(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!
Posted by Chuck Neighbors