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Handbook Appendices Forms Theatre Scholarships For Theatre Majors, Minors, and Intendeds University Theatre Handbook Table of Contents Theatre Home

A.1.c. The Christian and the theatre.

Question Three: Evil is all around us in this world.  How can Christians portray evil , or present evil characters on stage and remain true servants of God?

One of the more difficult, sticky issues with which every theatre company must deal is that of the presentation of both evil, and socially-restricted activities or themes in the theatre.  Every production company faces choices regarding the community it serves and what it feel its audiences will accept on stage.  This is a ponderable issue for our own University Theatre program for several reasons, not the least of which are specific prohibitions against certain "worldly" lifestyle activities on the Seattle Pacific campus.  The issues are not new, and will not go away, so we need to deal with them thoughtfully.

Why portray evil, or present evil characters on-stage?  Perhaps one reason is found in Aristotle's definition of theatre: "men in action imitating men in action" combined with Shakespeare's "holding the mirror up to nature," and Hamlet's goal of "catching the con­science of the king."  To be truthful to revealing the brokenness of our world the theatre must hold up the mirror of its plays to the world it seeks to imitate.  Evil, by this abstracted artistic process is thereby unmasked and can be seen for its true self.  Hypocrisy and pretension are shown their true faces.  Evil's consequences can be revealed as real consequences, and the theatre can speak with its prophetic voice to a complacent or self-indul­gent world.

Why portray evil, or present evil characters on stage?  Because the theatre can provide a reminder of the insidiousness of evil.  It can incarnationally reveal truly evil charac­ters, or portray characters who are an ambiguous mixture of good intentions and evil actions, creating instructive and striking portrayals that speak truthfully about the human condition.  These allegorical reminders are important in showing us the way we all too often are and the dangers we must struggle to avoid!

Why portray evil, or present evil characters on-stage?  Perhaps in a similar vein to the above response, we need to present evil on-stage to be true to the Biblical witness.  The Bible does not shy away from presenting evil characters.  They are often realistically-drawn complex characters, not shown merely in black and white caricature.  Ironically, these Biblical characters themselves often give way to evil, breaking laws of God and humanity in shameful ways, and not always do they seek forgiveness.  Yet the scriptures do not flinch from observing them closely, attempting to extract its meanings from their interplay of actions, however unacceptable they may be.  Why cannot the theatre pursue the same ends?

When considering what plays to present in our University Theatre season we ask some of the same questions any Christian should rightly ask when accepting a role.  Is this play appropriate to my witness?  Is this character made dimensional and understandable?  Are the actions and themes of the play developed as morally significant within the plot’s given circumstances?  Every artist who is a Christian working in the theatre must approach each play, each character, each action with care.  At all times individual actors need to ask whether he or she can undertake to portray an "evil" character in the context of a given play and have the legitimate possibility of providing a plausibly truthful performance.

The following are a very few questions one might ask in such situations:

What is the purpose of the script?

Is the purpose of the script to speak a prophetic word to our broken world?

Does the script raise questions about where we are headed if we continue as we seem to be doing?

What is the purpose of this character?

How does this character function in the play?

Is this evil character meant to be emulated/admired, or judged/questioned?

Is he/she a truthfully drawn character?

Is the "evil" necessary or gratuitous in the context of the play?

Is the language and/or actions spoken or done by this character "necessary?"

Are they "necessary" for the honest rendering of the character?

What could be modified without "losing" the core of the character?

How would that language/action be "read" or understood by our audience?

How would the audience respond to that play/action/language? 

How clearly these questions can be answered, and the complexity of thoughts the answers suggest, will provide a measurement of the script’s artistic strength and its honesty.  This will be, at least, a starting point for your struggle of conscience.  Obviously, every Christian performer must come to a personal decision regarding what his or her belief structure will admit.  Prayerful consideration is mandatory.

Next Section: Question Four

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