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Christians and swearing on stage


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#1 Phantom_of_the_Forum

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Posted 28 November 2007 - 04:02 PM

I'm just curious as to what the various opinions are concerning whether or not a Christian should swear on stage.

Specifically I mean in a non-Christian setting, like a community theater production.

Is there a line between gratuitious profanity and staying true to the character?

Does "staying true to the character" justify it at all? Can it be broken down into "a little is okay, a lot is not"?

I guess you see where I'm going.

Thanks very much in advance! smile.gif

#2 Greg Wright

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Posted 28 November 2007 - 06:35 PM

For me, it really depends on the material. If the language is used in a truly purposeful manner -- that is, to contribute specifically to the meaning of the work -- rather than just as shock value, I'm okay with it.

But the bottom line for me is this: if I take the part, I play the part as written. So I vet the language issues (as well as nudity and vulgarity -- or uselessness) before even showing up for auditions or considering a role.

#3 DanBuck

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Posted 28 November 2007 - 08:27 PM

Uttering a profanity on stage is as bad as picking a pocket onstage. Neither is real. A profanity is commited in the heart, an actor speaking a profanity isn't sinning.

Having said that, as the others have menioned the work's merit should be evaluated to see if the profanity is in service of a greater good. If the play is worth producing it's worth portraying the characters therein.

Edited by DanBuck, 28 November 2007 - 08:28 PM.


#4 Phantom_of_the_Forum

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Posted 28 November 2007 - 09:45 PM

Thanks, these are great perspectives.

I think of Mozart in "Amadeaus" and how it is vital to the show that he be a profain and obscene character. It would be a great dis-service to the work to "clean him up" (so to speak).

That being said, I doubt I could ever do David Mamet show. biggrin.gif

#5 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 28 November 2007 - 11:23 PM

DanBuck wrote:
: Uttering a profanity on stage is as bad as picking a pocket onstage. Neither is real. A profanity is commited in the heart, an actor speaking a profanity isn't sinning.

Um... and what about actors getting naked or having sex on stage?

Uttering a profanity is utterly real, whether it's done on a stage or in the lobby. It might be more justified in one context than the other, but it's still real.

As it is, I don't think four-letter words are anything to worry about, so it wouldn't matter to me one way or the other if the script was full of them.

The more complicated issue is scripts that are full of blasphemous uses of the names God or Jesus. Which, in turn, is kind of tied into the question of the relationship between "real" prayers and "simulated" prayers (i.e. prayers said by actors when they are "in character"). It is one thing for, say, a real-life father and daughter to play a fictitious father who disowns his daughter on stage (as Topol once did with his daughter in a production of Fiddler on the Roof); in cases like that, the real-life relatives have consulted with each other and have agreed on what to do. But I wonder sometimes how we can be sure whether God approves of the way that we "simulate" our interactions with him in drama.

But four-letter words, most of which signify body functions? Couldn't care less one way or the other. Obviously it matters HOW such words are used, just as it matters whether a playwright gives his actors long-winded speeches or very short, terse exchanges. It's all a question of aesthetics and dramatic function, etc. But morally, it's not worth singling out.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 28 November 2007 - 11:24 PM.


#6 Phantom_of_the_Forum

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Posted 28 November 2007 - 11:42 PM

QUOTE (Alan Thomas @ Nov 28 2007, 07:02 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Link to my comments on Glengarry Glen Ross and the obscenities therein.


Yeah, I agree with your comments - I just meant that I, personally, couldn't utter so much profanity at once. I guess, right now, that's one of my lines I can't cross. Matter of degrees I suppose.

#7 SDG

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Posted 29 November 2007 - 09:54 AM

What Peter said, pretty much. (We Ortho-Catholic/Catho-Orthodox Christians have similar sensibilities in this regard.)

Caveat: I'm not sure I would quite say that "uttering a profanity is utterly real" onstage. If profanity lies in the misuse of sacred language, and if it can be morally legitimate to portray a character using profanity, then the actor who so protrays his character is not himself misusing sacred language and is thus not personally profane.

What makes me cautious about this line of reasoning is that we are in the realm of the sacred. Etymologically, "profanity" suggests desacrilization, sacred things outside of a sacred context (pro + fanum, "before [i.e., outside] the temple"), in a secular context where it doesn't belong.

