not about you being a matinee idol - it's frankly not about you at all. It's about truth, beauty and goodness - and those things are real, as real as matter and energy and biology - and they are of God. The idea of God is not an illusion to make us get out of bed. God does not serve our lesser selves. We drag the butts of our lesser selves out of bed in order to serve God; otherwise, what's the point? Literally. What's the point?


Use your talent for great things, for things beyond your self. Use your talent to serve God.


Otherwise you'll be miserable in Chicago, waiting 100 years for a World Series victory and 100 hours in traffic jams.


My next post: The Actor as Priest. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Finding Direction


Joan Roberts (left) and Celeste Holm backstage during the first Broadway run of "Oklahoma". They are the two surviving cast members. Joan is soon to be 93; Celeste is 94.


We sat there with my friend Joan Roberts, who played Laurey in the original Broadway production of Oklahoma, eating lunch in a Long Island restaurant. She was regaling us with a ton of stories about her days in vaudeville, the times she played the outdoor Muny Theater in St. Louis (in the 1930's), the time she auditioned for Cole Porter, how she helped Rogers and Hammerstein raise money to fund Oklahoma, and on and on. Maria and I were eating it up. But Actor Number Three (who shall remain nameless), a good guy, but a schulb, kept drifting off. How he could be disengaged during a lunch with this remarkable woman was beyond me. He looked desperately like he wanted to text.


Then the conversation turned toward Directing.


One of the funniest Matt Groening Life in Hell cartoons I ever saw was a drawing of a tombstone in a graveyard, on which was written the words HOPED TO DIRECT SOMEDAY.


That would have been me. I used to dream of directing. Webster University in St. Louis actually offers a B.A. in something they have the temerity to call "pre-directing", as if it's all that tough. Well, it's not.


But here's the thing about directing: it's a pain in the butt. It would be a blast if it weren't for the actors, but there's no way around the actors, so it's a pain in the butt.


Actor Number Three perked up for a minute and actually said something. "What do you do if you're in a play with a bad director? What do you do if he's giving you bad blocking or a wrong interpretation for your character?" (This will probably tell you a lot about my relationship with Actor Number Three).


"Tell him, Joan," I said to myself, "Tell him the virtue of OBEDIENCE, that mammoth gargantuan virtue that allows every actor to do his thing with serenity, casting all of his cares on to the director - the Director, who is the play's god, the figure who makes the final decision, the one whose word is law no matter what. Tell him!"


"The director?" she frowned. "Who's rear end is on the line during performance, his or yours? Who's going to get the applause? Who's going to get the cat calls? Who's got to make it work in the end? Ignore the director and do whatever you want!"


This was Joan Robert's advice to a Young Actor, based on literally 85 years in show business!


Well, I could understand what she meant. And the fact is some directors are simply awful and if they vanish the way they should after opening night and leave you to do all the work that people pay to see, well, why not do what works instead of what some guy who's not even there dreamed up?


But in fact Acting is indeed like Life and obedience is a virtue even when you're obeying someone who knows less than you do.


Take this Fr. Corapi situation. And this, I hope, is the last time I mention it.


What has finally calmed the waters is Fr. Corapi's superior doing what superiors and bishops ought to do - in this case, after years of not supervising Fr. Corapi - but doing it nonetheless.


When Fr. Corapi's superior said, "We have the goods on this guy. He is, for now, unfit for ministry, please do not follow him," the hurricane blew out and blew away. Certainly, the die-hards continue to drink the Kool-Aid, but the bulk of Fr. Corapi's supporters, who are well-meaning Catholics disgruntled with the lack of effective leadership in the Church, have backed off and have realized that something is indeed wrong with the man.


So what do you think would happen if the bishops would do what Fr. Corapi's superior did, and simply point out to Catholics that they are not to follow other Catholics who are publicly creating scandal? If the bishops followed canon law procedures and denied communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians, or ex-communicated the unrepentant ones who are building up a culture of death, what do you think the effect would be? Sure, we'd see the liberals howl, but a lot of them would simply shut up.


Vic Vacuous is right about one thing - we're in the midst of a Vacuum - and it's a power vacuum. We're seeing the level of dissent in the Church that we are - on both the right and the left - because the plays have been without Directors who take their jobs seriously enough to reign in those pains in the butts, those actors, who are under their care.


Joan Roberts will be 93 next Friday. Happy Birthday, Joan! Next time I take you to lunch, Actor Number Three will not be with us.


Because the dirty little secret is, when it comes down to actors vs. directors, the directors always win.


May the Lord send us more Good Directors.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It Ain't all about Show Biz


The Fraternity of St. Genesius, in its wisdom, has its members pray an additional mystery of the Rosary every day, one of what I would call the Apocalyptic Mysteries (mysteries of hidden things revealed), in this case the Mystery of the Hidden Life of Jesus.


