Every year or so, I climb down from my bunker on the ninth floor of my “Ivory Tower” to watch a movie. And every two or three years, I actually recommend a film to others. It’s not that I don’t like movies. I love movies! They graciously bring the theater to those of us living on the wrong side of the tracks or the wrong side of the country.
Because, like theater productions, they engage one’s sight and hearing, as well as, the brain, they are powerful tools of engagement, inspiration, awakening, and change. They can present ideas forcefully enough to at least influence, if not alter beliefs and actions. That’s one reason the Catholic Church employed plays for teaching long before the printing press made reading a common skill. Plays allowed the educated priests to easily coach the whole parish about living the Christian life, reaching old and young alike intellectually and emotionally.
Since I try to choose beauty as a way of living life, I avoid un-beautiful entertainment as much as possible. I carefully select movies and plays that will feed my soul, not just help me avoid boredom. Why should I spend my precious time, energy, and money attending a performance that degrades or promotes bad decisions?
I had no more than a visceral understanding of the power inherent in theater and/or movies until I read about the Rhapsodic Theater that Karol Wojtyla and Mieczyslaw Kotlarczyk started in Poland in 1941. It was an underground theater of the spoken word only: no costumes, no sets, no music. Performances consisted of a few actors in street clothes reciting their lines distinctly and dramatically to a small audience in someone’s living room. Both men believed the word had priority over gesture or background; they also insisted that thought has priority over action. That and careful choice of scripts caused the performances to influence audiences.
Despite the numerous limitations imposed, the Rhapsodic Theater was such a powerful method of encouraging the Polish people and keeping their spirits high, the German Army declared it illegal. Both actors and audience would be shot on the spot if discovered. In the year and a half that Wojtyla participated before he entered the underground seminary, they performed 7 plays in 122 performances. After he left, the theater continued to galvanize the Poles for another twenty-six years under Communist oppression.
Any medium that powerful must be “used” with respect. Adding action, costumes, sets, dramatic lighting, and music adds even more power to performances. Don’t allow ugly, raunchy, or mindless plays and movies into your mind where the impact on your psyche may outlast any memory of the plot. Since it’s going to create a permanent, although largely subconscious, part of who you are, choose carefully. Choose beauty.