An actor who portrays a character misusing the name of Jesus Christ is himself at least making secular use of a sacred name, which seems to formally meet the concept of profanity. That at least treads close to the Second Commandment (or third for Protestants). I think the question is worth thinking about.

#8 Greg Wright

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Posted 29 November 2007 - 10:44 AM

QUOTE (SDG @ Nov 29 2007, 09:54 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I think the question is worth thinking about.

If for no other reason than that it's well known that being "in character" for any length of time can have very real (and even lasting effects) on the actors themselves. The most disturbing case of this I ever observed was actually in a church-sponsored production about David's infidelity with Bathsheba. The actors portraying David, Mical, and Bathsheba all had serious problems with the characters' morals and conflicts spilling over into real life, and others in the production eventually had a hard time separating the characters flaws of David from the actor portraying David. It's even safe to say that the actor who played David had his own personal character permanently besmirched by his association with that role.

So it's always important for an actor to think very carefully about the roles one takes.

Edited by Greg Wright, 29 November 2007 - 10:45 AM.


#9 mrmando

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Posted 29 November 2007 - 12:12 PM

QUOTE (Greg Wright @ Nov 29 2007, 07:44 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
It's even safe to say that the actor who played David had his own personal character permanently besmirched by his association with that role.

The perils of method acting ...

During her summer teen production of Grease, my wife had to defuse a crisis: the young lady playing Sandy announced, five minutes before curtain, that she wasn't going on. Why? She'd just been romantically rebuffed by the young fellow playing Danny. My wife convinced the young lady to channel her feelings into her performance. But she always tries to remind actors that the drama belongs on the stage, not behind it.

Anyway, the more an actor personally identifies with the character and starts behaving like that character offstage, then the less it makes sense to argue that the character's dialogue and actions are not "real." Agree with SDG that the blasphemy/profanity issue is "worth thinking about." Perhaps you choose not to play a particular character on that basis. Or if you do play that character, is there a way you can portray the offensive language as a character flaw?

Nudity on stage? It can be nonsexual and symbolic (Wit), sexual but essential to the plot (Equus), or completely gratuitous (Hair, but in that case the whole play is gratuitous).

The idea of sex on stage raises not just religious questions but psychological ones ... who in his/her right mind would want to do that?



#10 Joel C

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Posted 29 November 2007 - 12:32 PM

QUOTE (mrmando @ Nov 29 2007, 10:12 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
The idea of sex on stage raises not just religious questions but psychological ones ... who in his/her right mind would want to do that?

Well, obviously people like this. Harry Potter is innocent no more. (Old news, but still...)

Edited by Joel C, 29 November 2007 - 12:32 PM.


#11 DanBuck

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Posted 29 November 2007 - 12:34 PM

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ Nov 29 2007, 01:23 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
DanBuck wrote:
: Uttering a profanity on stage is as bad as picking a pocket onstage. Neither is real. A profanity is commited in the heart, an actor speaking a profanity isn't sinning.

Um... and what about actors getting naked or having sex on stage?


I don't believe that getting naked is a sin. (I do it every morning and have yet to repent.) If you believe that the nudity or the portrayal of the sexual act is such that it could cause others to sin, then it should be avoided. But simulating sex onstage isn't necessarily a sinful act, imo.

QUOTE
Uttering a profanity is utterly real, whether it's done on a stage or in the lobby. It might be more justified in one context than the other, but it's still real.


"Real" might have been a bad choice of word for me. I meant sinful. I would even argue (and I think SDG is on my page here as well) that profaning, is not occuring if the ultimate goal of the play is glorifying. If it is a work that points us to that which is good and true.

QUOTE
But I wonder sometimes how we can be sure whether God approves of the way that we "simulate" our interactions with him in drama.
I can't imagine god would have any problem with the method simulating of anything. If it's occuring in the world, and deserves our attention, we need to simulate it to some degree. We are not simulating OUR actions, we're simulating someone else's actions, and not necessarily endorsing them.



