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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Davey and Goliath

Lately it seems I've been very fortunate in that the questions people are asking here on the blog are so long that they take up all the space I would normally use to blather on and on myself.

Cuts my work load in half!


I recently purchased a necklace from you, and I love it! I actually wrote about it here.

I hope it sends you a little traffic. :)

Anyway. I have read your blog and wanted to ask you for some advice.

I am an actor, and am in graduate school for acting. I've been cast in a play where the character I'm playing says g**d*** as an adjective. I am not comfortable saying this, and have been replacing it with d***. My director (who is also my professor) has said that he thinks that as an actor, I need to "get over" my aversion to this, as it will limit me in casting. Additionally, he says that in refusing to say it, what I'm really doing is judging the character (which, as an actor, you're not supposed to do) and stepping outside of it, which will prevent me from truly connecting with and embodying the character.

Acting is my vocation, and I feel strongly about being as good of an actor as I can be. I know that this is what God wants me to do, and it's going to be my way of changing the world. But then I think of Saint Genesius, and think that maybe avoiding blasphemy is more important than being a free actor. But I also don't want to limit myself within my art (and my profession). I have no problem playing a sinner (like a murderer or a liar), but usually, playing those roles doesn't make me feel as though I have to sin in order to do it (i.e. an actor playing a murderous character does not actually murder, but an actor playing a character who takes the Lord's name in vain actually has to do it).

Anyway. I guess I'm just confused on the matter, and I wanted advice from someone outside of the theatre (because I'm the only Catholic in my program, and the others think I'm overreacting). Would God want me to stay strong on this point? Or will God forgive me because it's the character who is taking his name in vain, and not me?

Any direction you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you kindly,


Your director/professor is not just whistling Dixie. He is correct on all points he makes about how your aversion may limit you. He is correct in saying that in order to play the character you have to fully understand the character . The character seems to have no trouble whatsoever taking the Lords' name in vain. It's not really a bad idea that you would try to understand this person. Let's not kid ourselves by pretending that this character is a very unusual person because of this proclivity.

I imagine at this point that my readers fully expect me to stop here and say, "but by playing this person who so easily blurts the name of God you are giving a tacit agreement to this type of venial sin and our agreement to small sins is what leads us to big sins."

So there. I just said that. On top of that, the vicious cycle of 'this is how people talk' makes people talking that way all the more common. Which means you'll have a lot more roles to turn down in the future. Too bad for you that "Davey and Goliath" isn't on TV anymore, since that and Sesame Street will soon be about all that is left for you.

But I'm not going to leave it at that, because I don't know the context of the play, or what the play ultimately says about the character who speaks this way. Perhaps, in the end, the play shows us why we shouldn't speak this way. I doubt it.

What would God think? Sin is about intent. Most plays, in some way or another, are about morality.

I'm sure in the future, if you are a very good actress and people are pursuing you, you are going to have to turn down a lot of roles. What if you get a highly paid juicy lead in a slasher movie and you have to run through the woods in your underpants chased by a chainsaw? What if you get a TV commercial for Viagra?

What if someone asks you to do Shakespeare?

I'm not sure I've been much help. One day you can start your own production company and be free to practice your art and play all the starring roles. Until then, perhaps our readers will weigh in with some sage advice.

Here in Los Angeles, people light sage on fire to 'cleanse' the air.


Anuarite said...

As a Catholic actor, I struggle with this as well. I avoid "rationalizing" things but just tackle them head-on, and I have often come to the conclusion that portraying sinners helps me understand them, and thus love them better. However, I have to be careful in considering this, because while playing such a role may lead ME to holiness, I have to consider where it will lead others.

I don't have a lot of concrete advice, but those are my thoughts on the matter. I'll be praying for you, Angela.

MAB said...

Not sure why Angela is so upset about the "God" part of the adjectival phrase but not the other word. To "d***" something or someone is to wish him/her/it to hell. That is something that we are also not supposed to do.

My advice, talk it over with your confessor or another priest you trust. Good luck!

bearing said...

