LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Joseph Frost, Part 2: Listening on Stage

Today I'm finishing up my interview with playwright, director and actor Joseph Frost. Frost earned an MA in Theatre: Acting and Directing and an MFA in Script and Screenwriting from Regent University. He appeared in the film The Proper Care and Feeding of An American Messiah and will be in the indie feature Endings written and directed by Christopher J. Hansen. He has won awards for his writing for both stage (The Great Play) and screen (The Heart of Saturday Night), and his plays were the feature of the 2005 Malone College Playwright's Showcase. He has directed both classic and contemporary works, including some world premieres. He has been a participant in Art Within's Symposium for writers of faith and was the president of the board of directors for Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA). Joseph is chair of theatre at Belhaven College and founding artistic director of the floodlight theatre company.

LeAnne: As an acting teacher, what two or three things do you want your students to know or understand when they leave the program?

Joseph: The most important thing I try to instill in all of my students is probably the simplest--that they are each a single part of a larger production. At Belhaven College, our mission is to train student artists to use the art of theatre to serve their community, their collaborators and their Creator. It's easy for actors in particular to get caught up in ego, in ambition, and be very self-absorbed. But if the focus is on service to one's collaborators (from playwright to wardrobe personnel to the designers and director) and on the audience and larger community, then the art of acting takes on a significance larger than bringing oneself glory or getting a paycheck. This attitude can then also carry itself onto the stage.

In acting, listening is probably the most important key--next to just relaxing and 'being' on the stage (and not 'performing'). If you're going to be listening on stage, you have to be aware and sensitive to what is going on around you, and understand how you are contributing to what an audience is receiving from the stage picture and event that you are creating. This involves listening to the actors around you, as well as being sensitive to the design choices that have been made by the technical team, all of which are on the stage with you at all times. To get actors to heighten this awareness, I work with the Viewpoints exercises of Anne Bogart and Tina Landau.

LM: Have you faced challenges or obstacles in theatre because of your faith? If so, how did you overcome them?

JF: I don't think that anyone working in the theatre can claim to not have had challenges or obstacles of some kind or other. Sure, as a Christian, I find myself positioned between an artform that poses difficulties for the church to embrace and a worldly community of artists who tend to recoil at the absolutes of Jesus.

Some of the obstacles, I think, aren't likely to be overcome. Some of them exist, I believe, to keep us in a healthy tension. How do we love without condoning? How do we point out sin without being guilty of pride or judgmentalism (or at least hypocrisy)? 

It's certainly a challenge, but when faced with those issues that we often think of as obstacles--things like language, the portrayal of sin and fallenness, even the idea of working in environments that will put us in contrast with a prevailing lifestyle--are continuing opportunities for us to pray over each and every daily choice. And I believe that the answers to those opportunities might change in different situations, as the Lord leads us.

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