This is an image of an outdoor archery range in a wooded area.

Searching for Better Ways: A Reflection on Eugene O’Neill and Hitting the Mark

While working backstage for the Fly Arts Center’s most recent play Daddy’s Dyin’ Who’s Got The Will, I was aptly reminded of how creatively taxing and draining being in a production on either side of the curtain is.

For the actors on stage, they were telling the story by creatively blending the playwright’s words, the director’s blocking instructions, and their own vivifying actions. They were actively listening to and watching each other to ensure everything that needed to be said and done was in fact and indeed said and done. (If anything, this is another image of how engaging live theatre is for the players as well as the audience.) The story on the spectrum of “light” and “dark” spanned all the way from comical levity and lightheartedness to antagonistic gravitas. And it takes a deep well of creativity for an ensemble cast that can constantly vary and navigate its position on that spectrum, especially while maintaining that energy in front of an audience.

I was in a wholly different world backstage. My job wasn’t to entertain and divert the audience; instead, it was my duty to help the actors fulfill that role by providing them the property – simply, the props – with which to continue to tell the story realistically. I had cues just like everyone else, except my reactions to those cues weren’t spoken; instead, my response was handing from a cup of coffee to a full pot roast dinner to an actress so she could “act” like her character has just prepared it as if she were real person bringing these food items from a real kitchen. Very engaging stuff.

We closed the show Sunday. If you got a chance to see the show, I honestly hope you enjoyed yourself. For myself, the cast, and the rest of the crew, we are worn tired and are spending this week in recovery mode.

It’s here that I want to draw attention to the words of one of modern theatre’s founding fathers Eugene O’Neill.

A man’s work is in danger of deteriorating when he thinks he has found the one best formula for doing it. If he thinks that, he is likely to feel that all he needs is merely to go on repeating himself. I certainly haven’t any such delusion. And so long as a person is searching for better ways of doing his work he is fairly safe.

Eugene O’Neill was an Irish American playwright in the Golden Age of Broadway (late 1890’s to late 1930’s) who focused his work on the gritty fringes of society as opposed to the “high life” that the rest of the Golden Agers were highlighting in their plays.

O’Neill’s words here should resonate with Christians on several levels (unfortunately including the brief blip of braggadocio). I want to focus on emboldened phrase “searching for better ways.”

The phrase alludes to a true Standard that we – not just as people in general – will often fall short while trying to meet, even though we hope to meet it with every attempt.

Imagine an archery range. You’ve got the tools you need – simply the bow and the arrow – with you on your side and the target on the other. You know that you at least have to load the arrow in the bow, but from there everything is a technique. employed to hit the bullseye. How far back “should” you pull? How high “should” you tilt your bow? How much “should” I allot my actions for undetermined gusts of wind that may or may not affect my shot?

Finally you shoot, and you either hit the mark or miss the mark. Any more shooting after this point is then determined by either the hitting or the missing. When we miss, we subsequently strive to hit, and when we hit, we subsequently strive to keep hitting. Welcome to being human: the constant struggle between hitting the mark and missing the mark.

So let me encourage you here.

Remember all the times when you have missed the mark. Remember how bad it felt to miss and how guilty you felt for missing it. Bring that to God, and let him carry it.

Now remember all the times when you have hit the mark. Remember how good it felt to hit and how fulfilled you felt for hitting it. Bring that to God, and let him increase it.

This is a picture from WOOLFIE by Sybil St. Claire as produced by the Fly Community Theater.

Proclaiming the Gospel Through Live Theater

This past weekend saw the opening and closing for the children’s play at the Fly Arts Center here in Shelbyville. On the whole, it was a great run complete with all the triumphs and hiccups – and all the drama on and off the stage – one can expect from children’s theater. The super-critical side of me is butting heads with my other side that believes it’s nothing a few more weeks of rehearsals couldn’t fix. But the audiences really got into it and the kids enjoyed themselves, and that’s really all I wanted in the first place.

I can’t help but to feel somewhat proud because this was also my first time serving as an assistant director, and that’s what’s really special for me with this production. I’ve enjoyed getting to learn the mechanics of working with a director who’s been there and done that professionally (and has even been paid for it). I essentially count it as a stepping stone that will bring me closer to a career of my own. Directing scenes in school definitely helped me out in understanding how a director should prepare (keyword should), and being able to finally use those skills in a public setting is great.

I also loved getting to work with such cool kids. Siblings abounded in the cast, and it was very interesting to see how family ties stood out in the crowd at first but then opened up to allow healthier bonds of teamwork. That’s where the real magic of theater is, I think: taking complete strangers and uniting them with a purpose.

Most importantly, however, I got to see first hand how art can be used to bring people closer to God. Consider this my testimony.

The Message In Woolfie

The Fly Community Theater’s children’s production was Woolfie by Sybil St. Claire. As the action starts, the reputedly “Big, Bad” Wolf – whose real name is Woolfie – is being prosecuted for crimes including, but not limited to, “impersonating grandmothers, blowing down other people’s houses, and gobbling up little girls.” As it turns out, Woolfie is not as “big” and “bad” as everyone believes he is. It’s essentially a morality play that proves that you can’t judge a book by its cover nor a wolf by his fur…and his big eyes…and his big arms…and his big teeth…

Ultimately, the play taps into the universal law of Truth and how everything works out when we cling to the Truth instead our own misled notions. Woolfie is sentenced to death and would have died had not the Truth been revealed and set him free from those chains. Sounds a lot like Jesus own words, right?

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Of course, we all like to let pretense get in the way of understanding the Truth because pretense is the path of least resistance. In other words, it’s a lot easier to believe a lie than it is to accept the truth. And one of Old Scratch’s favorite tricks is using our own momentum against us. But we can battle this by not being swayed by this or that and focusing on God’s Truth – that He loves us and wants us back home with him.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Here’s looking to the next time this all happens again…either in this life or the next.