In 2002, I started a theatre company called The Backyard Bard and for nearly the last two decades, I have been committing to memory and performing Scripture. This theatrical artform is called “Biblical Storytelling”, though it isn’t limited to Bible stories. I also love performing sections from the epistles, prophetic writings, and Biblical poetry.
Narrative texts however, give me the wonderful opportunity to play lots of different characters, which is always heaps of fun. The most fun character I love to portray is an angel, and if you’ve ever seen a storytelling performance by The Backyard Bard, you’ll have noticed that our angels always have Scottish accents. See below as an example:
Once I performed at a very prestigious private boy’s college for the school chapel assembly, and even in that formal setting, there was an angel in the story, and so the Scottish accent came out. I recall being introduced to one of the teachers on campus who was actually Scottish. The school staff member introducing me told them that I had performed the angel in a Scottish accent and wanted their reaction. Without a beat, this teacher cheekily shrugged and said in his thick accent, “Aye, I’ve always thought angels were Scottish.”
Many have asked, so what’s with the Scottish angels? I often answer jokingly, “Well, if you ever meet an angel that doesn’t sound Scottish, tell me and I’ll do their accent instead!” But there actally is some thought that went behind choosing that accent for the angels, so I thought I’d explain it here.
Choosing an accent
Firstly it’s worth pointing out, I love doing accents. My Pharisees and kings often have posh British accents, my shepherds sound Aussie occa, Pilate and the Roman guards sometimes sound Italian and with the occasional character I might play with a bit of a Yiddish accent. I even once told the story of Samson from Judges, giving him the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger (check it out HERE).
Each of these accents plays into stereotypes and so I am careful when or if I use them. But sometimes those stereotypes can really help communicate some aspect of a character’s personality, like with the posh British accent reflecting affluence, status and a sense of arrogance, whereas the Aussie occa shepherds communicate their humble status and simple good nature.
The accent would of course, only be one in a smorgasbord of creative tools the actor has to create a distinct and engaging character. I’d also think about how I’d move my body, my hand gestures, my facial expressions and what simple props (either mimed or physically present) I might use. I generally would avoid costumes, because with Biblical Storytelling, you’d be switching between characters so quickly it would not be practical. In light of that, accents in particular, became a very useful device to make each character distinct and memorable.
What do angels sound like?
So when it came to a story that included an angel, I had to make a call – what should the angel sound like? Well, the most important thing I knew I wanted was for them to sound DIFFERENT. They were angels! They aren’t little cute cherubs with sweet sounding choir voices. They are awesome celestial warriors! Messengers from God that shone with the holiness and glory of God! In the bible, when people meet an angel they are either bowing down in worship, terrified for their life or wracked with guilt over their sin exposed by the presence of God’s holiness. That is why the very first words angels often say are “Do not be afraid!” Sometimes, like in Judges 6, the angel literally says “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die!”
So I knew I needed the angels accent to not sound like any of the other accents I used for other characters. It needed to be powerful, arresting, terrifying, warrior-like and clearly “not from around here”. It needed to be… Scottish.
Why Scottish works
The first time I used the Scottish accent in a Biblical Storytelling was back in 2005 in the performance you can see in the video above (the full video can be viewed HERE). It was the Christmas story from Matthew’s gospel and the angel appears and begins bossing Joseph around.
Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
Then a little later in the story he does it again!
Get up! Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.
Sure, you could also imagine that the angel spoke in a soft, comforting tone, but I wanted to shake people’s stereotype of what an angelic appearance was like. It was exciting! God was doing something! The brash boldness of the Scottish accent worked really well. It probably also helped that films like Braveheart and Rob Roy had culturally made the Scottish accent synonymous with being a warrior (at least in my mind) and this was the type of angel I wanted to portray.
I remember, in 2006, a year after I had introduced the Scottish angel, the movie The Nativity was released. I wasn’t overly impressed with the film, but the scene portraying the angel’s visitation was particularly disappointing.
