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Esther Cunningham
Dr. Cooper
Comm 494
15 February 2016
Speak the Truth in Love
In high school I took acting classes with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.
Shakespeares text challenges modern actors who are accustomed to naturalistic, prosaic lines
that mimic the flow of daily speech. Shakespeare instead wrote his lines as poetry. So when an
actor speaks Shakespeares words, the actor must follow both the metrical flow of the poetry
while also coherently conveying the thought of the grammatical sentence. Our teacher Sarah
Clark was addressing how to balance those two approaches and offered us this metaphor:
Balancing the thought and the line is like walking on a tightrope over a river with alligators who
have not eaten in a week on one side and flesh eating piranhas on the other. She countered the
typical understanding of balance as a place of low-energy, calm, peaceful Zen. Balance, she
argued, requires active, engaged, alert attention.
While Sarah Clark created this analogy specifically for Shakespeares text, her metaphor
applies to any situation that requires balance. Balance does not mean striving to make the
positive and the negative sides equal each other out to a state of neutrality. Balance is not a state
of being that can be achieved and rested in. Instead, balance requires constant engaged action.
God commands Christians to strive for balance in many areas: be present in this time on earth
but also live in awareness of the life eternal that is to come; love your neighbor as you love
yourself; recognize that salvation is through faith alone but live out your redemption in actions as
well; the Church is the unified body of Christ but each person is an individual member; the

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Godhead is three separate persons made of one substance. But one dichotomy that has special
impact on communications is Pauls explanation for how Christians are to grow more like Christ
through speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Theater is centered around truth. According to Shakespeare, the purpose of playing,
whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold as twere the mirror up to nature, to
show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his
form and pressure (Hamlet 3.2.18-22). Hamlet says this to a troupe of actors because he wants
them to perform a play that would so closely imitate what was happening in his life. Before the
play even begins, Hamlets father, the king of Denmark, has been murdered and Hamlets
mother Gertrude has remarried to his fathers brother Claudius. Hamlets disgust over this new
marriage intensifies when he is visited by his fathers ghost who reveals that Claudius is the one
who murdered him. The ghost then charges Hamlet to revenge his murder. Hamlet spends much
of the first part of the play trying to build up courage to perform the bloody task. One of the
ways he does this is by searching for some sort of concrete evidence that Claudius is guilty
because he is afraid The spirit that I have seen/May be the devil (3.1.584-585). So, when
Hamlet hears that a theater company is coming to Denmark, he decides to use theater as a
measuring tool. He observes Claudius reaction to a story that mimics the kings murder since,
I have heard
That guilty creatures sitting at a play
Have by the very cunning of the scene
Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaimed their malefactions. (3.1.574-578)
In other words, Hamlet realizes that people will emotionally react to something they see on stage
if they have gone through a similar experience themselves.

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Theater reflects honestly what is happening in the world. But theater does not just apply
to a small set of specific circumstances the way Hamlet applies it to his own personal
circumstances. Theater is capable of capturing the broader ideas that are floating around the
culture and presenting them in a story that the audience can understand. The best theater
captures some snippet of the essence of humanity, presents it to the audience, and sends them
back into the world. There are several purposes of presenting an audience with something they
will resonate with. It could be to expose an obscure element of humanity, to bring a community
together, or to inspire an audience to change. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive ideas
and actually build on each other.
Theater that exposes humanity is theater that an audience watches and leaves thinking, I
know some part of that story in my life experience and I now have more words for it. The
playwright writes something that touches some part of what it means to be human. This often
done in extremely heightened circumstances that are intensified versions of real life experiences.
So many shows written today are about families figuring out unspoken issues because that is
something that resonates with our culture. Playwrights like Arthur Miller, Tom Stoppard, and
August Wilson understand that every family has some issue that remains unresolved and know
that they can uncover some of the underlying issues through their family dramas.
But theater does not have to be set in modern times for an audience to resonate with it.
Theater can transversally connect the past with the present. Shakespeare often did just that in his
plays. Julius Caesar comments on political leadership and the idea of revolution and the place
of an individual in a community, issues being discussed in his current culture (Shapiro, 127).
But Shakespeare did not write a play set in an Elizabethan court but rather one set in Ancient

