Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Running the Gauntlet - Charity - July 26, 2009

Only 5 days until opening night at the Pirates of Penzance! At this rate, I only hope my body can produce enough adrenaline to last the entire week.

I recently had an amazing learning experience. At the temple last Saturday (8 days ago) I was waiting in the chapel when I felt strongly impressed to ask the Lord for a blessing. I opened a Bible and turned to a verse that promised me that, if I would ask, the Lord would hear my prayers. I pulled out a Book of Mormon and opened to Moroni 7. There I read about the importance of charity and asked the Lord to help me to gain it. I wanted to gain empathy for others – to become a better person by better learning to understand and love the people around me. I felt the love of the Lord and was sure that He would bless me with my request. Little did I know how He would bless me.

The next day was Sunday, and in both of my wards the Priesthood lesson was on charity. I felt like I academically understood charity – it is the love that God has for His children, the supreme ability to see people for who they can become and who they are in His sight… given to us. When we have charity, it moves us to action – it moves us to serve others just as Christ would do in our position. It is being willing to separate the sin from the sinner and to forgive everyone – and true charity is not just for one person. It is for all of mankind – a feeling that encompasses you and fills you with the desire to bless the lives of everyone throughout all the world and everyone else that will ever be on it. But, at the same time, I wasn’t sure that I really had charity. Empathy – a key characteristic of charity – has always been a bit difficult for me. Society has always told me I was different – whether in school or anywhere else – a good example is one of my last roommates who was a statistics major: he called me a permanent outlier – someone who never fits into the “normal” crowd. That doesn’t really help when I’m trying to put myself into someone else’s shoes.

Monday evening I had a really rough rehearsal for Pirates. I got cut from the first fight scene – which had been one of my favorite scenes – and the our director threatened to cut one of our love songs if we didn’t “fix the problem.” But I didn’t even know what the problem was. I and the other actors had felt that the run had gone really well, but after we were finished the director gave me note after note of things she hadn’t liked. Then the assistant director went, with more notes, then the choreographer, and finally the music director. Each one very clearly outlined something they hadn’t liked in my performance… but only sometimes did they offer a better (in my viewpoint) suggestion.

As I drove home I felt like I was caught between a rock and a hard place. In the past, when I had gotten criticism from directors, I had tried to interpret the spirit of their directions and apply it in the way I thought they meant to say it. But, every single time, I interpreted what they meant wrong and they brought it up again. If I did exactly what they had said to do – interpreting their directions literally – they then asked me why I had interpreted their directions literally when it was so obvious that what they were saying was a generalization. Add to that the fact that I thought I would never be able to communicate very well with my director, I felt like the other cast members hated me, and I realized that my surliness was not reflecting well on being one of the few active members of the Church in the cast… and I felt terrible. So terrible, in fact, that the thought crossed my mind that I could quit the show – but I could never do that to the other actors or to myself. I had made a commitment and I would go on with it. I just needed help.

I found myself praying aloud, asking for help in making the right choice. I wanted to do the right thing, and I believed that God could help me do it, no matter what the ultimate consequences. As I prayed, I realized that the Lord was simply answering the request I had made in the temple. He was teaching me charity.
I looked back at my directors. Originally, I thought that all the notes and feedback that my directors had given me over the last few months was because they had an idea about what Frederic should be and I wasn’t it. They weren’t very nice in their motivational style and didn’t seem to care much about me or my desires on-stage, only the character I was playing. I couldn’t understand their motivation, and I hated that they weren’t at all articulate in their directions. But as I looked at them through the light of charity, I saw a very different picture. Each of my directors had a very different life than I do. They don’t live in an environment where everything is based on optimistic reinforcement and they don’t have time scheduled to reflect on their thoughts each passing day. They haven’t studied computer science, which teaches the ultra-importance of perfect clarity in word choice. In a computer program, you must say exactly what you want the computer to do. Otherwise, the computer will do what you told it to do – not what you meant to say. They haven’t studied motivational theories and they carry the motivational tools that were most effective in their own experiences. But, most compelling, they care about my character, and they want me, as an actor, to play the character. They don’t simply want me to do what they told me to do – they want me to be free to act within the boundaries they see on the stage.

This thought completely changed my perspective. What was an immensely painful struggle only a few moments before suddenly became an opportunity to learn and to grow. And so, armed with this new knowledge, I made my choice. I would interpret the feedback I got, be super-happy no matter what happened in practices, and I would shine as Frederic when the time came. Tuesday evening I arrived at practice early and we worked with the owner of the theatre. He gave me some really good, concrete ideas to use in a few scenes – and our director liked his ideas. It was a great feeling to actually agree on something. I remembered each of the notes from the night before, and added in the strong English accent she had asked for, and there was a miracle. After the run, I didn’t get one negative note. She gave me seven positive notes (the first ones ever!) about things that she had really liked and three notes about new things she wanted to try. I felt like I was on top of the world… and it was all because I had learned a little bit more about charity… and had applied it in my acting. Since then, practices have been amazing. I only wish I had had the foresight to ask for it sooner!

Each of us has difficult situations in life where we do not understand the people around us. Maybe they seem callous, rude, selfish, cruel, or simply evil. But, even if those traits are true, God loves each and every one of His children, equally. He knows our hearts and cares about our dreams, no matter who we are… and He wants every one of His children to return back to His presence. True charity is gaining that love.

I know that God loves us. If we will follow the process outlined by Moroni – and pray with all energy of heart that we may be filled with this love – the Lord will help us to better understand those around us. Perhaps it will be easy. Probably not – it will probably be painful and hard. But charity is the greatest of all. From what little I’ve experienced, seeing others from God’s perspective is worth any price.

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