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Crusade: The Musical and What I Learned About Theater From It

The tag line reads:

“A modern musical about the historical events and relationships that helped shape Billy Graham’s faith as he became the most iconic evangelist in the world.”

(Sadly, I have searched for the author/composer’s name and cannot find it. They announced it at the performance Sunday evening, but I thought it would be on my program so I didn’t pay attention. I am deeply regretting that. I also wished I had stayed  after the show and asked more questions. If this musical was a part of a residency program I probably would be  a little softer in my review. My encouragement to this group would be to publicize those details…maybe there is a financial backer or someone who wants to produce your musical that is trying to get in contact with you.)

Years ago, I heard Karen Kingsbury speak. I have followed her blog ever since. In July, she wrote a blog about the passing of time and how the clock stops for no one. She went on to say she had been watching Crusade: The Billy Graham Musical and was struck with the fact that a” blink ago Billy Graham was young and preaching and now he is gone. Just like we will be one day.”

I loved the points she was making, but more than that I was fascinated that there was a new musical out about Billy Graham! After research, I realized that it was performing very close to where one of my daughters lives…and with great anticipation I bought tickets.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I found.

I was expecting a big venue. Why? Karen Kingsbury’s son-in-law (Kyle Kupecky) and daughter (Kelsey Kupecky) were the leads. Kyle is a singer that has actually toured with Mercy Me and together with Kelsey has authored the book “The Chase.” My preconceived ideas  decided this musical was going to be in a big venue, with hundreds of people attending per night. Stars plus subject matter? It’s a win-win.

When we arrived we pulled into a small parking lot that held perhaps 100 cars….I think that is stretching it, but…maybe.

We walked into the lobby and discovered that to get to the performing space we had to walk up a curved staircase. When we entered the theater area I realized this small space, that might have seated 100, was packed and literally had no empty chairs. One of the workers gave up three seats that she had saved for her family saying, “It’s okay, we’ve all seen it.” Hmmmm. Did  they oversell the show? Why were there no seats?

As the show begin we were seriously blown away by the projection and the graphic design. It was vivid, always in motion and brightly conveyed the scenes of the play as it progressed through Billy’s life. Many of the actors played multiple characters moving through the timeline of his life.

The music was loud. I don’t want to sound like a fuddy-duddy, but I really like to understand the words to the songs that the actors were so  passionately singing, but I couldn’t always hear them. One of my costumers also attended with me and was bothered by small details, like no flash bulbs in the prop cameras. These things are easily fixed.

The music was current and passionate. It was played by the author and composer with a keyboard and guitar. I’m sure there were some pre-recorded tracks as well. I’m not totally a fan of all of the electronic music, but it was performed with such power that I enjoyed it. In fact, the honest response is that at times I felt more like I was in a church service than in a play. All of the actors sang as if they were singing worship songs. I’m not sure why I was bothered by that except  that I went expecting to see a musical and this was a different kind.

As they were telling the story of Billy they mentioned that he had first attended Bob Jones College. Well, I wish they had just mentioned it. Instead, they had a scene that included Dr. Bob yelling and really chewing Billy out for failing and having so many demerits. Trust me, I am not always proud of everything Bob Jones has done, but it felt more like the author was making an attack on Bob Jones. When I asked about it at intermission, I was told that this attitude was from Billy’s perspective. Hmmmm. perhaps. I’m just not sure why it needed to be such a big point in the scene. Did that one incident become a turning point in some way for Billy?

Did I like the musical? Yes, I really did. I am not sure what  message the author was trying to present, but this is what I received:

Billy Graham was a typical kid. He loved movies and playing. In fact, wanted to be just like Tarzan, but God had other plans. Billy ran from God. He sometimes questioned authority and even “bucked the system.” God had other plans. He had a magnetic personality and could charm  even people like, George Beverly Shea. He was loyal to his friends. He questioned religion but then firmly believed in the infallibility of the Bible. He was passionate about all people, all races, and become their advocate proclaiming like Jesus,  “Do not forbid one to come and hear.”  Billy Graham is a man who has gone on to heaven. 

The more important message? This is a story about a man who lived in a different time, his time has past. But you can still be a Billy. You, today, could make the same decisions that Billy did. What will you choose?

In the beginning I made the comment that I felt like the whole cast was singing as if they were singing worship songs. They were. This cast poured their hearts out and sang for Jesus. They cried over us as they sang one last song and, honestly,  I might have even shed a tear or two as well.

Here is what I learned and they are important lessons for me as an owner of a Christian theater company.

