Jeepers, Creepers, Where’d Ya Get Those Peepers?

(Finally, after months of not being on stage in front of an audience, Steve Wilent has been able to perform a couple of times recently. He discovered things are a little different than  what he was used to before the pandemic.)

Guest blog by Steve Wilent

I was standing on stage about to start my one-man show According to John. I have performed this 45-minute version of the Gospel of John for over 30 years but this would be, thanks to COVID-19, the very first time that I have performed it to a congregation of masked people.

It was a bit jarring at first.  I was used to seeing full faces out there.  Faces that had mouths that would grin if I said something funny or would fully open if I said something really funny or perhaps droop in sadness to a character’s failure or lips that stretched thin during a stressful scene.  So many ways to know that the folks out there were connecting with me and in turn I with them.

But that was all gone now.  Now, due to the masks, all I had to go on, apart from a bit of body language and the muffled noises they made, was their eyes.  The biggest problem with having a sea of eyes to look at is that, regardless of the emotion, everything looks like a squint!  Happiness, sadness, stressfulness, nervousness, passion, hatred . . . it all comes across as a squint.

I remember an advanced acting class when I was in college.  I was in a short scene with a female classmate. We were portraying two young lovers experiencing their first argument.  I don’t remember the script. I don’t even remember my acting partner’s name, but what I do remember is that right at the height of the argument Jim Kirkman, the class instructor, suddenly yelled, “Stop!”

I remember freezing right there on stage and thinking, “What the heck?! We haven’t even got to the good part yet!” Kirkman then hopped up onto the stage and walked briskly past my acting partner and over to me. “Close your eyes,” he commanded. Ever the compliant, affable actor, I did so.  Mind you, I didn’t simply allow my eyelids to softly come together; no, I shut them with such force that you might have been able to audibly hear them slam together. There was a sprinkling of suppressed laughter coming from the other students, who in this moment were quite happy not to be the target of Kirkman’s coaching.

I heard him say, “Steve, relax.”  Again complying, I relaxed and for some reason decided that to fully relax I must also open my eyes.  Kirkman grabbed my shoulders and quickly spun me around so that my back was now to What’sherface. Kirkman gently squeezed my shoulders and said, “What color are her eyes?” Understandably nervous I said, “What color are whose eyes?” I heard titters of laughter coming from the cheap seats. Before Kirkman could say, “What’sherface’s eyes,” What’sherface, sounding annoyed said, “My eyes, you moron.” Calling me a moron, I thought, was just her way of letting me know how attracted to me she was. I thought.

Kirkman, gesturing with his thumb over his shoulder said, “Yes, Steve, what color are her eyes?”  Being put on the spot tends to do funny things to people.  My usual way of handling this kind of pressure was to try to say something funny.  So taking a cue from a popular Elton John song I said, “So . . . excuse me forgetting, but these things I do. You see I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue . . .” Truthfully, I just wanted to say that, what I actually did say, in a moment of surprising self-awareness was, “I don’t know.”

Kirkman suddenly spun around to face the class and pointing back at me with a bony finger yelled, “Exactly!  You don’t know the color of her eyes because you were acting at her and not with her! When you act with a fellow human being you focus on their soul.  The eyes are the windows to the soul, people!  Use your eyes to see into their eyes!”

Back on stage in front of the masked and socially-distanced congregation, remembering Kirkman’s words helped me to link to a much wiser man’s words, “The eye is the lamp of the body . . .” Jesus said.  Suddenly the sea of squints out there became a sea of souls to me.  Precious souls, who now more than ever needed the hope and the courage to be able to thrive in this time of pandemic.

I have now made the decision that when things “get back to normal,” I will continue to focus on and minister to people’s souls, through their eyes.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, mine are blue!

The Things My Dad Said

Here is a little ditty I wrote for my “Go Ask Your Mother…a Father’s Story” show. Thought it would be appropriate to share this for Father’s Day. (Sung to the tune of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.)

THE THINGS MY DAD SAID

“Were you born in a barn?” and “For crying out loud”
“Because I said so” and “Don’t make a sound”
“You’ve got a roof over your head”
These are few of the things my dad said

“I’ll give you something to cry about”
“Let mom kiss it better” “You’ll live, don’t you pout”
“There are no monsters under your bed”
These are some more of the things my dad said

“Oh for Pete’s sake”
“Clean up your plate”
“Don’t wear stripes with plaid”
I find I’m repeating the things my dad said
And sometimes I think that’s sad

“Don’t make me come in there” “I’ve had it, bend over”
“I won’t say it again, I’ll pull this car over”
“Stop picking your nose, your brains will fall out”
These are the things I am talking about

“They jump off a cliff, would you do it too?”
“Say please, excuse me and don’t forget thank you”
“Go comb your hair” “don’t make a fuss”
“Close the barn door and remember to flush”

“Ask your mother”
“Pull my finger”
“You’re gonna make me mad”
I find I’m repeating the things my dad said
But I ask you is that so bad?

The Backstory to “I Am Lucy”

Some have asked why I wrote this book…so here is a little backstory: 

Lucy is the first child in my life to be in the “special needs” category. Oh sure, I had met other kids with special needs, but until Lucy, never really spent time getting to know them. The more I learned about Lucy and Kabuki Syndrome the more it became clear to me that she would be a child that would “stand-out” for her differences. The idea that her future would include being teased and treated cruelly by other kids began to sink in and frightened me. 