The angel is relaxed and talks and looks just like anyone else she might meet on the street except for being dressed in white (and not as bright as lightning like in Matthew 28:3). And Mary’s reaction! So deadpan! One thing I learnt in Biblical Storytelling is that the performer is the “emotional guide” for the audience, helping them know when something is important or terrifying or news that will literally change the course of history!
Anyway, this film solidified for me that the choice of a bold and larger-than-life Scottish warrior that was one part William Wallace and one part Billy Connolly, was the right way to go.
Good news of great joy!
I mention Billy Connolly, not only because that’s the type of Scottish accent I try to go for, but also because he is a comedian. Inevitably (as you can see in the videos of my performances) the use of the Scottish accent will inevitably cause people to laugh. It’s just undeniably funny to hear a Scottish angel. Unless you’re that teacher I referred to at the start, it’s unexpected and disarming and people consistently respond to that surprise with a laugh.
Is that a bad thing? After all, the angel is a messenger from God Almighty! He should be feared, not laughed at. Isn’t inspiring laughter during a presentation of God’s Word disrespectful or ireverent or even blasphemous?
Well, as you can imagine, I don’t think so. And in my many years of portraying the Scottish angel, I haven’t found it to take away from the seriousness of the scene. That is partly because I take care to play the angel seriously. When he speaks with authority, I portray that. When he speaks tenderly, I change my tone. The Scottish accent is surprising but it is not silly. The laughs always come right at the beginning, but people quickly get used to the voice of the character and the initial comedy does not distract from the angel’s message or the point of the scene.
Also, often, bringing a smile to people’s faces is very appropriate at the arrival of the angels. Although the other characters may be terrified, we know their message is often one of hope and wonder. Or as the angel says in Luke 2:10 “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people!” I have often found, including humour and allowing laughter in a Biblical Storytelling performance lifts the mood right at the moment when the mood needs to be lifted. And when done intentionally, and not just for laughs, it can draw people into God’s Word far more than distracting them from it.
Anyway, I hope that answers your questions about why my angels are Scottish.
If you know of any angels that speak in a different accent and are feeling misrepresented, please do tell me.
I’m sure, on the day I actually meet an angel, they will speak with such a divine voice that I could not possibly try to immitate that now.
Or maybe… they’ll sound like Billy Connolly. I guess we’ll find out.
If you haven’t had enough of the Scottish angel, you can enjoy this Christmas play that I wrote and directed for my church’s carols event last year. It is a modernised adaptation of the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel and the angel pops in now and then.
The Lord’s Prayer is Jesus’ working example of how we should pray.
But many (including those who claim to follow him as Christ and Creator of the Universe) argue that Jesus was just a product of his times, and like problematic films like Aliens and The Goonies, much of the New Testament requires a disclaimer stating that Jesus’ teaching contains: “outdated attitudes, languages and cultural depictions which may cause offence today.”
Now, we could just cancel Jesus, doxx him on social media and force him to quit his job as Saviour of the world.
Or, we could just update Jesus’ prayer to something less offensive…
The Lord’s Prayer – Woke Edition
Our [god, free of all gendered imagery],
Hallowed be your name [not that you care about all that stuff].
Your [democratic socialist autonomous zone] come,
[Our collective] will be done,
On earth as it is in [whatever concept of the spiritual realm sits best with you].
Give us today our daily bread [with a gluten-free option and maybe an alternative for those that are cutting down their carbs. Also could we get some butter?].
And forgive us our [<no alternative found>]
As we forgive those who [offend] us [after destroying their career].
[Let us lead ourselves] away from temptation [unless it’s sexy or chocolatey or both].
And deliver us from [ignorance and low self-esteem, because no one and nothing is truly “evil” deep down, just misunderstood].
ADDITIONAL ENDING FOR WOKE ANGLICANS:
For Thine is the [democratic socialist autonomous zone]
The Power [to the People!]
And the Glory [of each one of us living out our own truth]
Now and for [the next few years until the zeitgeist changes once again].
[also Awomen and Athosewhodontidentifybyanygender]
If you want a slightly more serious reflection of what I think about The Lord’s Prayer, check out this article I wrote for The Gospel Coalition Australia: “Our Father Who Art in Parliament”.
