The Stanislavsky Method of Biblical Interpretation

The originator of “Method acting,” Russian theatrical director Constantin Stanislavsky (1863–1938), taught his actors not to ask, “How should I position my eyebrows, hands, and mouth to express this line?” but rather, “If I had a domineering father, an ambitious wife, and coarse underwear, how would I express this line?” He taught that, once the actor felt the motives, thoughts and emotions of the character, the various body parts would position themselves naturally. This process of “building a character” and “becoming the character” involves deciding where the character had come from, and where he was going.

I wish my fourth grade Sunday School teacher had understood Method acting. She told me that the disciples in Acts 2 didn’t mean that Jesus was physically alive, but that he was alive again in their minds and hearts. I wish somebody had made her read aloud Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, based on that interpretation. The audience would have walked out on her in boredom over her performance: “Therefore, uh, let all Israel be, um, assured of this: that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, um, well, he sort of made him both Lord and, you know, Christ.”

This may explain why Biblical films are often produced by believers — it’s hard to portray a vivid character accurately when you discount the source material. The Bible has been criticized on many fronts, but few criticize the believability of its characters. If liberal theologians had to appear on stage as a demonstration of their theories, their impracticality would be more obvious.

Seriously, I’d like to see a competent Christian theatrical director lead a Bible study in which the participants were expected to “become the character.” For example, he might ask me to portray the Apostle Paul saying, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Then the director would probably tell me, “It’s not believable. You don’t really feel it. You haven’t done your homework. What is the character’s motivation?”

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