  1. The venue doesn’t matter. I spend so much time thinking about what people think or about how comfortable they are. Believe me, our seats and views of the stage at Overshadowed are so much better than what we experienced and yet, people came. Night after night they were sold out….just like a Crusade.
  2. Christian themed plays can still attract sold out audiences. Sometimes our original Christian works are poorly attended. It is sometimes discouraging for me, but this gives me hope. I know this, but a good reminder is always important.
  3. God moves in the audience’s hearts. He doesn’t need great acting, big theaters, grand sets. He just needs me to be willing to follow His leading
  4. We should pray over our audience more. To be honest, it felt a little manipulating to be told that the cast prayed over each seat: for our spouses, future spouse, children etc. But in the end, I was comforted by that. That’s pretty incredible and felt pretty personal.  

If you get a chance please check out this musical. You can purchase the soundtrack from their website at http://www.crusadethemusical.com

Here is a sample:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjJTkOmmvoA

Who was Billy Graham to you? What are God’s plans for you? Is He calling you to be a Billy? Do you think you would enjoy a musical like this one? I’d love to hear your thoughts! And as always, it would mean a great deal to me if you would like and follow my blog!

Until next time–this is just me–talking to you–from the wings.

acting, audience, christian, christian blog, christian theater, communication, entertainment, family, theater, theater education

Theater That is More Than Just Theater

I must confess that I have never personally read any of Jan Karon’s popular Mitford series. I have heard of them, of course, and almost since the day Overshadowed began have been told that I should produce the play, “Welcome to Mitford.” 

I have been told that lovers of this series have a vision of the North Carolina town called Mitford. In fact, many Karon fans think that Mitford was modeled on Blowing Rock, where Karon once lived. 

When you are producing  a play, setting becomes very important and in this one it almost seems that the characters are held together by their relationships with each other, but equally important their relationship with the town. 

Karon’s novels tell the story of Father Tim Kavanagh, the beloved bachelor rector of Lord’s Chapel church in Mitford. His life is absorbed with the life of his town until he takes in teenager Dooley Barlowe, the unruly, orphaned grandson of the church gardener. The town’s complacency is further disturbed when Father Tim falls in love with and weds his new next-door neighbor, Cynthia Coppersmith, who writes and illustrates children’s books.

It is indeed a love story, not only between Father Tim and Cynthia, but also between Father Tim and the town. And just like in real life…there is conflict….but unlike real life…the community is so cohesive that they get through the conflict…together.

It is a joy to see something so encouraging. 

In fact, Father TIm says in one scene, “Give thanks in everything–in loss of all kinds: in illness, in depression, in grief and in failure, and of course, in health and peace, success and happiness. Give thanks in everything.” 

Thank you, Mitford, for reminding me of a lesson that is at the very core of my belief in God. “Rejoice in all things, again I say, rejoice.” Not a suggestion…. a command.

Are you with me? Are there days that your faith just isn’t strong enough to rejoice? Maybe the answer is that I shouldn’t be trying to find joy when I’m discouraged…but GOD!

What?

Mind altering for me. I shouldn’t be trying to figure it out or figure out why? I should just rest in the Lord. Remember the song, “My hope is in the Lord….

I don’t embrace my troubles…I embrace my God.  

Transparency now….it isn’t easy and I haven’t been resting in Him and filled with joy over the past few weeks. But, coming home from our summer musical the other night all of a sudden I thought, “I’m singing! I’m singing with the radio.” 

Weeks ago that was normal for me, but my joy was gone and for most of the summer I just couldn’t….

Wow! Did it feel good! The ice isn’t gone around my heart, but it’s thawing and I’m so thankful.

That passage of scripture goes on to say, “Tell God what you need and thank Him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.”

So, how can I get myself out of my sadness and back to rejoicing?

  1. Meditate upon God and His Word.

Find verses and put them in front of you. Wake up and recite them. Sit and think about them. Journal your thoughts and prayers. MAKE AN EFFORT.

  2. Remind yourself of God’s promises.

Read books. Memorize scripture. Remind yourself that one of the attributes of God is that He is the Great Comforter! Lean on Him.

3. Keep your mind busy.

Fill it with things that will take your mind off of your sadness and give your mind peace and joy.  Perhaps being with friends? Or singing?

Or….

Come see this play this weekend and leave with a renewed hope in family, friends and community!  http://www.overshadowed.org

Did you know that theater increases creativity? It is a source of imagination. Theater requires a different kind of resourcefulness than just watching TV. Perhaps if we all learned from theater we would be able to solve some of the world’s problems! In fact, research has found that people who engage with theater either participating or viewing for two or more hours per week show signigicantly better mental health. Did you know that science shows that when people sit together in a theater their hearts beat together. That’s connection. Something most of us need.

