Tag Archives: Church of the Resurrection

“You already wear a mask!”

The part of physical theater classes that made me most skeptical was mask work. Masks freak me the heck out. But after working with a neutral mask in Paola’s workshops, I think I better understand how they’re useful tools.

One is supposed to be male and the other female, but I never can tell which is which. My hunch is that the female is on the right.

When you put on a neutral mask, you can’t tell a story with your facial expression. All the communication has to be in the rest of your body. The mask leaves no room for timid or halfhearted playing. You have to fully commit.

After class one week, Paola asked me what sort of performances I was working on these days. I told her I was doing a little improv in the suburbs, but mostly I was preparing for Easter Vigil at my church. She asked for more details.

I told her that we tell several stories from the Old Testament, and we have to stick to the text exactly, but we have freedom to move, dance, and sing.

She asked, “Are you mostly moving or mostly speaking text?” This year, I’m mostly moving.

She asked, “And this is for how many people?” It’s a big auditorium; we’re expecting around 2,000 people.

“This is perfect! You bring all the mask work with you. You cannot use your face; only a couple people are close to see your face. All you have is movement. This is how you serve the text, whether you speak it or not. In front of 2,000 people, you already wear a mask!

You won’t see me wearing a (scary, right?) neutral mask in the readings, but you can bet I’ll be pretending to wear one, especially during Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea.

In the beginning …

… my sketch idea was more boring than it was in the end.

My church is moving into a new building, and they asked me to make a video to promote one of our Consecration events: We’re going to read the whole Bible aloud in a week, which should take roughly 24 hours each day. This means we need the whole church to take turns reading so nobody gets worn out.

I recruited my Flash Fiction partner, Brendon, to act in the video. My husband Blade helped with some of the technical aspects.* I wrote the basic outline for the sketch and edited the footage.

I had three ideas for the sketch, and they came to me in this order:

  1. Brendon signs up for all the reading slots, and I spend the video talking him out of it. I explain how the Consecration event actually works.
  2. Brendon signs up for all the slots and I coach him through it. He messes up a lot — reads the verse numbers and all the footnotes aloud, for instance — and I have to keep him on track.
  3. Brendon practices reading the whole Bible, and I just let him go.

The third thought ended up being the strongest. Del Close said** that an improviser’s first and second thoughts tend to be knee-jerk reactions. It’s usually a player’s third idea that has life.

The first thought was boring, because why would I spend 3 minutes trying to talk Brendon out of doing something? It’s always better to do something than it is to debate about doing something.

The second thought was based off the idea that we needed a straight man to ground the scene and set the record straight. Maybe we would need to explain more with some audiences, but our audience is biblically literate folks who like Rez on Facebook.

The third thought was the most energetic. It felt like Brendon and I were on the same team instead of him being on the Team of Fun and me being on the Team of Boring Reasonableness. Being on the same team is more joyful.

Also, my own role shrunk from actor/director/editor to director/editor, which felt better. Three hats is too many hats.

*Technical aspects include: Setting a camera up on a tripod, letting me know when we were out of battery, and teaching me how to use iMovie. 

**I can’t find a citation for this, but I can find a lot of people writing, “Oh, yeah, a teacher told me that Del told her that …”

Trust first, then love.

A much earlier version of this post appeared a couple of years ago on a now-defunct blog. I cleaned it up for you, but I preserved the original comments. You don’t go throwing away your mom’s sniffles.

Before I could seriously do improv, I had to heal from church. Playing taught me a skill I’d totally lost but that I needed if I was ever going to brave church again.

The churches I grew up in were mired in conflict. Not honest, productive disagreement; more like festering resentment. It was the kind of conflict that nobody talked about directly, only through gossip. You never knew what people might be saying about you or your family behind your back.

This led to ugly church splits. (Has there ever been a pretty church split?) When I was in middle school, my parents moved the family to a church that had had no splits in at least decades, maybe ever, because maybe everything would be ok there.

And everything was ok for awhile. The church ran so smoothly because everybody had a deep, unquestioning trust for the pastors. That worked well enough until the pastors fell apart — bickering, gossip, and moral failings* left us without anyone in charge.

By the time I graduated high school and moved away, I had collected a compelling list of reasons not to trust people.**

All this mistrust handicapped me when I started learning improv. 

I would decide I couldn’t trust a fellow player because she intimidated me or I didn’t know him well enough, but then our scenes together were guaranteed to flop. According to our directors, the only chance any of us had was to trust one another.

But I already knew that trust is foolish! Trust leads to betrayal and disappointment! Why would I make myself vulnerable to that?

Because that’s the only way anyone would want to play with me. Because it’s the only way I could ever get any good.

I couldn’t start trusting everybody all the time — remember how foolish that is? — but maybe I could try trusting a little. Just these few players, though, and just for 2 hours a week at practice. I can handle anything for 2 hours.

My playing got better, and I bonded with my troupe. That trust bled over into how we treated one another outside of practice. Somewhere along the way, we found we’d grown to love each other.

I’d always thought I needed to be friends with someone for a long time before I could trust them. Now I was finding that, if we trusted each other first, love followed. Some of my deepest friendships are still with people I got to know because we learned to play together.

Some of the friends I made in improv gave me rides to their church, where I found a community of people who trusted and loved each other in real life. I’ve now been a member about seven years.

I am not a preacher, nor do I have of any gifts of healing or tongues or evangelism or any of those big impressive-sounding ones. But I know God has met and healed me through play more than in any other way, and play is something I can teach.

* “Moral failings” is church-ese for addiction or infidelity. Maybe more, but that’s how I’ve heard it used.
** There were bright spots, too. I have some wonderful memories of children’s choir and youth group rattling around in there with the trauma.