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Thursday, 25 September 2014

On Drama

A million years ago, when I grew up in the predominantly Lutheran city, where Catholics were no more than 12% of the population, drama was considered by many of my Protestant brethren as horribly sinful.

This abhorrence of drama came out of the Protestant Revolt, as a reaction to the still performed Mystery and Miracle plays of the medieval period. Such plays, which either depicted the Life of Christ or the Biblical stories in Genesis or other books, were seen as connected to the evils of the Catholic life which included, of course, the Holy Mass.

These  religious, Catholic plays became outlawed in England, although the arch-hypocrite Elizabeth I is recorded as having attended one incognito, as she loved drama. She also continued having private showings.

I wonder if she had the actors arrested afterwards?

I have studied these plays and actually seen some enacted. I love drama, have written drama, and was married another million years ago to an accomplished actor. STS is also an excellent actor, having played in Shakespeare, Wilde, other dramatist's plays, and Greek drama, as well as a musical.

STS in The Taming of the Shrew

As a Catholic girl, I attended plays and musicals and in college was in drama a bit. My role was usually the ingenue, as I always looked much younger than my age. I was the young girl, for example, in Yerma.

I did not have great talent but had several boyfriends who were in plays, both when I was in high school and in college who were extremely talented. We would discuss drama at length. One of my best friends had the lead as Elizabeth R herself, another irony of history.

That my Lutheran friends believed that Catholics were going to a handbasket because we went to Broadway Theatre League or the Genesius Guild provided me with many opportunities of drama apologetics.

St Therese as Joan of Arc
Now, one can see the danger of acting and being involved in the threatre. We know that the lifestyle of actors, at least in the West, left something morally to be desired which is still evident in Hollywood. The famous actresses of the Restoration Period in England were almost all you know whats and one became a mistress of one of the kings. Such is life behind stage.

But, the lifestyle of actors and actresses was not the problem with my Protestant friends. The problem was what they saw as "deceit". To dress up, wear make-up and play another part, to become, even for a short while, another person, was a lie to them. Actors lied, Producers lied, Scene painters lied. All these people were engaged in portraying something which was not true.

STS in above

Now, to convince my friends who honestly and sincerely saw no value in lying on a stage, made me look at the entire history of drama. Of course, another argument was that drama had its roots in religion, which it does, especially in Greece, and therefore was also sinful because of historical connections.

Some of my Lutheran friends also objected to the stories, even Shakespeare, who we all know was Catholic. These good people could not see that drama was a mirror of the soul of man, helping us all come to knowledge of the self and our relationship to others and God.

No, they could not see that drama was not mere entertainment, but a way of exploring what it means to be human, a thinking being with a soul and a body.

The stories they saw as deceitful I saw as the opposite-vehicles of exploring truth.

For a teenager, this type of discussion on the back-porch in the summer over lemonade and ginger snaps  whet my appetite for more serious apologetics. By the age of fifteen, I was defending the Faith in conversations with my Lutheran friends.

The Miracle and Mystery plays did not just pop up in France in the 1100s with Adam, but came out of dramas connected with the high holy days as far back as the early Church, once persecution settled down. Drama was used to teach the Bible and to remind people of the great long line of Revelation from the Old Testament through the New.

And, here is the reason why my Protestant friends hated drama, It was a link to pre-Protestant culture and Christendom. In denying that the Catholic Church was the one, true, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, they had to deny that the pre-Revolt Church was missionary and the oldest, true Christian faith.

STS in Clytemnestra

Also, even today, we have over forty examples of medieval dramas which depicted something about the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was ditched by the Protestants and whose devotion was completely undermined. The Mystery Plays showed the lives of the saints and oh-no, Protestants not bear the cult of the saints. The Morality plays became slap-stick and finally, vaudeville.  Of course, with the continued suppression of the feast days, and the closing of the theatres in London under Cromwell, the sin of acting was punishable as a crime against morality.
So, the dramas became verboten.

STS' Godfather in pantomime

I do not know if in the long run I convinced any Protestants to go watch Lear or Antigone, but my love for drama never ceased. One of my plays was put on at Notre Dame by a small group of actors I got together. It was a depiction of children and youth's reaction to the plagued and, therefore, a drama which explored the facing of death and life after death by all of us.

Having taught drama, I know the value of learning through the arts, through the classics. May true drama never disappear from this planet, and may Catholics continue to write and produce superb plays.

May I add that the fastest growing "religion", which is not a revealed one, also eschews drama as evil. Interesting that the heretics and others who hate the Church, the great stories of Revelation, as well as the Life of Christ, hate drama. A connection exits between false Calvnism, false simplicity and the hatred of the Arts. And, we now have a new saint who acted as a youth, St. John Paul II, who I am sure would bless this post.

Here is a young STS in a take-off on a famous show.....