#12 Anders

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Posted 29 November 2007 - 12:35 PM

QUOTE (Joel C @ Nov 29 2007, 09:32 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE (mrmando @ Nov 29 2007, 10:12 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
The idea of sex on stage raises not just religious questions but psychological ones ... who in his/her right mind would want to do that?

Well, obviously people like this. Harry Potter is innocent no more. (Old news, but still...)


Uh, I'm pretty sure that he just got naked on stage (which DOES raises the question of nudity in art again, and even posing for nude drawings as well, hmm), and did NOT actually have sex with anyone (or any animals...). wink.gif

#13 Joel C

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Posted 29 November 2007 - 12:50 PM

QUOTE (Anders @ Nov 29 2007, 10:35 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Uh, I'm pretty sure that he just got naked on stage (which DOES raises the question of nudity in art again, and even posing for nude drawings as well, hmm), and did NOT actually have sex with anyone (or any animals...). wink.gif

Yes, I think you're right. However, as I understand it, the nudity is pretty sexual in nature for most of the play. Which of course brings up the old argument of non-sexual nudity in art vs. sexual nudity.

#14 mrmando

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Posted 29 November 2007 - 12:51 PM

QUOTE (Anders @ Nov 29 2007, 09:35 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Uh, I'm pretty sure that he just got naked on stage (which DOES raises the question of nudity in art again, and even posing for nude drawings as well, hmm), and did NOT actually have sex with anyone (or any animals...). wink.gif

Yeah, we've discussed that play elsewhere. I've seen it (not the production with Dan Radcliffe); the fact that the boy & girl are naked but do NOT have sex is a critical plot point; the boy's ecstasy earlier in the play is simulated. At least I sure hope it is.

I was in a production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (as a musician), a script that involves or implies multiple sexual encounters, but can be credibly staged with no nudity at all ... somehow you're always either fading into a scene just after the sex or fading out just before it. Very clever writing. And the play clearly shows how wantonness destroys the characters.

#15 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 29 November 2007 - 08:11 PM

Two quick points:

I may have been a bit sloppy when I referred to "profanity". I was using it in the broader sense which includes the uttering of four-letter words. (But not quite so broad as to include the pronunciation of such words as "shitake mushrooms" or the biblical town of "Shittim".) Where the word "profanity" is restricted to the use of religious names, etc., then yeah, I think my comments dovetail with SDG's etc.

I gather that many actors do get naked and simulate sex onstage, and I believe them (the male ones) when they say that they tend not to get aroused because they find being in front of a large audience somewhat inhibiting. That said, when two bodies are pressed against each other, I'm not sure it matters how flaccid the male partner is. (I have admittedly never seen a play that went this far, but then, I don't go to many plays; films like Factory Girl and The Pillow Book, on the other hand...) There are still "real" body parts "really" touching, etc. And FWIW, I am sympathetic to those Christian actors who say they cannot accept chorus-line roles in Les Miserables because it means groping or letting themselves be groped during e.g. the 'Lovely Ladies' sequence. (Though I don't begrudge any actors who CAN accept such roles. The clothes do stay on, after all. But would I want my own wife to have one of those roles? Would she want me to have one of them? Hmmm.)

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 29 November 2007 - 08:11 PM.


#16 DanBuck

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Posted 30 November 2007 - 02:36 AM

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ Nov 29 2007, 10:11 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
And FWIW, I am sympathetic to those Christian actors who say they cannot accept chorus-line roles in Les Miserables because it means groping or letting themselves be groped during e.g. the 'Lovely Ladies' sequence. (Though I don't begrudge any actors who CAN accept such roles. The clothes do stay on, after all. But would I want my own wife to have one of those roles? Would she want me to have one of them? Hmmm.)


Yep. I have big theories about what actors "can" do. But what my life would LET me do is a VERY differnt story. smile.gif

#17 jfutral

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Posted 30 November 2007 - 09:17 AM

QUOTE (Anders @ Nov 29 2007, 12:35 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
(which DOES raises the question of nudity in art again, and even posing for nude drawings as well, hmm), and did NOT actually have sex with anyone (or any animals...). wink.gif

As someone who works for a dance company that is associated with nudity and partial nudity on stage, and some of it very sensual, I think the question boils down to what the person (viewer or performer) can handle. I've said this elsewhere before, some people can handle a glass of wine, some people fall into alcoholism. Some people can eat nuts, some can die from eating nuts.

