History of Project
In 2016, writer Anna Rabinowitz published the book of poems from which this project has germinated. She and director Kristin Marting began conversations and held their first developmental workshop at HERE, where Kristin is Founding Artistic Director, to explore developing a performance piece from the poems. Kristin and Anna decided that music and visuals were needed to craft the story and invited the late composer Matt Marks and video designer Lianne Arnold to come on board as co-creators. Many group dramaturgical conversations followed as well as two week-long workshops at the Drama League and New Georges, each with a 7 person ensemble representing the 7 deadly sins. Along the way, we expanded our ensemble to include talented music director Mila Henry and our excellent design team. We are thrilled to be premiering the project with Baruch Performing Arts Center in October!
History and Context on the 7 Deadly Sins
For ages, humankind has struggled to find a conceptual system to operationalize their spiritual shortcomings. The challenge was formidable: the system had to be complex and inclusive enough to implicate a vast range of disgusting behavior, yet simple and memorable enough to inspire guilt in an illiterate peasant.
According to Sacred Origins of Profound Things, by Charles Panati, Greek monastic theologian Evagrius of Pontus first drew up a list of eight offenses and wicked human passions: They were, in order of increasing seriousness: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride. Evagrius saw the escalating severity as representing increasing fixation with the self, with pride as the most egregious of the sins.
In the late 6th century, Pope Gregory the Great reduced the list to seven items, folding vainglory into pride, acedia into sadness, and adding envy. His ranking of the Sins’ seriousness was based on the degree from which they offended against love. It was, from most serious to least: pride, envy, anger, sadness, avarice, gluttony, and lust. Later theologians, including St. Thomas Aquinas, would contradict the notion that the seriousness of the sins could be ranked in this way. The term “covetousness” has historically been used interchangeably with “avarice” in accounts of the Deadly Sins. In the seventeenth century, the Church replaced the vague sin of “sadness” with sloth.
Throughout the Middle Ages, church hierarchy emphasized teaching all lay people the Deadly Sins and Heavenly Virtues. Other spiritual manuals embellished on this tradition. Gerson presents a list of Contrary Virtues in his ABC des simples gens, which was derived from the Psychomatica (or Battle for the Soul), a fifth-century epic poem by Prudentius. He believed these virtues would help counteract temptation toward the Deadly Sins.
According to The Picture Book of Devils, Demons and Witchcraft, by Ernst and Johanna Lehner, each of the Sins was associated with a specific punishment in Hell. There are a set of 16th-century engravings by George Pencz that used animals in their depictions of the Sins. The prints also used women to symbolize all the Sins, which was probably okay in the sociopolitical climate of the 16th century, but wouldn’t be encouraged nowadays.