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From the Editor -
David Ian
Acting Up
Featured Article
Jesus – Headliner
By David Ian

I was conducting a seminar on character development for a Christian drama conference. Here many seasoned and hope-to-be-seasoned dramatists get together, learn from each other, and walk away fired up to go back to their respective drama ministries, youth groups and holiday productions with fresh ideas and inspirations.

During this seminar I began describing how to get the most out of characters by going beyond just the lines of text, delving deeper into background – such things as what others say, imply or react around the character, as well as how that character affects events or other people. As an example, I chose Jesus for a character. Possibly the most depicted personage on stage, and yet, I maintain, the least developed but most complex character ever to grace the boards.

I called upon my group to list all the aspects of Jesus, by what he said, what he did,
The Network
By Glenn A. Hascall

THEME: Witnessing

CATEGORY: Light-hearted

SYNOPSIS:

A spy spoof using all phrases Christianese. AGENT X, AGENT Q and AGENT W (disguised as a waitress) are working to decode what is being said by two Christians, and leave with more questions than they started with.

CAST:

TOM, JERRY, WAITRESS, AGENT X, AGENT Q and OFF STAGE VOICE that will simulate a computer voice (can be played by AGENT Q actor if disguised well enough).

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what others said about him, how others responded around him, how he affected people, how other people affected him, and so on. The grease board was immediately filled with descriptions such as loving, loyal, dutiful, kind, caring, gentle, joyous and other such descriptions.

Then I challenged the group to think outside of the box by taking the highs and the lows, the extremes from all angles – from the fury of the cleansing of the temple to the anguish on the cross. Then came meatier descriptions like passionate, intense, furious, righteous anger, man of sorrows – more, more, more, more and more descriptions.

A second grease board later I had wrung the group dry of ideas and there was quite a list of words and phrases to describe God Incarnate who walked our earth, lived with his disciples, and has been depicted on stage and written about over the ages. Then I told them this story:

I was directing an Easter pageant one time and the script called for many scenes highlighting Jesus' life. The actor portraying Jesus had the daunting task of bringing to life the Man who was bigger than Life. He had to make the fantastical occurrences that have been seared into our Christian Lore seem spontaneous and as though happening for the first time. He had to say words that have been studied to exhaustion and somehow make them seem fresh and new. In short, he had to portray a Jesus that was familiar to everyone, but also a surprise to everyone. An actor’s and director's dilemma.

Before we worked a single scene, I sat him down and gave him a director's talk. "The first thing I want you do, before you get into the script, your part, or that difficult crucifixion scene – before any of that," I said, "I want you to do this…"

My actor leaned forward anticipating this first piece of direction I was about to impart upon him.

"I want you to tell me what Jesus' favorite joke is."

Blink.

Blink.

Confusion raced around my actor's face like a nervous twitch not knowing where to strike next.

"Jesus is a master of ironic wit," I continued on, "and I want you to prove that to me in your delivery. We've so wrung out the words of Jesus in order to glean their spiritual truths, that the humor in them has been left high and dry. Jesus is better than Letterman or Leno with his monologues and your job is to make them sound fresh, topical and applicable to his audience."

Having finished that story, I looked over the two grease boards that my seminar class had filled. There were entries like "Happy" and "Joyous", but nothing about "Humorous," "Funny," "Witty," "Jokester," anything of that nature.

Then came the question.

"So, where in the Bible does it say Jesus was funny?"

This was a loaded trap I had ready to spring.

"Think about a blind old man driving another blind man around down town in his car so that he'd be safe?

Or how about shoving a 2x4 in your eye before helping to take out your neighbor's contact lens?

And let's not forget the imagery of a camel trying to go through the hood ornament of a Mercedes."

The class emitted a scattering of laughter.

"See? Funny stuff. If you're looking for it," I shrugged. "I just dressed up some of his material with modern references so that it was new to the ear. And I get laughs. How about that?"

"So what was the answer?" one person asked.

"The answer to what?" I responded.

"What joke did your actor think was Jesus' favorite?"

"Well, it wasn't a joke, necessarily," I replied, "but he said he never would have thought of this as being funny, until he was looking for it."

And here it is; it comes from John 16:29-31:

"Then Jesus' disciples (at the Last Supper) said, ‘Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.’

Then Jesus answered, (and my actor for Jesus rolled his eyes and threw up his hands in mock exasperation) ‘Finally! You believe at last!’" and he finished with a broad laugh.

Yeah, Jesus was a lot of things: loving, loyal, dutiful, passionate, intense, a man of sorrows … and a funny guy. But he tends to be written and staged as a puppet going through the motions of a preordained script, speaking words we all know, in a way we expect, and going to an end that surprises none of us. It's our challenge, and I dare say our calling, to present the time Our Lord spent on this earth as the complex character that he was, alive and vibrant, answering only to his Heavenly Father, refusing to be a product of everyone else's imaginations, expectations or machinations.

My next direction for my actor who portrayed Jesus? "Tell me what you think Jesus did with his nails when they started to break off? Bite them off, or rip them off?"

I'll let you decide that for yourselves.
David Ian is the Founder and Artistic Director of "Unchained Productions", a Christian theatrical production and resource organization. He is an award-winning playwright and performer, and despite having no kids of his own, he is touring a one-man comedy show entitled "The Replacement Disciple". His website can be found at www.UnchainedProductions.com.