PERSON 1 – Reads some article somewhere that toilet paper might run out if Coronavirus hits our shores.
PERSON 2 – Thinks person 1 is silly for believing that article but sees them buying all the toilet paper and doesn’t want to be left with none, so buys a bunch as well.
PERSON 3 – Hasn’t read any article but sees persons 1 & 2 buying toilet paper and concludes there must be a national shortage and so buys whatever toilet paper they can.
PERSON 4 – Just ran out of toilet paper at home and just wants to find a couple of rolls. Takes a photo of empty supermarket shelves and posts it to social media expressing how silly it is that people are freaking out.
PERSON 5 – Sees multiple photos of empty supermarket shelves on social media and completely freaks out. They go on Ebay and pay $100 for a roll of toilet paper thinking it might be the last there is.
PERSON 6 – Bought a bunch of toilet paper early and is selling it on Ebay. They wrote the article and sent it to person 1.
Betty Botter is a tongue-twister written by Carolyn Wells. It was originally titled “The Butter Betty Bought.” By the middle of the 20th century, it had become part of the Mother Goose collection of nursery rhymes.
I used to be into tongue-twisters as a kid and my favourite was “Betty Botter”. The version I committed to memory was:
Betty Botter bought some butter. “But”, she said, “This butter’s bitter. If I put it in my batter, it’ll make my batter bitter. But if I buy a better butter, it’ll make my batter better.” So Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter and that made her batter better.
A nice tongue-twister, but not very exciting. She has a problem with some butter and she just goes out and buys a replacement.
Well, I thought I might be able to expand the Betty Botter story a little bit. Here is what I came up with…
Betty Botter’s Batter My expanded version of a classic tongue-twister
Betty Botter bought some butter, “But”, she said, “This butter’s bitter. If I put it in my batter, it’ll make my batter bitter. But if I buy a better butter, it’ll make my batter better…
But Betty’s brother Buddy Botter said, “Why not try adding water?”
So Betty Botter blended bitter butter with a bit of water that her brother Buddy brought her. But no matter how much water, the bitter batter wasn’t better. All it was was a bit wetter.
“Wet and bitter batter isn’t better!” Betty barked, but before her brother said rebuttal, Betty’s mother butted in. “I’m sure it could be a bit better. Why not add bit of feta? Salt’ll balance out the bitter, and absorb a bit of water.”
Then Betty’s father Mr Botter contributed to the banter.
“Back when I was but a boy, my best friend Billy’s neighbour’s, barber’s brother was a brilliant baker. He always bragged he blended better with the best electric beater. Your broken, busted baby beater is why your batter isn’t better.”
Though it sounds bonkers, Betty Botter couldn’t let this batter beat her. So Betty, bartered, begged and bought a brand new, bright blue, Breville beater! Then with the best electric beater she beat the batter mixed with feta, blending water Buddy brought her in with bits of bitter butter.
And in the end this beaten blend of wetter, bitter, feta batter, was just plain bad and Betty muttered “I shoulda bought a better butter.”
Her brother Buddy smiled and bade her, “Come on Betty, don’t be bitter. Sure we botched a basic batter, but we’re blessed with something better… You see, what matters is not batters, but bonding with our fellow Botters.”
Allow me to have a not-too-serious rant about the 10 big problems with this video.
Firstly, if the mum had had had such a “long and stressful day at work” and she was so exhausted that all she could put together for dinner was jam and burnt toast, why didn’t dad get off his butt and help her out? Presumably they both are working. Why is mum making dinner while dad sits at the table waiting to be fed? In the end, as I will show, his laziness led to guilt, lies and possibly even cancer.
When the toast is brought out to dad, he doesn’t say anything to his wife or acknowledge that clearly she wasn’t coping. The child even says they were waiting to see dad’s reaction, but even the child is surprised that he ignores her completely and simply talks to them about their day.
Prompted by his coldness, or maybe out of fear of his judgment, or maybe just as a cry for help, the mum then apologizes for the toast being burnt. Why is she apologizing? I guess, maybe she is just acknowledging that burnt toast is horrible and she wishes she had more energy to serve him the three course dinner he is obviously accustomed to.
