In our first article, we looked at how research was vital to prepare any director to present a script onto the stage or screen. Our second article explored the scripting process and how it effects all aspects of any production. Before an audience ever sees any kind of finished product, or really before the first rehearsal even begins, the director is faced with four major responsibilities. These four responsibilities include Research, Scripting, Reality, and Moments. This third column will explore the importance of realism vs implied reality.
Reality vs. Implied
A director seeks to reflect reality, but budgets, stage size, cast and a hundred other things can change our plans. In our example, Jesus is crucified, but many churches will only put up the cross of Jesus. Yet reality demands that there be three crosses, right? Not always. It is simply not advantageous or necessary to put every detail of the historical account to get across the fact that Jesus was crucified (unless the dialogue between Jesus and the two prisoners are in the script). No church and very few directors would risk making Jesus without some sort of clothing at His crucifixion. Yet, the Romans were about humiliating the crucified. History tells us that the crucified were without clothing.
Another reality is the beautiful scene where Jesus’ body is lowered into the waiting arms of His mother, Mary. We’ve all seen the beautiful sculpture, The Pieta, that sits in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Unfortunately, the reality is that Mary would never have touched the body of Jesus. She would have been considered unclean by Jewish law (Numbers 19:11). Yet, it was Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus from the Sanhedrin that prepared the body of Jesus. The boundaries of reality are sometimes acknowledged but overlooked for the sake of the dramatic moment. What would make better sense if a director really wanted the Pieta scene included, would see the body of Jesus taken down. Mary reaches for the body but is restrained by John. Mary struggles out of John’s grip and goes to hold Jesus. Mary is willing to be unclean just to touch her son one last time. There must always be a balance with reality. It is usually up to the director to make those kinds of choices.
If you are putting on a play, musical or even a church play, do your research. In one Biblical play I attended, this small church produced the last week of Jesus told from the Apostle Thomas’ point of view. About 2/3 through the play, the scene began where Jesus goes into the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples. Of course, we know the scripture is clear where Jesus went further into the garden with Peter, James and John where they promptly fell asleep. There they were, Jesus praying next to a big rock amidst the olive trees. There laying nearby were John, Peter, James, and Thomas. What? Thomas was in the garden, but not “further in” with the big three. You know, it did not matter that the trees weren’t really olive trees but ones that can be found scattered around any typical church. It was ok that the rock was plexiglass. But, I’m sure I had read the Bible right. Thomas was not there with Peter, James and John.
Once my heart rate slowed to its normal pitter patter I relaxed and tried to enjoy the rest of the play. Because this play was told from the viewpoint of Thomas, I had no problem with Thomas being at the foot of the cross. But the clincher came at the Resurrection. The Bible says that Mary went to the disciples to tell them that the tomb was empty. Peter and John run to the tomb, look inside and are told by an angel to go to Galilee where they will meet Jesus. For some reason, Thomas had joined them in the tomb.
I understand dramatic effect and the need to present the lead character in as many scenes as possible. But, this was a little too much for my tastes. I had the silent thought run through my mind about where there is a punishment for adding or subtracting anything from God’s Word. I wondered if the writer even knew the Bible story. Trust me, you never want someone questioning whether you know the Bible or not when you produce a Biblical play.
In the movie, A Few Good Men the producers made a very convincing film that showed the reality of Guantanamo Bay, the courtroom and every location scene in the movie. In the same production on Broadway, long before the movie appeared, the play was played on a stage only populated by risers and a few pieces of furniture. This implied reality did not hurt the plot or the story. In fact, the spartan set pieces helped reinforce the spartan mindset of the military throughout the play.
These choices are relevant for stage or screen and reflect the messages and story that you are trying to tell. Whether a realistic presentation or one that is just implied, tell your story.
Dr. Jim Tippins is currently President of On the Edge Productions, Inc., a resource for Christian scripts and minister aids. An award winning author, Dr. Tippins is proud to share the stories that God has laid on his heart. He has produced, written, and directed scripts, musicals, reviews, and plays all over the country. He has performed with the Kentucky Opera, Overture Opera Company, Theater of the Republic, Swamp Fox Players, Community Choral Society, Florence Symphony and Long Bay Symphony. To see resources and more information, please visit,
www.ontheedgeproductions.org. Or join his blog at drjimtippins.com