As for profanity, I think one of the most hilariously ridiculous ideas is watching a movie on TV and the profanity is overdubbed. Most of the time it is quite obvious what was really said and the overdub is more of a distortion than making anything safe. And it is not anything that anyone it might offend doesn't hear almost every where else in the world. I am amazed by the artists who complain about how Apple sells their "art" on iTunes, but nary a peep is heard about how their "art" is brutalized and butchered on TV.

The point of that is while maybe profanity isn't always "necessary" (in whatever way you want to define that) to avoid it because it might offend someone is not honest. So to me is, how honest is the use of the profanity in question? Even if it is gratuitous, how gratuitous is it in the world off the stage? If what is being performed is attempting to reflect or address life, how much of your life are you able to avoid profanity?

I am not necessarily talking about what level of realism is trying to be achieved, but I am talking about honesty, not just in portrayal, but also in reflection or addressing.

But those are artistic decisions the writer, director, and actor need to ask and answer. To me, ultimately if it is a sin for you to eat meat, then don't eat meat!

Joe

Edited by jfutral, 30 November 2007 - 09:18 AM.


#18 Phantom_of_the_Forum

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Posted 03 December 2007 - 01:54 PM

Thanks for the response, it's been good to read.

It seems like it's come down to two schools of thought: Is what takes place on stage real or not?

1) Technically speaking, there are people on stage speaking words and engaging in actions so by the very fact that real people are doing this makes it "real".

2) On the other hand, a play is not reality but the illusion of it. While we try and make a show as believable as possible it is still only an illusion and by that definition cannot be "real".

Am I splitting hairs here? Disecting this to much? Going too James Lipton? wink.gif Please let me know.

I fall into the second school of thought because, while I try to make all my roles as real to me as possible, there are times where it just does not feel real at all. Whether I'm tired that particular performance, sick or whatever, I find myself relying strictly on my technique to "be convincing" but what I am doing is not real at all to me. Actual reality is there all the time and while I try and ignore it when performing, it is not actual reality and therefore the play cannot be real.

Anyway, my last two cents. smile.gif

#19 AtticScripts

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Posted 02 January 2008 - 11:34 AM

I'd been trying to avoid this discussion, but it's been sitting on the main page for a month, taunting me - "why don't you chime in, here" - so I suppose I'll at least say something so THAT voice will go away (if only it'll take some of the other ones with it...)

I suppose that in a lot of ways, the only real answer has to be a personal one - what you can do, say, and act without endangering yourself. The Lord guides us to parts and opportunities for a variety of reasons, some of them may be about the message of the work itself, sometimes its about being salt and light to fellow actors. I have a friend who did a play recently that he disagreed with thematically, but understood that God had him there for his relationships with the rest of the company. And sometimes, your ability to stand up, say no, and not take a role is what God wishes for a different situation. I did a show not too long ago where I had to sit down with the director and go over with him what I would and wouldn't say - for this play is was taking out two f-words and all casual references to diety (oh god, j.c. and what not). I did this partially out of respect for my professional position as a teacher, but I recognize the effect that it had on the cast and my relationship with that director - that taking a stand meant something, and that my willingness to still be a part of the play (not demanding that anyone else change what they were doing) meant something as well. Was it right to stay? I think so. Was it right to change the words to my part? Perhaps not, but ultimately, the production didn't suffer from a loss of less than 10 words (we were still on track thematically, rhythmically, artistically), and was well received by our audience.

Often people split the strong language hairs - being ok with hell and damn, but not "s*** or f***." I know other people who split the strong language hairs pretty thin - being ok with oh god, but not j.c. (the name of the Savior has a particular power, whereas someone who doesn't believe in the existence of a god saying that word doesn't mean someone in particular [this is someone else's argument, not mine])

For me, i've gone back and forth a couple of times - i'll get very conservative for a while, then i'll get all permissive and rebellious (generally not thinking about my audience enough), but for the most part, I try to consider it all on a case by case basis. This is both as an actor and as a playwright. I recognize that words have power, and I recognize the need to use words carefully - which means that sometimes, they should be used. But carefully. And prayerfully.

