An engineer goes to work and upon walking into the office his boss says, “Jim, today we are gonna make it look like you’re raping Stephanie.”
This scenario would be ridiculous, but it is something actors face at varying degrees. Actors will be asked to do things on stage that are contrary to their beliefs.
There are many operas that include sexual acts, and because I am a baritone, the opera Don Giovanni by Mozart comes to mind. This is probably the most extreme example of a sexual character. The opera tells the story of a sex addict who kills the father of a woman he rapes and then he is cast into hell. Biblically, the story is valid. Those who don’t want God to be a part of their life will eventually be separated from God forever (John 3:36). Communicating the story as a warning to the audience is important, but I struggle to know where to draw the line with intimacy on stage. This is different for each individual, but for me I am still very unsure in how to handle it. Partly because I haven’t been faced with situations where I feel like I have to compromise on my morals. There are different ways of staging Don Giovanni that are toned down, but I’ve also heard of a production where oral sex was being performed on stage.
Ephesians 5:1-8 says to “Imitate God in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!”
The Bible is very clear on the position of immorality and abuse. Jesus hates sexual immorality. He is a God of healing and not abuse.
“Instead, let there be thankfulness.” What does thankfulness to God look like in acting. This comes down to our belief of what is supremely valuable. If I don’t take a job because of a conviction I have, am I bitter to God or do I thank and trust Him for provision? I am grateful of the wisdom God shares through the Bible. God cares about our ultimate joy, not just our temporary happiness.
As a follower of Jesus, how do I handle portraying immorality, impurity, greed, obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes when they are at the heart of opera? There is a difference between imitating God in my personal life and imitating someone who is evil as an actor. The difference comes in wanting to be like Jesus in everyday life versus imitating a character in an opera role. I want to imitate God with my life and not Papageno.
The sex addict and rape aspect of the Don Giovanni story is what I find difficult. I don’t struggle with acting in killing people on stage. I’m the youngest of six boys and I have acted killing people for the majority of my life. My brother and I would choreograph fights when we were young, and they were BOSS! It was just part of what we did as boys. To me, there is a difference between acting out a murder and acting out a rape. There is always a level of imagination in killing someone on stage (obviously). It seems to be different with sexual acts on stage. Is there a way to separate the intimacy of a sexual act from the act itself? The term sexual act needs to be defined to answer this question. Some people would say stage kissing is a sexual act. I would define sexual acts on stage including anything involving what most people consider “private parts” (genitals and breasts). I think this is a question that needs to be answered on a personal basis. Some people can do intimate scenes and not be affected by them. It seems to also depend on the level of intimacy. A kiss is easier than a make out session which is easier than a graphic situation I’m not gonna go into detail about because this is a blog post but it’s not that kind of blog. I lean further towards an area of caution for reasons explained later, but like I said, I am unsure on how to handle it and I think each situation is different.
It seems the unspoken rule is that what happens on stage stays on stage. This simply means if Character A is in love with Character B on stage, then Actor A and Actor B don’t behave like Character A and Character B off stage. For instance, a passionate couple on stage shouldn’t translate to an affair off stage. I shouldn’t come home and verbally abuse my wife like Count Almaviva abuses the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro. This is wise guidance and very important. Acting is dangerous. It doesn’t only affect the audience but acting can affect me. That may sound like a “duh” statement, but Heath Ledger comes to mind. I must be careful in how I approach the stage and how I leave it.
Two different mindsets. One is real, the other is fake.
“But James, what about strippers?”
Maybe it is that kind of blog. One may take this logic of being a different person on stage from how one acts in real life to the extreme. I lived in Myrtle Beach, SC. From what I heard, single moms can financially provide VERY well for their family. Could a stripper have the same view: “I leave the character I portray while I am at work at work. When I leave work, I am not that person.” I don’t think so. There’s a difference between communicating a story on stage and pleasing old, white men…then again…#AmericanOpera.
I believe there is a line to be drawn. Intercourse on stage is wrong. I don’t see that as honoring to God, my wife, or my colleague in anyway.
On the other end of the spectrum, I used to be in a place where I thought any kissing of a woman on stage was wrong. Then the character I was playing had to kiss a “pants role” (a woman playing a man). I didn’t know what to think. Am I kissing a man who is actually a woman or am I kissing a woman who is actually a man? It was a funny predicament. Then I really thought about the issue and how it applies to the story and it really wasn’t that big of a deal. There are some Christians I have talked to who say making out on stage is not difficult for them at all. I don’t know if that sentence will ever come out of my mouth unless my wife becomes an opera singer. Speaking of marriage, the spouse should influence your decision of what you say no to. I tell Allison about any and every hint of intimacy on stage. If she is uncomfortable with anything than I will say no.
My views are also influenced by a previous addiction to pornography. The human nature in me also wants to hide my flaws and how I am selfish. People have different backgrounds and baggage. I feel like there are levels of intimacy on stage that need to be answered sensitively and personally. For instance, a person who has been sexually abused will have different boundaries than someone who hasn’t. It also affects the contracts one is willing to sign and jobs they are willing to take. When you have thousands of actors wanting a job, it is difficult to feel like you will have to say no to certain job offers. I am a male opera singer, so there are less people wanting the jobs I want. I cannot imagine the pressure on women to compromise on their morals to get a gig. That is difficult…and so is childbirth…May God bless all women! (especially pregnant lyric sopranos)
Because I am a millennial, it seems easier to be hired for a month contract, act in love on stage, and then move on with my life. During a summer program, I can be a different person for a short period at a time. A summer program is like Act 4 of The Marriage of Figaro where no one really knows who anyone is. When I am performing at school with the same people for an entire year and spending the majority of my time with them, I feel vulnerable. Because intimacy on stage involves more than one person, there is a level of trust in my colleague that I must have. I don’t like letting people have the ability to hurt me. This is an area in my life that is very delicate. Doing a scene involving intimacy with a colleague is like giving them a dagger with which they can stab me. Last time I checked, I am the baritone. I do the stabbing! VIOLENCE! Actually, it’s probably more like someone smoking around a former smoker. It is difficult for me to act intimately on stage because I am constantly confronted by Satan to engage in the belief system I had when I was addicted to pornography. This wrong belief is crouching at the door waiting for me to let it in. It is a war in my mind. Knowing I will have a battle in my mind, I want to shield my friends from my personal struggles. I don’t want to have my colleagues be a part of that battle. I feel like I am disrespecting my colleagues. Because of this battle in my mind, I don’t feel like a trust-worthy colleague since I feel unstable.
God’s power is shown in people who are weak. I’m reminded by 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 where Paul is talking to a bunch of formally sexually perverse people:
“So, to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
I need the Holy Spirit to take over my mind because I want to live as a person of the Light. God strengthens us by causing us to go to Him for help. It’s easy for me to forget about God when I have my life in order. God graciously causes us to recognize our need for Him.
It is important to me that everything off stage follows Romans 12:1-3.
“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
I become a part of a story when I step on stage. I leave my identity in the dressing room. I am not really being immoral, impure or greedy because that is my character and not me. How I deal with intimacy on stage is a form of “testing” to me.
But could this “testing” actually be God saying “Don’t do this” instead of it being testing? I don’t believe so, but I may be wrong. I love acting. I love communicating stories that influence how people think. I believe God wants me to be faithful with the gift He has given me by pursuing theater. God cares about actors and artists. If I quit and became a music pastor at I church, I wouldn’t have to wrestle with this issue. Although, I’m sure God would address this area of my life in a different way if I did become a music pastor.
How does your belief system influence how you approach this topic?
I would love to hear how you approach this dilemma by commenting below.