The child “will never forget my dad’s reply”, and I won’t either. He straight up lies to his wife. He says, “Honey, I love burnt toast!” What is that going to do?? Either it will come across as some sort of sarcastic joke, again not really acknowledging her exhaustion, or worse still, it will come across as 100% truth. This will just leave the mum wondering what kind of weirdo has she married that actually loves burnt toast and if she accepts that, she may get the impression that in future she SHOULD burn his toast, as that is his strange preference.
The child clearly sees through his lies and that night they decide to ask their dad if he was telling the truth or lying. Dad unapologetically says that yes he was lying but that he just did it to not hurt mum’s feelings. What sort of lesson is THAT teaching his child? I can see inside their mind, Honesty Island crumbling like in the Pixar movie “Inside Out”! He makes out that lying was his only option, but there were so many things he could have said to his wife. How about, “I forgive you” or “No need to apologize, I understand you’ve had a hard day.” Or even, “I should be the one apologizing. We both worked today and you clearly deserve a rest more than me. How about I order takeout?” But no. He goes with a lie and tells his child that that’s the best way to love people.
Not only does he admit to lying to his wife, he then goes on to lie to his child – or at least tell he says something that is incorrect. He says “Burnt toast doesn’t hurt anyone, but words do.” Wrong dad. Check your facts. A quick Google search would show you that the burnt bits of toast contain an alarming high level of the chemical acrylamide – a cancer-causing toxin. His lies and misinformation does nothing to warn both his wife and child of the carcinogenic dangers of burnt food and may actually lead them to eat more of it! Good one dad!
Also, are words really that bad? They definitely don’t cause cancer, that’s for sure! But even if they can sting some times, do we really want our kids to lie rather than say words that might “hurt” people? Sure we want to teach our kids that hate speech, bullying and cruel mockery is unacceptable, but in this “safe space”, politically-correct, hyper-sensitive culture that our kids are growing up in, do we really want to teach them that any words that might hurt are forbidden and lying to someone’s face is preferable? We used to try to teach our kids resilience to words. Rather than the unscientific theory that “Burnt toast doesn’t hurt anyone, but words do”, maybe dad should have remembered the old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Words may hurt someone’s feelings sometimes, but they won’t do permanent damage like break your bones or give you cancer!
The video ends with this moral: “To accept your mistakes and appreciate your differences – that is the key for a healthy and long-lasting relationship.” A nice enough message, but is that really the moral of this story? Who accepts their mistakes? Does the dad? No, he is oblivious to his lack of helpfulness, he justifies his lies and he spreads misinformation about cancer. Lotsa mistakes there that don’t get accepted. And even if we conceded that poor mum made a “mistake” by serving the Master of the House toast that was burnt, does she accept it? Well, she tries to with her apology, but her lying husband tells her that it wasn’t a mistake at all because he loves burnt toast. Very unhelpful.
And where does anyone learn to “appreciate your differences”? Who’s differences? The differences between a lazy, dishonest dad and a mum who works hard all day and then has to make dinner for her family? Those are definite differences, but I for one hope the child doesn’t learn to “appreciate” them!
Lastly, I have a problem with the claim that “accepting mistakes and appreciating differences” is actually “the key for a healthy and long-lasting relationship”. As most people know, honest and gracious COMMUNICATION is actually the key -and that is what this story seriously lacks. If the mum can be critiqued for anything, she maybe should have communicated that she needed help, although it seems the dad already knew what sort of day she had had. The dad should have communicated truth rather than lies, to both his wife and his child. And if he was so sacred of communicating hurtful words, he could have just shut his mouth, got off his chair and communicated love by actually making HER dinner!
The only good communicator in this story is the child, who didn’t sit on their doubts about their dad’s claim to love toast. The child asked for the truth. Those questions may have hurt the dad as they suggested that he was a liar, but like the child in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, this child decided to speak up. It is sad that her good communication was answered with bad communication, dodgy justifications, unscientific information and terrible life lessons.