All the World’s a Stage…

Shakespeare’s play As You Like It will be remembered most for the words “all the world’s a stage.” For most of us the brilliance of Shakespeare is lost in translation – we don’t speak that way so we don’t understand it. For those of you who are now in the fetal position sobbing uncontrollably because I mentioned Shakespeare, don’t worry we will only grapple with the first twelve words.

All the world’s a stage and I’m trying to impress the talent scouts.

In my experience as an actor and a director, there is nothing more dangerous to a production than cast members trying to “upstage” one another. Simply put it means to compete with another character onstage for the attention of the audience.  Some do this out of ignorance that is usually the result of inexperience, while others are trying to compete for the attention of everyone that is watching. There is an interesting twist that takes place when a cast member or members compete for the attention of the audience. The audience focuses on them but loses focus on their character and the plot which in the long run undermines the whole reason the audience is watching in the first place.

All the world’s a stage and I want to be noticed.

No one wants to be ignored. To toil in obscurity, to miss out on the accolades of those around us seems almost unbearable. It’s not that most people are so arrogant that they feel they deserve the recognition but rather no one wants to be on the “stage” and have the audience miss their performance. No one wants to go unnoticed. We play to the audience hoping to receive their applause. Sometimes we upstage those around us out of ignorance, not realizing that what we are doing is over the top. Other times we upstage those around us out of the desire to stand out more than anyone else.

All the world’s a stage and all the world’s an audience.

Shakespeare’s monologue continues “And all men and women merely players…” (this is another word for actor not a slang term for a male who is skilled at manipulating “playing” others). What he does not address as part of the monologue is who our audience is. We all may be the actors on the stage of life but at the same time we are the audience taking in the performances of others. We judge others by what we see and we judge ourselves by how others respond to what they see in us. We live to be seen on our stage by those who share the same stage. We copy what they are doing, trying to improve upon it and receive the praises of the other players who are doing the same thing. As we upstage one another or at the least mimic each other, life becomes an endless effort to please the other players – the audience.

All the world’s a stage and all the world’s an audience but what about the director?

The best productions rely not on the cast’s talents, although they are needed, they rely on the cast following the instructions of the director. Staying true to the script and developing believable characters that interact in a meaningful way is not about any individual but instead about the whole cast.  The director is the thread that ties the actors to the parts they play and to one another. The roles may differ in length and in their impact on the plot but all are there for a reason. One may be more memorable but none are unneeded. When “players” work for the approval of the director rather than the approval of the audience/other players, it leads to a sum total that is greater than all the parts.

All the world’s a stage, all the world’s an audience, and I want to be noticed, but is that what the director wants?

If all the world’s a stage then this must not only apply to the theatre stage but life itself. Every day of our lives we are on a stage. We are watched by others, some wishing to copy us, others wanting to overshadow us. We too watch to see who we want to copy and who we want to overshadow. We are the “players”, we are the audience, but God is the director. Being noticed by others should not be our goal. Playing the lead part is not the ultimate in our career [life]. Obediently executing the movements, dialogue and interactions with all others on the stage, whether they are a part of our acting company (Christ followers) or not, is how we must respond to the director. It is not for our glory but for His as He weaves together the past and present to create the future and complete His plot.

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10 (NIV)

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