Closeted Christians and Sympathetic Procurators

Last night, I made my acting debut.

During Lent, my internship site has a midweek service series that involves readings, prayers, and a dramatic presentation. The dramatic pieces were taken from a series of unlikely and hypothetical meetings of characters, and their families, in the passion story of Jesus. The scripts were reworked six years ago (and reworked again for this season) and my supervisor asked me to be involved. For the last service (last night), my wife and I played Pontius Pilate and his wife. It was fun because we got to have a play fight and argue about the nature of Jesus after he was crucified.

Now, I’ll admit that the script was difficult for me to work through mostly because, well, there was quite a bit of imagination infused into this scene that seemed problematic. There was an attempt, in some of the formulation of the script, to actually make Pilate’s wife a secret-Christian and make Pontius Pilate a sympathetic character. And I really really really dislike these ideas. Sure, it’s possible to read that lens into the gospels but just because that can be read into the story does not mean that it is actually life-giving. I really actively fought against this perspective and my wife did too. It’s one thing to identify with Pontinus Pilate and dwell deep with why the gospels depicted him (and his wife) the way they do but it’s quite another thing to romanticize the characters away from their own contexts. We’ve already had that in the Acts of Pilate and I don’t think we need to do that again.

However, I really had a lot of fun doing this. It was stressful worrying about it, seeing it on the calendar, organizing rehearsals, and trying to memorize my lines. I really am bad at memorizing things so I spent quite a bit of time on the subway annoying my fellow riders by reading and moving my mouth at the same time. I didn’t have a costume (though I dressed in a shirt and tie, feeling like I was making a contemporary commentary on our real world) and, at the last minute, I discovered I really like props. The folks in the front row got to witness my use of puns and humor by noticing that I had a file with Jesus’ name on it in the “out box” on my desk. I’m pretty proud of that joke actually.

Afterwards, I was amazed with the reflections that people gave me and I realized that I’d make a terrible actor. It seems that in the other dramatic presentations, there was a change that occurred with at least one of the characters on stage. The character would move from one place to the other. However, in my scene, the characters, at the end, ended up in the same place where they started. People expected Pilate to change but he did not. He thought Jesus was silly and insignificant and that is where he ended up. And that, it many ways, is my own take of who Pilate was. Rather than my embodying the character as it was written, I imposed my own view of the character onto the script and I refused to let him change. He flustered but I changed the script before I changed my view of Pilate. I want Pilate to be a jerk and stay a jerk. I don’t have any need to make him a sympathetic character and I think its problematic to do so. So I made Pilate come off as a jerk even if the script explicitly did not do so. I wouldn’t be a good actor because I would refuse to let the character be as they are written. But I did enjoy pretending to be an actor one for the first time last night.