If you have spent any time in film or theater, you know one of the big milestones in a production is the day that everyone goes ‘off script.’ It means you know your lines and the other actors’ lines well enough that you begin to ‘act and react’ to the words instead of trying to memorize the dialogue. It is in this stage of a production that you are able to create nuance and character. People often begin to do improv during this step; they know their character so well that they begin to respond as their character would. Often the biggest moments of movie or theater ‘magic’ occur when actors are off script. I think the same is true in real life, and as a recovering control-freak, sometimes I miss the days of memorization.
I remember being in a play in high school and being petrified that when the ‘off script’ day came I wouldn’t be ready. I was afraid that I would never get the lines down, or worse yet, I would have a complete blank moment and forget the whole thing. I had nightmares leading up to the rehearsal that my lips would move as the other characters gave their lines, but no matter what I did, I could only puppet their lines. I should probably mention that I am afraid of puppets, so the idea that I could become one was frightening. The rehearsal came and I was able to remember my lines, but I didn’t eat lunch and I don’t think I learned anything in any of my classes that day. All it took was one successful rehearsal and I had the confidence to forget that there was ever a time I didn’t know my lines. I had to be prepared so that I could go ‘off script’ with confidence.
Recently, I had another one of these off script days. I was blessed to be nominated for and receive a role on a web-series called “The Committee.” It had been several years since I acted in any capacity, other than the occasional summer camp drama, and I was nervous. I wasn’t nervous to be on camera – I am comfortable in front of a camera and had been in some short films several years before. The thing that made me nervous was getting my lines right, especially since I would be working with real actors and not my fellow camp staffers. So I did what anyone who lives in my part of the country would do and called my friend, who is a bonafide former member of the SAG, and asked him to ‘run my lines with me.’ It was intimidating to do even that, but as we read together, I watched him come alive. There is something magical and awe-inspiring when you see someone engaged in what they were created to do. They take on what I see as a God-given identity. He is an actor whether he is currently playing a role or not. He kept asking me, “What do you think your character is thinking?” Since the character was based on me and had the same name as me, I thought I had that one nailed. He read with enthusiasm and taught me his tricks of memorization. By the end of the night, I knew my lines, but I still had to memorize everyone else’s so that I could properly react and not just repeat the lines.
The big day came and I met for rehearsal with the other actors. It was nerve-racking, but by the end of it, the amazing director encouraged me enough that I was able to say my lines with confidence. Why do I tell this story? Since I have recently been appointed to a new church, I find myself living almost inside the very script that I filmed for “The Committee.” I am realizing I will have to go off script. But unlike the TV show, there is no way for me to read ahead to make sure it all turns out alright. Each turn will require me to react and engage, with no guarantee that my motive or intent will be understood. I am going to have to trust that I know enough about the church development and creation movement, that even if things don’t go as planned, I will have the ability to improv with the help of God. In real life, people can tell whether you believe what you are saying or are just delivering a line. This is an important lesson for someone who is a pastor AND plays one on TV. If I am going to have any chance of revitalizing my real life “Park Grove,” (that was the name of the church on the show) I am going to have to learn to trust that God is writing this script!
If you want to check out “The Committee” go to www.chuckknowschurch.com the episode is called “Resurrection”