Why, I often wondered, would Actors and those who pray for Actors be asked to meditate daily upon the Hidden Life of Jesus, those years when Our Lord lived quietly with Joseph and Mary, before His public ministry - those years when He loved and blessed in many hidden and small ways?


Obviously, to remind us that it ain't all about show biz.


It ain't all about the big sermon, the throaty denunciation, the dramatic conversion. As Fr. Longenecker and St. Therese remind us, holiness is about small, un-noticed hidden acts of love and sacrifice.


We can still serve God if we don't hit the big time. We will still be loved if our pilot doesn't get picked up. The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church if we have to retire to Robstown, Texas. Things will go on just fine, you know, even after we die.


Many of the actors who work for me are too young to remember Johnny Carson. Johnny Carson was as big as you can get. His Tonight Show was the pinnacle of the entertainment industry. Now Johnny is dead and half the people in the U.S.A. have no idea who he was.


Heck, Ringo Starr, my favorite Beatle, couldn't walk down the street without getting mobbed forty years ago. Now my YouTube videos get more views than his do.


But that won't last either, my friends.


Because even when you're as big as Kevin O'Brien, EWTN Rock Star, you're still smaller than the old lady in the nursing home who can't move her legs and whose kids don't come to visit, but who prays a Rosary every day and who in silent and hidden ways loved God and her neighbor her entire life.


Because it ain't all about show biz.

Idolatry and the Stewardship of Love

I am supposed to be in the midst of blogging about Acting and the Faith, and maybe I am, but I'm not so sure. Maybe I'm not ... but then again, maybe I am.


Today we learned more of the truth about Fr. Corapi's fall from grace from his superior at SOLT. I originally suspected when I heard this news that Fr. Corapi's followers would dig in their heels and that Fr. Corapi would play this revelation as a violation of his due process, and that the rejection of truth would continue, as would the game of blaming the innocent. But, to my surprise, this seems to have been the turning of the tide. The revelation by SOLT today was not greeted by Father Corapi's supporters with skepticism, hatred of Bishop Mulvane, calls to storm EWTN, or anything other than resigned sadness.


Fr. Longenecker nails it today, twice. First, in his post that's directly about Fr. Corapi and in his post that's indirectly about Fr. Corapi, the latter post being very insightful and touching. And the comments on both posts are surprisingly level-headed and charitable! This is especially surprising, for, back in March, Fr. Longenecker first timidly offered the sensible suggestion that we ought not, you know, go so far as to idolize any particular priest - and he was brutalized and nearly crucified in his combox for daring to suggest such a thing.


And the reason Fr. Corapi has gone awry we can all understand, and we see it in many actors - Rock Star Syndrome. And the reason Fr. Corapi's supporters turned ugly and nasty for a while there we can also all understand - Othello Syndrome. They are two sides of the same coin.



Rock Star Syndrome



We can all understand Fr. Corapi and his temptations. I mean, sex drugs and rock and roll - that stuff sells because that stuff is fun. Father's fall is a very understandable one. I mean, the reason there's drugs and hookers is guys like drugs and hookers.


Now, I have a hunch there's more to be revealed about Fr. Corapi and his behavior - but for now, these particular sins, though disappointing in a priest, are sins common to the human lot. And common especially to actors, who are desperate for attention and power anyway. There is a secret delight in power and control in all sexual sins - at least there is for men - and the sex of rock stars, of men who are idolized and adored, is a very potent form of the power-high that is the spiritual thrill behind mere carnal pleasure. Rock Star Sex is sex for power's sake, for the sake of being idolized and adored, for the sake of pride and control.


But this sin of pride and control, this sin of feeding off of the hero worship our audiences seem to offer us, this sin of being idolized, of being on top, is balanced by another sin, a sin less understood, the sin of being at the bottom, at the foot of the idol, and of offering to that idol the deepest and dearest part of your soul.



Othello Syndrome - "loving not wisely but too well"



While I know of no actor who does not secretly desire to be idolized himself, I know of no actor who does not openly idolize another actor, a movie or TV star.


And the sin of idolatry is as wrong as it is because it is a sin of misplaced devotion, of misdirected love, of the willful disordering of the greatest thing in our hearts. The greatest thing in our hearts is our hunger for God and our capacity to love Him - and when this most precious gift is indulged and allowed to light upon anything less than what it's made to worship, when our God-urge satiates itself upon any created thing, we go horribly wrong - and, like Othello, we become horribly gullible and capable of the most violent and irrational acts. We go so deeply wrong because the best thing about us goes wrong.


As I wrote to a friend today, "Emotions run high on this issue because all of Father's critics and fans love him and love what he's done. It's our sense of betrayed love and trust that has made this ugly. We have seen the spectacle of a spectacular preacher fall spectacularly, and that hurts everyone involved. We feel like crying, 'My father, why have you abandoned us?'"