In fact, theater is what got me through my sadness this summer. It’s the reason my heart is thawing in a way that I can sing again and ultimately it is what has reminded me to rejoice and lean in and embrace God.

I hope you’ll join us this weekend. Let’s support a new generation and show that there is good in theater and that theather TEACHES.

Until next time–this is just me—talking to you—from the wings.

acting, artistic vision, audience, backstage, broadway, christian theater, directing, entertainment, family, intermission, planning, stage, theater

The Pain and Joy of Closing Weekend

I always get to this point in a show. Do you know the moment? It is when something is almost over–you can see the end in sight–a time you will never experience again–It is  here and I regret that more people haven’t seen this musical. I want to share it. There is pain and joy in the closing of a show.

This year has theater audiences struggling to come back from what they lost during Covid. We decided to do a smaller show for several reasons. We weren’t sure that people would want to sit next to each other. Or maybe we’ve all gotten used to sitting and watching our entertainment inside instead of taking the trouble to go out and actually BE with people.

So…I decided on The Marvelous Wonderettes. It is a jukebox musical. It was an off Broadway success. In fact, so much of a success that there are multiple sequels that are written and performed about these four girls.

These four girls….Missy, Cindy Lou, Suzy and Betty Jean. Entered my world months ago as strangers as did the girls who played them. (Amy Keipert, Jessica Means, Brooke Kassal and Grace Ryan) They worked harder than I think any of them expected as they discovered that this musical was much more than a few great songs strung together. They worked hours daily on their harmonies and choreography and characters and the work paid off. What we have is an amazing show with four brilliantly talented girls who sing difficult harmonies effortlessly.

Here I am at closing weekend wishing that I could convince everyone I know to spend a couple of hours in the theater with this show. Here are a couple of remarks I have received:

What a perfect show to mark the return to live theater. It was so good to laugh and smile and sing along with such fun songs.”

I haven’t had that much fun in years.

This show is better than vitamins. I feel ten years younger.

Honestly, those comments mean the world to me. The reason I am in theater is because I want to bring joy to the world. (well, one of the reasons.) This show did that.

We have one weekend left and if I could convince you to come out and join us for one of the remaining shows, would you? overshadowed.org

Even if you have seen the show before, the beauty of live theater is that it is never the same. Every night has a new audience and a new energy and most importantly a new moment to experience. I see the show night after night and love every second of it.

As we begin this weekend, we are tired, but it is a good tired. We are filled with the joy we have shared with audiences, the satisfaction of a job well-done and the feel- good sensation when you learn and grow from an experience.

We would love to share this joy…this story…this experience with you. We have lots of tickets left for tonight, friday night and two shows on Saturday…and it’s air -conditioned. (It’s a win-win.) Won’t you shake off the Covid hibernation and join us? Let’s get back to the joy of live theater.

Here is a little tease of the show:

Until next time–I’ll be in the wings–

Reba

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The “It’s Not My Fault” Syndrome

Not to sound like a broken record, but Covid has really changed my habits this year. One habit was that my husband and I watched A LOT of TV nightly. We tried to mixed it up as we ran out of things that were interesting to watch.

One of the shows we watch on a regular basis (even before Covid) is Amazing Race. If you’ve never seen it-I highly recommend it. It has competition, strategy, luck and you get to see the world as you watch. So, Chuck and I decided to watch from the beginning…season 1. We are now on season 24 so this kept us busy and entertained over the past months.

The season we are on now took place in 2014. It was an all-stars season in which they asked many of the former favorites to try again. Team Kentucky was made up of Bopper and Mark, but at the last minute one had to drop out so they asked another former Kentucky favorite to step in. Mallory Ervin. (You can find out more about Mallory at malloryervin.com. Her podcast is Living Fully) This was not Mallory’s first rodeo. In fact, this is the third time she raced. I liked her from the very beginning and loved that she had such a great relationship with her racing partner, her father. So, when she was asked back, I thought this was going to be an incredible season. (It still is, by the way) This past week though was quite disappointing. Her partner, Mark, had to build a toy car (the size children can ride in) He then carried it to Mallory and said, “Take care of my backpack.” Their next task was to  find a taxi to deliver this car to a kid’s school. Halfway there Mark asked where his backpack was to which Mallory answered, “I don’t know. I gave it to you.” It seems she carried it to the taxi, but then put it at his feet while he was putting the car in the trunk of the taxi. What followed next was ugly. Mark was angry. Mallory kept repeating you don’t need it I have your passport and It’s not my fault…. They ended up going back for the backpack and ultimately getting eliminated. Now, I know that TV has a way of twisting the facts, but I did hear Mark tell her to get his backpack. I think if I had been responsible for such an important item, I would have made sure Mark saw and grabbed his backpack.