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Rome trusting that his audiences were smart enough to connect themselves to the people of
Because theater deals with what it means to be a human, it affects communities.
Communities are built up of individuals with common ideals. And theater is intended for
communities, not just individuals. An audience comprises more than one solitary person. At a
performance, a group of individuals forms an audience and shares an experience of catharsis
together, releasing laughter and tears as they journey with the actors. When the Greeks first used
theater they used it as a means of uniting the audience on how the community should view issues
that affect the whole body politic. Many other cultures have used theater to act out religious
rituals and help the community understand the stories of their gods and the hierarchy of the
world. Theater has the power to shape how humans interact with each other and how they view
their individual self in the cosmos.
And once a theater has united a community on these large worldview questions, it then
releases that unified audience back into the broader community. Some playwrights, like Bertolt
Brecht, are very obvious in their attempts to spur a specific change. Brecht incorporated titles
for each scene into his plays that would be presented to the audience during the performance so
that the audience would know what Brecht thought was the purpose of the scene. Others like
Shakespeare, who was working under restrictions from the heavily regulated Puritanical
censorship (Shapiro 127), were subtler in offering to the audience a potential problem and
leaving them with the option to return to their communities and address the issues raised.
In a sense, theater is similar to a church service. A group of people come together,
engage in an experience that unities them as it informs them about themselves, and then return
back to society changed by what they have learned about themselves and the world. Professor

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Michael Stauffer continually brought up this connection in his Church and Theater class. He
often coupled it with the phrase: There must be transportation before there can be a
transformation. In other words, if the goal of church or theater is to create a change in its
participants, then the service or the play needs to create an environment different than daily
existence. Once the audience deviates from the rut of their daily routine, they are now in a place
emotionally where they are able to critically view what they habitually do and think. Theater
and church challenge the audience not to simply change everything they are doing but rather to
process why they do what they do.
Theater influences minds and hearts. When everything goes well, the audience members
invest emotionally in the story and are changed from the experience they share in the room with
the actors. This means theater-makers have enormous power over the audience and in turn the
community. Artists could create things to manipulate the audiences emotional response so that
they promote a message that is harmful for the community. For example, the movie Charlies
Angels uses its position of power as a popular movie with a star-studded cast to continue the
hyper-sexualization of women. The premise of the movie is three beautiful women working to
solve mystery cases for a man that they only interact with over phone calls. They mostly carry
out their tasks through seducing the men that oppose them. There are gratuitous shots of the
womens bodies and an unnecessary emphasis on their romantic lives. Ignoring the potentially
patriarchal problem of women blindly obeying a man they have never actually met, the major
problem with the film is that it continues the narrative that men are sexually driven animals that,
when approached by an attractive female showing cleavage, will lose all sense of self control and
give in to her demands. This is not helpful for men or women. Narratives like this make it seem

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that men have no agency once they are sexually aroused and essentially validates the current rape
In order to keep from creating works that harm the community, theater-makers must
infuse their works of truth with love. While Charlies Angels may be holding the mirror up to
nature and reflecting the current culture, it does not love the community because it does not offer
a way out. It states the facts of the present as good rather than as things that are harming the way
men and women view bodies and sexuality. True love is embodied in action. As David Brooks
says in his bestseller The Road to Character, Love impels people to service (174).
Christians must serve each other in love. For not only does the Bible affirm God is
love (I John 4:8), but also it reveals that the primary fruit of the Spirit, the primary means for
believers to outwardly display their change through Christ, is love (Galatians 5:22). For theater
artists, love can be expressed in the materials presented and the means in which they are
presented. Love must be reciprocated between actors and audience because love depends on
the willingness of each person to be vulnerable and it deepens that vulnerability. It works
because each person exposes their nakedness and the other rushes to meet it (Brooks 170). For
actors, part of loving the community is willingly displaying the internal life of the character and
willingly identifying with that person, no matter how horrible they may seem. Actors allow their
individual personhood to be conflated with the character. They become anonymous to give life
to the character that would not have life in any other way. Brooks claims that that is the essence
of love: the fusion of two separate entities into a new one (171). The character cannot breathe
without an actor to give it life and the actor is nothing without a character to assume.
Brooks views love as moral force that deepens a person, organizing human minds
around other souls and lifting them so they are capable of great acts of service and devotion

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(Brooks 169-170). Love like that is necessary to make truth-filled theater. Theater that is only
true can be alienating and disorienting. It has the possibility of exposing problems to the
audience before the community is ready to handle the truth in that form. Love in theater is
understanding where the community currently is, having an idea of the direction that the
community should head towards, and finding the most appropriate way to point them in that
direction. If they wish to avoid falling into either the hungry alligators or the piranhas, theater
artists must continually commit to full truth and full love as they create in their communities.

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Brooks, David. The Road to Character. New York: Random House, 2015. Print.
Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001. Print.
Shakespeare, William. (2008). Hamlet. New York, NY: The Modern Library.
Shapiro, James. (2005). A year in the life of William Shakespeare: 1599. New York,
NY: Harper Collins Publishers.