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Monday, January 9, 2012

JPII and Acting

From sports to writing to philosophizing, JPII covers a lot of leisurely pursuits.  But he takes such topics and makes them more accessible to the layman, so that there's no place that the layman can go without JPII having already gone.  It's refreshing to know that a man has freed up such a vast array of subjects, so that no one has to wonder whether or not the truth of Jesus can be known, and in being known, set men free. 

Acting is another category which the former Pope essentially '(r)edeemed' and 'freed up' for the layman to investigate without having to settle for Hollywood or Broadway.  Therefore, I want to describe what acting is in the modern world vs. how JPII viewed the potential of acting for preservation of culture, history, and identity.

In Hollywood and on Broadway, there are three types of acting, all of various levels of talent.  First there is method acting, which is the original imaginative process of taking on a completlely different character from oneself and making the audience believe that that character has his own story, personality, and faculties/capabilities.  Second, there is typecast-acting, which is really just being yourself on stage or on camera, and making the audience see that your normal personality fits the character you are playing.  Lastly, there is musical acting, which is essentially typecast or method-acting with the added talent of song and dance for the stage. 

So again, I have very basically identified three categories of acting that exist in the modern world, and all of these are more or less at the whim of post-modern/post-Christian culture.  Granted, acting could be argued to be much more psychologically complex than what I have described above, but for the interest of my topic "JPII and acting", I will settle for a simpler explanation of what we know as acting vs. what JPII's legacy has 'redeemed' for us in terms of acting.

A brief history of Karol Wojtyla's early involvement in theater can be summed up by saying: In 1938 he attended Jagellonian University and joined a group of students interested in theater.  WWII brought the Nazi's to Poland in 1939.  Wojtyla began the underground 'Rhapsodic' theater group as a response to the threat of Nazi destruction of Polish culture. 

By 'Rhapsodic' theater, JPII meant for the style of the group to be focused on 'carrying the problem' (see 'On the theater of the Word' by Wojtyla) of Polish Literature, and not just on acting or reciting the text itself.  'Rhapsodic' theater employed neither method acting nor typecast acting, but rather, a heritage whose purpose was to preserve a common national/religious identity.  The actors, as artists, understood that what they were doing with theater was the best way to combat the Nazi occupation of their country.  They understood that the stories and poems they were preserving through theater were integral threads of their own history that were too valuable to lose.

In 1999, JPII wrote a letter to artists that summed up his appreciation for those who were dedicated to preserving the truth and beauty of Catholic culture in craftsmanship and creativity.  Included in that letter were assorted thoughts on acting, all of which were results of JPII's own experience with the theater during WWII in Poland:
It is in living and acting that man establishes his relationship with being, with the truth and with the good. The artist has a special relationship to beauty. In a very true sense it can be said that beauty is the vocation bestowed on him by the Creator in the gift of “artistic talent”. And, certainly, this too is a talent which ought to be made to bear fruit, in keeping with the sense of the Gospel parable of the talents (cf. Mt 25:14-30).
Here we touch on an essential point. Those who perceive in themselves this kind of divine spark which is the artistic vocation—as poet, writer, sculptor, architect, musician, actor and so on—feel at the same time the obligation not to waste this talent but to develop it, in order to put it at the service of their neighbour and of humanity as a whole.

The Nazi regime threatened to wipe out Polish culture from the face of the earth during WWII.  Underground theaters like Karol Wojtyla's helped to carry on language, history, and tradition to the next generation.  Acting was intentionally utilized for such a crisis of culture, morality, and identity because Polish youth knew that God wanted them to remain free and true to themselves.  In this sense, JPII sees a calling in acting and art, much like his own calling to the priesthood. 

  Though he had much fewer resources at his disposal than Broadway, JPII's theatrical legacy is more consistent with his message of a need for a culture of life in direct opposition to a culture of death found in other media.  His influence throughout the world with WYD especially, has proved over time to draw more people than any film festival or Broadway play!  I would argue that WYD is actually the culmination of his early experience with the theater, and his offering of that experience to the service of the Universal Church.                

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