But, she said it wasn’t her fault.

She said it over and over and over again.

Okay. He asked her to get it. She did. Was it Mark’s fault?

Maybe. But here is the point. Why wouldn’t she own up to it and at least feel badly that she didn’t make sure Mark saw his backpack? It was obvious he thought she was taking care of it.

I find this happening all the time.

People don’t want to take responsibility.

It is so much easier to blame and point the finger.

I mean, it started in Genesis.

God told Adam and Eve not to eat of one particular tree in the Garden of Eden. The serpent told Eve that God was keeping knowledge from her and that when she ate of the tree she would be as a god  and that she would not die as God had said. So she ate and gave the apple to Adam and he ate also.

When God called for them He asked them if they had eaten of the tree and Adam said,

“Well, the woman, (that woman that You gave me, Lord.) she gave it to me.

And when the Lord asked Eve she said,

Well, it’s not my fault, the serpent tricked me.”

Blame. From the first two humans.

Is there hope in this?

Yes.

God forgives. He paid the price when He carried our sin all the way to the cross where forgiveness became apparent even while He was still hanging there.

Can we take blame? Can we look at ourselves and try to make things right? Can we see where we are wrong and how to make it right?

Would the world be different if we did?

Perhaps instead of proclaiming, “It’s not my fault.” We should cry out, like David did, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Do you struggle with the blame game or instead wear the guilt of everything you do?

Until next time,

artist, artistic vision, audience, backstage, christian blog, christian theater, directing, entertainment, family, Fear, hope, theater, theater education

Theater Through the Eyes of a Child-By Guest Blogger Kendra Jones

I am so pleased to share these thoughts from Kendra Jones. I met Kendra several years after Overshadowed began, and she instantly became a friend as well as a significant part of the company. She recently moved away, but her impact will stay with us for years to come!

                                           Theater Through the Eyes of a Child

It was unlike anything I had ever seen or experienced. My mom had planned a special date for the two of us. I knew this had to be a special occasion since she had me get all gussied up in my favorite dress and my Sunday shoes.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and I remember the glass-paned lobby feeling bright and warm as the sun streamed in through the windows. There were lots of other children there with their moms and dads. We walked from the lobby into a room like I had never been in before – their seats sloped up and there was a stage in the middle of the floor. My mom was taking me to my very first play.

At the time I probably didn’t fully grasp what a play was, but I do know I was in awe of every moment. From the time the play began, I was caught up in the story. It was the tale of “Hansel and Gretel.” I clearly recall the Father character with his rugged, lumberjack look, complete with full beard, plaid shirt, and suspenders. Hansel and Gretel were children! Just. Like. Me! Their journey through the magic forest to the witch’s house made of candy had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. When Hansel and Gretel and their Father were reunited at the end, their loving family embrace in the middle of the pink and purple illuminated stage is permanently etched in my mind. It was a true “happily ever after” moment! This experience created a life-long passion for theater in me.

Fast forward to 2009, when Reba and I had discussions about beginning our Kids and Family Series for Overshadowed. While all of Overshadowed’s shows are family-friendly, we felt it was critical to begin offering shows that would be targeted for a younger audience. Why? Because the earlier a child is exposed to the arts, the more likely they are to appreciate and engage in the arts as they grow. And the show I selected to begin our family series with was none other than my first foray into the theater…”Hansel and Gretel.”

Since that time, we have produced eleven shows in our Kids and Family Series. Each time, each show has become more precious than the last. We realize that the time and money you invest for your children is of great value to you, and we have strived to create more than just a production, but a true experience.

Watching this program develop, I have made the following observations about kids and the theater:

1. They want to become part of the story. As much as possible, we try to find moments within each show to engage the audience and allow it to become interactive. Admittedly the times I have enjoyed the most have been when it has happened organically. During a performance of “Hansel and Gretel,” as the witch was stealing the pebbles the children used to mark the path to return to home, a little boy loudly exclaimed, “Oh, no, no! NO! You bad witch! I’m gonna get you!” Good thing we were headed to intermission after that because everyone (audience, crew, and cast alike) erupted into uncontrollable laughter for the next several minutes!

2. They want the special occasion experience. We have seen grandparents come with the grandkids; Daddy/daughter dates; Mom and kids days out; group events with extended family and friends. More often than not, just like I was as a child, they are all dressed up in their finest. One time a father came with his daughter…he in a tuxedo, she in her prettiest dress. Not going to lie…that one made me tear up a bit.

