ACTing & PREACHing: An Historical Symbiosis

By Kurt Edwards.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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Beginning in the late 18th century, significant effort has been given to the purposeful development of acting theory. From Denis Diderot in the 1700s to Stanislavski in the late 1800s, moving into the 20th century with Bertolt Brecht, acting has moved away from mere feelings into a self-scientific, research based approach founded more on the quantitative than experience and “talent.” For the past two-plus centuries, many acting (and the more broad performance) theorists have sought ways to cognize the motives behind the basic tenet “to act” and distilled their theories to form basic understandings of the seemingly esoteric phenomena of how actors can achieve authenticity in their era. Fortunately, this is not a new singularity and today’s acting theory has a compelling history.

Interestingly, the study of homiletics has also moved in a similar direction. In fact, it is fascinating to compare the lineages of historical preaching with acting theory; starting in the 18th century there are connections between the preacher George Whitefield and acting philosopher Denis Diderot; between Dwight Moody and actor/director Constantin Stanislavski; and Billy Sunday with playwright/director Bertolt Brecht. The purpose of this study is to draw parallels between these historic preacher-actors and their acting theorist counterparts to examine the social performative ethos that was alive and well during each preacher and acting theorist’s era.

Keywords: Constantin Stanislavski, Bertolt Brecht, Denis Diderot, George Whitefield, Dwight Moody, Billy Sunday, Homiletics, Performance Studies, Theatre, Preaching

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.65-76. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 768.266KB).

Dr. Kurt Edwards

Professor and Artistic Director, Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, IN, USA

Kurt was born and raised in Columbia, Missouri, studying theatre at the University of Missouri. From Missouri, Kurt and his wife moved to New York City where he pursued professional theatre for five years before completing a PhD at Bowling Green State University, Ohio. Kurt’s most basic research interests surround the idea of religious performance and especially how modern preachers use acting theories in their practice. After teaching theatre at Indiana Wesleyan University for the past seven years, Kurt recently took a professor position at East Central Oklahoma University.