When it comes down to it, there are two things to consider (which I have no intention to explore thoroughly in this posting)
1. Are words capable of endangering us? We often get pretty paranoid about 'losing our salvation' because of these horrible words that a playwright is asking us to say or things we're supposed to do in a play. But Jesus takes the definition of sin beyond the realm of action (speaking, demonstrating) and into the thought life ("looking at a woman with lust in your heart"). so, when I get all Method, and remember a time where I got so mad that I could kill, am I sinning? Direct relation would say yes. But...
2. Are words capable of saving someone? is it possible for a sacrifice on an actor's part to effect positive change in another person? several thousand years of theatre history tells us that this is what theatre is (and should be) for. then, is that sacrifice worth it - or put another way, does that sacrifice afford some latitude for that actor?

I hate to say it (especially as a person who acts, and does have SOME corners on what I can or can't be a part of), but this may actually be a separating factor between who really is set apart to be an actor (that designation that defines them as an artist), and who is an amateur (one who loves - not that the person is bad at acting, but who is not designated as an artist). Acting is an interpretive art, to bring someone else's vision to life. Does an actor have the 'artistic right' to choose what they will and will not portray? Maybe they do - saying No to a part may be their only recourse. But to really be able to give yourself to a part once you've taken it, one must be willing to do what is required, not what one feels most comfortable doing. Is a plumber able to say "I'm not comfortable working with pipes that have bends in them." If we are accepting the idea that portraying on stage is NOT the same as performing a sinful act in life, than that latitude exists for an actor to sacrifice some personal dignity in displaying themselves portraying a wrong in order to positively effect their audience. And perhaps, as an actor (a servant artist) it is their calling and requirement to do so.

OK, so right now, I'm really just following a train of thought. I'm not even sure if I fully agree with all of this, but I'm putting it out there. If I spend too much more time on thinking about this, I'm going to have to write a full paper or treatise on this subject...

But, how awful (and useless) would the theatre be if no one was able to (by law) portray (in word or deed) anyone doing anything bad, wrong, or unacceptable? What exactly would be the point?

And if as Christian theatre artists understand that the evil needs to be dramatically portrayed, but won't do it ourselves, is it right for us to ask a non-Christian to come in to do it? Get some unrepentant sinner to be our Judas.

I have to stop now - I'll just keep rambling. But I'd look forward to discussing this more.

#20 Gina

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Posted 30 June 2008 - 02:13 PM

Sorry for resurrecting an ancient thread, but I've been thinking about this lately. In fact, I struggle with it a lot, not as an actor (I had two lines in a college production of Macbeth, and that's about it) but as a viewer. I have real difficulty reconciling all my different thoughts and feelings about it. My head tells me it can be absolutely fine for an actor who's a good person, or even a Christian, to play roles that require doing some fairly icky things. But my gut tends to revolt. (Maybe I shouldn't put it that way -- it has an implication I didn't intend. I should say my heart tends to revolt.)

Intellectually I don't have much of a problem with it, and can even justify it (these things happen in real life and someone has to show them, etc.); emotionally and spiritually it troubles me deeply. Maybe because I tend to be extremely sensitive to onscreen and onstage images, and can't get rid of them even when I want to; maybe also because there's such an overwhelming amount of gratuitous coarseness in our culture now, and it can do such damage, that it makes me wince to think of Christians/other good people adding to it when they could be making a more positive contribution. (I don't mean in Christian films; those are generally disturbing in a whole other sense. I mean in productions that are good all around, both in terms of production values and other kinds of values.)

It adds further to my revulsion/turmoil/whatever it is, to see that there's a clear pattern in film and TV of actors who've played moral people for a while, and talked in interviews about how they're trying to set a good example and so forth, to suddenly switch gears and play the most evil or graphic or disturbing roles they can find. Why is that? It doesn't seem to work the other way around (actors who play villains and suddenly want to play heroes). I understand not wanting to be typecast and all that, and yet, again, it disturbs me that it's become such a predictable career path now.

This thread has helped a bit. I'd be interested to hear any other wise reflections that anyone else might have to add.