We have all been jilted and we have all been hurt, and so things have gotten messy; accusations and over-reactions abounding. But we must not forget - we are not to put our faith in princes or in the sons of men. For doing so is a sin worse than addiction to drugs or dalliance with prostitutes.



How This Really Applies to Acting



Actors are suckers. We are fools for love. We love, like Othello, not wisely but too well. We become, like Othello, jealous and easily manipulated by others. We love so much that we will pay people to put us on stage and call us interns. We love so much that we will pay good money to directors in grad school who emotionally and physically abuse us. We love so much that we will work for a fraction of what we're worth. We love so much that we get taken advantage of. Again and again.


We are right to love our craft and to be willing to sacrifice for our love. We are wrong when we fail to see that this vocation of ours is not just a call from God, but a call to God, a call to serve Him and not simply to serve others or our own careers.



Conclusion



Yes, Actors, we are in this because we want to be gods. But we are much more hungry to love God than we are to be God, for we know that being God is alien to our nature, but serving God fits like a glove. Devotion makes us happy - recognizing that will keep us from the worst sins of pride - but devotion must be properly placed and subject to renunciation and sacrifice.


Let us pray for Fr. Corapi, his bishop, his superior, his accuser, his victims, and for all of us who have not been the best stewards of our love - who have loved not wisely but too well.

Monday, July 4, 2011

How Not to Act


Now of we course we all know actors are messed up individuals who desperately desire attention - me included. And we all know every actor wants to be the center of attention and become a big hit on the big screen and be adored by his countless fans - me included. And we all know that actors are eager to be carried around on people's shoulders and hailed as gods walking the earth - me included.

And the thing is actors know this about one another. And so we know that at cast parties, most of the talk will be about "myself". The leading lady will talk about herself, the leading man will talk about himself, and you'll interrupt every few seconds to say a word or two about yourself. Actors know this and realize that cast parties are almost always dull because of this, unless the cast has really come together during a show. Then cast parties can be a blast!

And how does a cast "come together"? By not behaving like actors when onstage.


Let's say it's your role in one play to carry a spear and stand behind the three or four actors who have dialogue in a given scene. All you're supposed to do is stand there and look like a spear carrier. But let's say, that in a desperate desire to be noticed, you decide to start mugging and making faces or fart noises, or even better - you let a rubber chicken drop from your pants! Now this is clever and creative and it will certainly get you noticed and achieve one of the main reasons you've become an actor. You'll be the center of attention.

And your fellow actors will kill you.

And you won't get the check.

Now the funny thing is that there's another force at work in the heart of the average actor. The average actor will perhaps stumble upon a show in which being noticed is not the most important thing - the play is, doing justice to the material is, the art is, and what the art points to is - a play where everyone is giving his all and the whole thing comes together and the audience loves it and suddenly, somehow, you realize you're a part of something much bigger than you are - even if you are simply carrying a spear. Suddenly you realize that you are part of a community, and that there is a communion at the heart of all this - a communion between the actors and the material, a communion betweeb the actors and his fellow cast members, a communion between all of this and the audience.

And then you start to see what sacrifice is. Sacrifice is skipping your big speech if your fellow actor has muffed a line and cut two pages and if going back and picking up your moment would be too awkward. Sacrifice is going on stage even when you're deathly ill because there's no understudy and the show must go on. Sacrifice is living a life of penury and privation because you want nothing more than to ply your craft, as it is the thing you're called to do and you love it beyond belief. (Marvin Hamlisch captured that perfectly in the best song from A Chorus Line.)

And of course this all applies to life. In life, sacrifice is the essence of love. Selfishness is the essence of sin. Selfishness is territorial and isolating; sacrifice is self-giving and unitive.

Get ready to get ticked off at me again, readers, but here we go.

If you support torture despite the clear teaching of the Church of Christ, you are being selfish, territorial and sinful.

If you practice contraception despite the clear teaching of the Church of Christ, you are being selfish, territorial and sinful.

If you support lying for certain causes despite the clear teaching of the Church of Christ, you are being selfish, territorial and sinful.

If you support something called marriage between members of the same sex despite the clear teaching of the Church of Christ, you are being selfish, territorial and sinful.

If you hate your pastor because he's allowed the music minister to do away with the teen chorus your kid sings in, or he won't let the girl scouts read the gospel at the girl scout Mass, or he won't let your kid be confirmed without some sort of preparation, you are being selfish, territorial and sinful.

If you assign the darkest of motives to the hearts of people who are doing things you don't like (such as criticizing a popular priest who's gone awry), you are being selfish, territorial and sinful.

And when you're being selfish, territorial and sinful, you are not being a good actor.

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.