Hm. I would think that the question is not so much what the character does, as whether the play is a good play. And by good I mean, a play that is worthwhile watching, a piece of art, something that teaches truth.

Is it redemptive? Is it moral? Does it have a true message to the audience, or a false one?

And if the play is, as a whole, a good play -- then I would not monkey around with the piece. What an author puts in a character's mouth is there for a reason. You can't depict redemption without depicting sinfulness, and all that.

I could see turning down a role because the role occurred in a work that was not worth watching. But ultimately the piece has to be judged as a whole.

Angela said...

Hello all! I am the question-asker of the post.

Thanks, Sister, for responding!

@Anuarite - Thanks for empathizing. :)

@MAB - I did get over the "d***" thing because it comes up SO, SO, SO often. I'm not advocating the use by any means, but it's something I've learned to deal with.

@bearing - The play is "The Mystery Plays" by Roberto Aguierre-Sacasa. Part of the play deals with redemption, how big of sins can be absolved, and what mysteries lie ahead of us. The main character comes to the conclusion that there is room for God in even the smallest of crevices. So in that way, I think that it has a positive message.

Aunty Belle said...

Bearing seems to have good sense on this matter.

If the play addresses a truth, is true to the circumstances and people it portrays, your acting the part is worthy. I don't imagine that those actors who played the Pharisees in the Passion of the Christ were all atheists. If Catholics played the part of those who jeered at Christ or beat Him, they helped portray a truth that needs to be known.

( on the otherhand, I would definitely draw the line at running through the woods in my dainties)

But, that said, maybe some writers could reexamine the amount of blasphemous and vulgar language they put in the mouths of characters. Recently I read two political thriller best sellers. One was written by a Catholic author and while it was a good thriller and the macho hero was also a good husband and father, there was simply too much foul language.

The second novel was also a "tough guy" story, but there were less than a dozen vulgarism in 300 pages. Yet, the book is a national bestseller--that is, lack of foul words has not held back the book's sense of "realism" in a world of spies and terrorists.

Melanie said...

Angela, if you have to convince yourself something *isn't* sin, it probably is for you. It sounds like using this language would severely violate your conscience, and if so, it may be time to find another alternative. Such as finding an accredited program at a Catholic college or university that would accept your transfer credits.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sister,

Thank you for maintaining this blog. Even if I don't really comment, I love reading through your posts here! I know that this isn't really specific to the Davy and Goliath post, but when is it ever a good time to break from the ordinary and tell someone they're appreciated? =) I hope you're having a wonderful day!


Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

as soon as possible.

Many people receive such praise and appreciation (especially when it is both honest and specific) as love. And we Christians are supposed to love one another, love our neighbors as our selves, and love our enemies, and pray for them.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Melanie on the conscience part. It's a sin to not follow one's conscience. And although I can see how it would be good to look at the meaning of the play as a whole, one cannot commit an intrinsic bad or evil even if the outcome is good. I mean that even if the intent is good and the circumstances are that taking the Lord's name in vain is only part of the play, the act itself is breaking the third commandment, so the whole moral act is bad...object, intent, and circumstance. Would it really change the play that much to leave it out? Yeah...when in doubt, ask a good priest : )

bearing said...

I don't agree with Melanie on conscience, at least not as a general principle applicable to everybody. If there were no such thing as "excessive scrupulosity," she would be right. But some people struggle with what might be termed an overactive conscience, where they worry constantly about whether this or that or the other thing is a sin.

Not every inner message of "maybe this is wrong" should be heeded.

bearing said...

Oh, and I am not convinced that there is anything intrinsically evil about this. Speaking the Lord's name is not intrinsically evil; it is good in some circumstances, neutral in others, wrong in still others. "Taking the Lord's name in vain" refers to a set of circumstances in which speaking the Lord's name is wrong.

The question here is, does speaking the Lord's name in the context of being an actor playing the role of someone taking the Lord's name in vain, equal "the actor is taking the Lord's name in vain."

I think this is what is being debated here. I would be happy to hear and to consider arguments that an actor takes the Lord's name in vain when he plays a character who takes the Lord's name in vain, but I for one do not think that what the actor is doing constitutes taking the Lord's name in vain.

