Acting: What "IT" is

What Is Acting?

It is important to distinguish between the craft of acting and the art of acting as I use these terms. The craft of acting is the action of a person willfully pretending to be something (an animated object or an animal) or someone for a limited period of time in any circumstance for any purpose. The art of acting is the use of the craft of acting for artistic purposes. Acting used in a theatre context and in some forms of storytelling would be examples of the art of acting.
It is probably a controversial assersion, yet I maintain that the craft of acting always has some element of communication as part of its purpose in any given instance. I am not speaking of an objective communication, but a highly subjective communication which deals in those regions of our humanity that are best shown and felt rather than described.
If the legitimacy and universality of the craft of acting can be established as healthy human behavior, then there can be no objection to the art of acting within plays or storytelling. There are no biblical examples or references to the art of acting as in theatre, although men such as Paul were surely familiar with it. There are, however, scattered references which reveal the craft of acting.

David: Con Man or Saint?

I Samuel 20:42-22:1 is the passage where David feigned insanity before Achish the King of Gath, a Philistine vassel king. David offers a challenge to Broadway’s best for he had to have done an incredibly brilliant acting job to convince Achish that he was “a generic madman” after his identity was already known. Remember David was a man of reputation among the Philistines. Later he returned to Achish’s court in I Samuel 27 and is not recognized as having played the part of a madman even then!
It was the conclusion of at least one Reformed pastor with whom I discussed this incident that David was obviously sinning for the following three reasons:

  1. He used deception. Why could he not trust God with the truth?
  2. He was already out of fellowship with God and thus prone to commit more sin because he had previously deceived Ahimelech and eaten the showbread.
  3. He acted insanely and thus profaned the temple of the Holy Spirit. The inference here is that David had to compromise something of his self-image, not to mention physical image, to do this. Goethe summarized this concern in his little jingle:

  • Tis said, it could be very harmful
    To make profession of disguise
    And see and act through other’s eyes;If this is very often done,
    A man becomes the other one.{7}
  • Was David sinning in his debut?
    David’s behavior was obviously deceptive, but is all deception sin? The Bible condones the deceptive acts of (a) the use of spies, (b) Rahab hiding the spies, (c) Hushai in Absalom’s court. From these examples and more one could even distill an ethic for deception in actual life – one which Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived out. Deception would be permissible, even appropriate, when Evil anticipates the righteous to betray themselves by their own honesty. The pragmatics of Scripture suggest there is no value playing into the hands of Evil. Yet Scripture also is clear in its examples that this cannot be carried to the extreme of denying one’s God as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were tempted to do. This ethic is complex and if we pursue it any further here we will be far afield of David’s acting. It is enough to say that not all deception is sin, and because David’s actions were deceptive it cannot be concluded a priori that David sinned.
    To deal with my pastor acquaintance’s second objection we will see if Scripture supports the notion that David was out of fellowship with God both during and previous to his performance.
    Psalms 34 and 56 are marvelous cross references for revealing David’s heart condition. Psalm 34 is titled “Of David, when he feigned insanity before Abimelech [another name for Achish, King of Gath], who drove him away, and he left.” Psalm
    56 is titled “…Of David…when the Philistines had seized him in Gath.” The entire content of both psalms forces us to the conclusion there was no break in fellowship between David and his God. Furthermore, David in verses 12-13 of Psalm 34 admonished “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.” David obviously didn’t view his deception as an elaborate lie.
    Previous to David’s arrival to Achish’s court was he “in sin”? There is no problem in his fleeing from Saul, I should hope. What of his lie to Ahimelech the priest in I Samuel 21:1-9; was that not sin? I believe not for these two reasons: (1) David did not encourage Saul’s subjects to choose between Saul and himself as Saul assumed any traitor would, (2) in keeping Ahimelech ignorant of his true mission he supposedly protected Ahimelech from Saul’s wrath just as Michal’s lie protected herself from her father’s wrath in I Samuel 19:17. There was no value in playing into the hand of Saul and his evil intentions. Unfortunately Doeg betrayed both David and Ahimelech to win Saul’s favor.{8} Finally David’s violating the showbread was not sin either, for Christ exonerates him in Matthew 12:3-4. Therefore, we are forced to conclude there is nothing which indicates David was out of fellowship or in sin.
    My pastor acquaintance’s third objection was the concern of David “profaning his temple of the Holy Spirit by acting mad” and presumably compromising something of his self-image. There are two aspects of this objection. First there is the inference that the Holy Spirit must do everything with decency and order. Yet it was Christ who drove the merchants out of the Temple in anything but a decent or an orderly fashion. Too often we give the Holy Spirit less credit for His respect for human behavior then He is due. Secondly, there is the concern of David compromising his self-image. A working definition of self-image is “the picture I have of myself to which I refer from time to time to know who I am.”{9} Contemporary theatre jargon might well lend one to believe the loss of self-image is in order by the phrase “becoming the character”. However no currently popular acting text promotes the loss or compromise of self-image. That is a phrase which deals with appearance, not with inner psychology. As we look further at the issue of self-image we must look at David’s purpose or objective in acting insane.
    David had a rational and reasonable objective: he wanted to escape! Not only did he want to escape, he wanted to do it in a way which would not alienate a host who seemed to have sympathetic tendencies for maverick Israelites. It is humorous the extent to which he accomplished this: “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?” Then: “David left Gath and escaped….”{10} The point of all this is that madmen do not have rational and reasonable objectives.
    In order to accomplish his clear objectives David could not afford to confuse his self-image with that of his crazy character. To do so would risk what acting jargon calls “losing control.” Losing control means that an actor forgets that the situation is pretend and gets carried away by his part. It would have changed biblical history considerably if at this juncture David had gotten so carried away by his fantastic madman performance that he provoked some guard into thrusting a sword through him! David was able to give a highly convincing performance while maintaining a critical eye on his audience (just as any good actor on the stage does). He was able to do this because he neverconfused his self-image with that of his madman character.
    According to both Psalms 34 and 56 David knew his self-image was tied up in God’s unique relationship with him. These Psalms indicate such intimate warmth and trust in God in this crisis that it would not be too much to state David acted the role of the “generic madman” in the power of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t doing any action in that Power the best indication of a unique and healthy relationship with God at that moment?

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