18 November 2012

The Parable of my Talents

I am a woman of a few talents.  I can sing some, so I sang in the choir as a teenager and I'm warm and pleasant and very good at saying "Good morning!" while handing people things and "Thank you!" while accepting their money, so I've been an usher for the past several years.

Knowing of my peculiar obsession with interest in theater, I am sometimes approached to direct the Christmas pageant or some variation on it, but I usually get out of that one because Christmas pageant-type anythings usually have enough people in them to set off my conflict alarm.*

There were a couple of talents of mine that the church had left buried in the ground until recently:  I like to read and I like to talk, so certainly I like to read out loud.  The church name for the person who reads out loud is a "lector."**  So, in addition to ushering, I am now a lector, which makes me very happy.

Here's how it works:  Late in the week Steve, who coordinates the lectors, sends a reminder that one is scheduled to read on the coming Sunday.  The reminder includes what one is scheduled to read, with the first lector reading from the Old Testament and the second lector reading from the New.   Beth, the church secretary sends a preview copy of the bulletin and the "Synthesis," which provides context and commentary on the readings and the gospel.  Speaking as someone whose favorite part of the rehearsal process is tablework, I'm really glad to get those.  Makes the reading much less cold.

On the Sundays when I lector (when I lect?) I start the service seated with the Acolytes behind the choir on the Epistle side.  Before church I check that what I am reading has been flagged at the beginning and end of the reading and that my reading is continuous rather than, say, verses 1-3, 9-15, and 18-22.  The person reading Old Testament lesson goes up to the Large And Very Authoritative Looking Bible on the lectern, which also being rather large and authoritative, nearly completely masks the bible, but that's fine as it also masks the Post-It flags.  Anyway, the Old Testament reader, climbs up on the little step-stool (so as to be seen by the congregation over the Large and Authoritative Lectern), turns on the mic and the light, and says "A reading from ________."

We are asked not to bring our bulletins with us to the lectern because it should be clear that we are reading directly from the Bible.***

For some reason most things that have to do with theater do not make me nervous but microphones do.  Maybe it's because I can hear myself talking or maybe it's because everyone should have some odd thing that makes one nervous, but reading a long paragraph in church with the words in front of me to an audience that is mostly paying attention makes me more nervous than anything else I do "on stage."  I think if I'd been told to project to the back of the house and there was no mic I wouldn't be as nervous, but not's not the deal.

And because I am an actor I try to balance how I read.  I want to treat it like a cold reading at an audition and really embody the characters.  But this is not about me. So I don't.  On the other hand, people pay more attention if one doesn't, uhm, drone.

So I do add a little color to my voice here and there and I slightly set of quotes from narrative.  Today, for instance, I read the story of the conception of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:4-20, for those following along at home) and -- to make this a visual -- you can could say that I read it thus:

Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.  Her husband Elkanah said to her, "Hannah, why do you weep?  Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad?  Am I not more to you than ten sons?" After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord.

Rather than, say,

Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.  Her husband Elkanah said to her, 

"Hannah, why do you weep?  Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad?  Am I not more to you than ten sons?" 

After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. 

At the end of the reading, the button is "The Word of the Lord" to which the congregation responds "Thanks be to G-d." ****

After the Old Testament reader is finished, he or she (sometimes) turns off the light and (sometimes) turns the pages to the Epistle reading for the convenience of the Epistle reader.  And then one is free to return to one's seat in the congregation "with the satisfying feeling that one's duty has been done."*****

One day the church will figure out how to benefit from another of my talents:  my multi-gallon per day capacity for a nice, hot cups of tea.

*As the number of people in a cast grows, the likely number of times you'll have the entire cast together diminishes.  So I try never to direct anything with a cast larger than eight.

** The name for the kind of reading out loud that David does is called "being a volunteer."  He reads textbooks and such out loud for an organization that provides spoken versions of written material to the blind and others with reading challenges.  They are called Learning Ally and would happily accept a donation.

*** It is clear that most of the congregation is following along in their bulletins because of the page-turning noise that happens at some point in one of the day's readings.

**** One time I got up there and halfway through the reading, I suddenly couldn't remember the button, even though I have heard it and responded to it for decades and have said it as a lector several times.  But I am actor and so I told myself silently -- as I was reading out loud -- what I tell myself on stage when I start to worry about a line from another scene:  "Do not worry about that line.  Say your next line.  When it is time for that line, it will come to you."  And it did.

***** W.S. Gilbert, The Gondoliers.  Of course.