One day my wife, Lorie, took Lucy to the park. While swinging on the swings another little girl, (at the park with her father) was staring intently at Lucy. Finally, she said to her father “that girl looks funny.”

Thankfully that father said, “Oh honey, I don’t think she looks funny, I think she looks beautiful.”

The little girl shrugged accepting that answer and went on with her playtime. 

While this father handled the situation wonderfully, the fact is that there would not always be someone nearby to intervene at those teachable moments. I knew that this was just a glimpse of what would be a reality in Lucy’s future. 

Then last year Mallory, Lucy’s mother, posted on social media: 

“I have a rare syndrome,

I have a feeding tube,

I have a heart defect,

I have special needs,

But who I am is Lucy.”

And that was the inspiration. 

As an actor, I am accustomed to playing a role—getting inside another person’s head. I imagined what Lucy would want to say to those people that looked at her, and all they saw was her differences. They didn’t see her, they saw the scars and what they perceived as defects. I believe she would say, “Those things aren’t me—Who I am is Lucy!” 

While many people may consider this a good book for a child with special needs—and it is—the real target audience for the book is people like the little girl in the park and her father. And to be honest, people like me.

Available on Amazon: I AM LUCY

“I’m writing a book…I’ve got the page numbers done.”

– quote by Steven Wright

It’s been a while since I gave you an update on what I have been up to lately. As some of you know, I have purposely taken a break from my touring and performing life, and have been venturing more into writing. I published a book of faith-based limericks – Get Me to the Church in Rhyme: Limericks about God, Faith, and the Church – and revised and re-released my book called Drama Workshop: Teaching Drama to Beginning Actors. I am currently writing a book about being a Christian artist, tentatively titled “Church Pews, Potlucks, and a Tank of Gas: A Survival Guide for the Independent Christian Artist”

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But one of the projects I am most excited to announce is that I have written a children’s book! The book is called “I Am Lucy,” and yes, it is about our beloved granddaughter, Lucy. The book will address her special needs as a child with Kabuki Syndrome.

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I am excited to be working with Canadian artist Chris Kielesinski as my illustrator. He just sent me a few early drafts of some of the artwork. He is really capturing her personality and essence. 


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In the meantime, while I am not currently touring and performing, Steve Wilent and Marcia Whitehead are still trodding the boards and would be happy to bring one of their inspirational stories to you!

 

 

What’s In A Name?

I was teaching a break-out session at a Worship Conference. My topic was about making a living as a Christian artist.

I asked the group: “Name for me some famous Christian bands, go ahead and just call them out”

The big question: Are you related to Jim?  The answer—no!

“Newsboys”

“Casting Crowns”

“Jars of Clay”

“Mercy Me”

“DC Talk”

“Third Day”

“Gaither Vocal Band”

“Switchfoot”

“U2”

All of these and many more were called out.

Then I asked: “How about some famous Christian singers?”

“Amy Grant”

“Michael W. Smith”

“Chris Tomlin”

“Toby Mac”

“Lacrae”

“Sandi Patty”

“Johnny Cash”

Again just a sampling of some of the many names that were mentioned. (Note: this discussion happened before Kanye West and Lauren Daigle would have made the list)

I try another category: “How about Christian Comedians?” It takes a few seconds but then I hear:

“Chondra Pierce”

“Tim Hawkins”

“That lady that sings that thing about what Mom’s say to the tune of the William Tell Overture.” (Anita Renfroe)

“I think Stephen Colbert is a Catholic.”

There were a few other names tossed out but the list was definitely shorter.

“Okay let’s try one more… how about famous Christian actors?”

The silence is deafening. Then someone says.

“Oh that actor who played Doogie Howser… what’s his name?”

“Neil Patrick Harris?”

“No, you’re thinking of the actor from Growing Pains…uh…Kirk Cameron.”

“Oh yeah… he’s in those Christian movies, Left Behind and stuff.”

“That’s it?” I asked. “One actor?”

“Oh wait there is that guy that tour’s around doing C.S Lewis and Screwtape Letters… uh… Don McLean.”

I correct him. “That would Max McLean. Don McLean is the singer who wrote Bye Bye Miss American Pie. Anyone else?

“Denzel Washington? I saw this YouTube video where he talked about praying…”

From the back of the room I hear, “Chuck Neighbors”

I smile… “I said famous actors… and you only said that because the name on the handout for this class says: Chuck Neighbors, Actor”

(It is interesting to note that some of the names—U2 (Bono), Johnny Cash, Stephen Colbert, and Denzel Washington—are celebrities that have identified themselves as Christian, but their art is not typically what most people think of when we think of Christian artists.)

So there you have it, in a nutshell. While there is plenty of name recognition for Christian musicians, there is not much when it comes to being a “Christian actor.” I have often referred to myself as “that Christian actor guy” because for most people, even those who have seen me perform, “that Christian actor guy” is a close as they will get to remembering my name. (Although I have lost count of the number of times I have been introduced as Jim Nabors…aka Gomer Pyle).

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