Lisa said...

Disobeying your conscience is a sin but on the other hands scruples can make you miserable for no reason. Feeling uncomfortable is not the same as having a conscientious objection. Maybe you are called to heroic virtue, Angela, but I don't think it's a sin to keep the rolw and play it as written.

Actors pretend to do a lot of things that they would never really do. It's true that when you pretend to say words you really say them. But the intent is not one's own; it is the fictional intent of a fictional character whom one is pretending to be. It wouldn't be adultery to, in character, kiss another actor who was pretending to be one's own true love but who was played by a man who was married. (It might not be comfortable after a while, which is one of the reasons I'm not an actor any more, but it wouldn't be adultery.) Similarly, it's not breaking the third commandment to pretend to be someone who takes the Lord's name in vain. It's your mouth saying the words --but then it was your mouth kissing, too.

That doesn't mean, dear Angela, that you are in the right field or that you want to play this role. But it's not a sin.

Best wishes in your studies and your career!

Potamiaena said...

Angela, you have chosen a tough road. Just know you are going to have many more of these decisions.

I myself HATE foul language of any kind, and avoid all plays or movies or books who take the name of God in vain. Foul language is becoming mainstream and acceptable. If we had more people in the world like Angela and myself, perhaps things would change.

The same ideas can be expressed using more descriptive and appropriate language. The rewrite just takes a little brain power!

Anonymous said...

The immediate perception when people use foul language in presence is an attempt to do violence on me, provoke anger, or on uttering angry words in my presence to suggest I should be held accountable for their lack of patience or intense emotional reaction, or insult sensitivities. It less offensive however, when there is a knowledge deficit and profanity is used as a matter of discourse. Most of the time, vulgar language seems perpetuation of a habit of careless offensiveness, not unlike choosing to refuse bathing under conditions where it's a viable option, or wearing dirty boots across a newly washed floor.

Unknown said...

Gosh, I'm not sure how Lisa can so definitively state that taking the Lord's name in vain is not a sin.

I think laying the "blame" of the sin on the character seems like an easy out, a spiritual compromise, a slippery slope. Kissing, running around dressed provocatively, swearing, etc. all, imho, have added and continue to add to the demise of our society. Demon worship? No biggie, I was just pretending. Sorry, but I don't buy it.

Unless you're with a group of actors/directors/writers with similar beliefs, this will be a never-ending issue. Maybe you could turn your creative juices into another area.

Just my opinion. Best of luck to you. :)

Brian said...

Sister - very nice blog!

Glad I found it..

God bless..

Anonymous said...

I've heard that early on, Christians were discouraged from becoming actors. Perhaps they knew Christian actors would run into dilemmas such as this one.
One thing to consider is, what is the purpose of the character saying G.D? Is it used in anger, frustration, etc? Does it move the plot along, or tell more about the scene or the character? Or is it--as all too often--used with no more purpose than that the author couldn't think of something better to write at the time?
Good luck,
Angela H-B

Marie said...

My husband once matter-of-factly stated that of course sex in movies is worse than violence.
How could he say that, I asked?
Because the violence is always pretend -- no one ever really shoots each other on TV. But the sex is real, even if you want to say you are "acting", your lips are really kissing that other person's lips. You can debate intention and whether you're in character or not all you want, but you are never pretending to kiss another person the way you are pretending to hit someone over the head with a pipe.
Not sure where taking the Lord's name in vain would fit into that scenario. . . .

Josh, Amy, Olivia, Josiah, Girum, Tarikwa, and Taye said...

Marie's on track! "Acting as if...." you're doing something that requires you actually do it (like saying an unconscionable phrase or kissing one man while you're married to another) seems like....a problem...when the thing is morally questionable. Fortunately for you, a good actor can make the back of a ketchup bottle sound like swearing or poetry. Rage and love can fill all sorts of verbal vessels -- try something unexpected, support it with a remembered detail from the character history you've imagined, and play on! Choose your roles carefully. Even if the play doesn't have a "moral message"...your choices can.