The Power of Point of View

Another Take on the Crafting of a Performance of Mark 6:47-52

by PHIL RUGE-JONES   I’ve been invited to chime in out of my own performance experience. I do think that the audience is supposed to empathize with the disciples in order to see themselves in the complex responses of the disciples and think about their own responses. They have been tossed about by storms; they have been haunted as well. I really liked Robert Tannehill‘s view of the story and what is going on.

I think the reason for Leon Seaman‘s accurate observation that I move side to side more than front to back is that I don’t use spaces on the stage to represent fixed realities. I use the space BETWEEN myself and the audience for variation more than left/right front/back. And for this, it is not quantity of space, but the qualities of the connection between us or, in other words, how it is emotionally charged. In terms of characters, for half of this story I’m standing among the disciples in the boat and half of it I’m where Jesus is.

I agree with Tannehill’s comment, “Furthermore, this passage shows clearly that it is a mistake to assume that inside views necessarily lead to a positive view of a character and a simple ‘merging’ of the reader’s perspective with that of the character.” However, I have a different view of what keeps getting called “inside views”. I believe in most cases, what we tend to call inside views would have been externally portrayed by the teller standing in for the characters and they seem less the revelation of the heart than the heart’s manifestations on face and body. One ancient calls them the “symptoms”. Here I realize that my performance corresponds with the non-performers’ interpretation (Yamasaki and Tannehill) of who gets embodied. For me, the general rule–although there is flexibility in this–is that those in the nominative position in the sentence get embodiment. My translation is closer to the second offered by Seaman although you will note my embodiment is different: “but when they saw him [I am the disciples seeing him and demonstrate their surprise, eyes open wide, head strains forward, eyebrows go up] walking on the sea, they [hands to the head, clutching the hair] thought, “It’s a ghost” [thought verbalized in a panicked, voiced tone] and cried out [inarticulate sound], ‘cause they all saw him, and were terrified [the ’cause clause indicates a leaning in toward the audience to make sure they got what just happened. It tends to charge the “space between” with intimacy]!” Note by this time their terror and lack of understanding are not inside views, but what anyone watching the scene with a bit of perception gets. They are terrified. I also think the audience gets why they are terrified.

An interesting emotional merging happens between the narrator and the disciples at the end. “They didn’t understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” So while the narrator is explaining their lack of understanding about the Jesus events and their significance, even embodying it a bit [maybe a repetition of the hands clutching hair gesture], I as narrator say it embodying my own lack of understanding regarding their lack of understanding. How could they miss what is going on? I use an emotional tone Tannehill suggests not chiding them, but kind of how sad that you are missing this wonderful thing happening before you. So the disciple’s clutch to hair in confusion is simultaneously the narrator’s clutch and confusion.

I think the audience is invited to reflect on the times when they are confused and afraid, but also to know that Jesus is in the boat with them.

Thanks for this conversation and for pushing me to think about performance choices I make.

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