3. They want the story to continue. After every performance the cast lines the hallway, still in costume, to greet the audience and take pictures. Quite frequently I have overheard children “expanding” the story as they engage with our cast members about what they would have done in a character’s situation, or how it should continue to play out.

4. They want to overcome their fears. Most every story has some kind of villainous character. It is in the nature of literature itself. We are always very cautious with our approach to the villains with a gentle hand, because we don’t want to create a fearful situation. But at the end of the day, a villain is still a villain. I always feel a little badly for our “villains” during the greeting time, as they are often left standing there with no children to greet them. After all, who do you want a big, warm hug from after visiting Narnia…the White Witch, or Aslan the Great Lion? After a production of “Alice in Wonderland,” I observed one of the most beautiful interactions. The White Queen (portrayed by Traci Cidlik) noticed a little girl watching her. Traci had figured the girl wanted to approach her, but being a villainous character, the girl was a little afraid. Traci knelt down on the floor and started talking to her. Slowly the distance between the two of them grew shorter as the girl began taking baby steps toward Traci. And before you knew it. The child threw her arms around Traci’s neck and gave her a hug, and wanted to take a picture with her.

Young or old, novice or experienced theater-goer, I hope I will continue to enjoy every theatrical experience as through the eyes of a child.

Suessical!
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

Whatever you do today I hope it is magical!

What was the first play you ever saw? Do you have fond memories of it? I would love to hear about it!

broadway, christian blog, entertainment, history, luck, luck of the Irish, st patrick's day, theater

Where Would We Be Without the Luck of the Irish?

Ah! St. Patrick’s Day. I must admit I usually forget about this fantastic day until it is too late to do anything about it. My parents never celebrated it or really even talked about it so my first introduction to this day was at school when I usually forgot to wear green so I spent the remainder  of the day getting pinched. Do they still do that?

I love a good Irish accent. I would absolutely love to visit Ireland and some of my favorite books have been set in Ireland. In recent years, I have loved learning more about the history of Ireland and the facts that continue to draw me to all things Irish.

I love four leaf clovers, leprechauns , rainbows with the idea of a pot of gold, songs about luck and of course, Riverdance.  I also love the idea of the luck of the Irish! But, what exactly does that mean?

Ireland is a small country that has had a big influence on America and on history.  It has had a long history of unrest mostly due to years of famine, oppression, and wars. And yet, they are known to be overall happy cheerful people. Is that because of luck?

In his writings, 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History,  O’Donnell outlines the meaning of “the luck of the Irish.” He writes: “During the gold and silver rush years in the second half of the 19th century, a number of the most famous and successful miners were of Irish and Irish-American birth.

“Over time this association of the Irish with mining fortunes led to the expression ‘luck of the Irish.’ Of course, it carried with it a certain tone of derision, as if to say, only by sheer luck, as opposed to brains, could these fools succeed.”

In 1845 a famine hit Ireland and thousands left their country. Many traveled to America, most having to stay in the bottom cargo area of the ships. Many countries considered them to be diseased and lower class. In spite of this many of them survived and the Irish people claimed “the luck of the Irish.”

When they arrived in America many of them were indeed poor and unhealthy. Americans considered them threats both because they were afraid they might carry diseases, but also because they thought they might take their jobs from them. They practiced a different religion and in short, were not Americans.

Conflict between Protestants and Catholics had already led to violence in Ireland now Americans feared the same violence. Along with that were rumors that women were held against their will in convents and that the priests raped nuns. Not a pretty union. You might say that maybe Americans treated all newcomers with distaste, unfortunately the Irish were especially vilified.

It was said if they were to succeed in this country it must be as a result of dumb luck. Yet, they performed the most dangerous and menial jobs. They dug trenches, laid rail lines, cleaned houses, they were stable workers and blacksmiths and they did it all for lower pay.

There were signs that said, “No Irish Need Apply.”  and “No Dogs, No Irish.”

Slowly they found their footing in our country. They became involved in politics. They voted. Slowly they began to control the political scene and began to climb the social ladder as more immigrants from China and Easter Europe crossed into America’s shores.

In many ways the Irish transformed America and strengthened it.

And now our country wears green on St. Patrick’s Day.

Why? Actually St. Patrick’s day started as more of a religious holiday. St. Patrick came to Ireland as a missionary. Early depictions of him show him wearing blue and soon became the official color of the Order of St. Patrick.  

Blue?? What happened?

Ireland’s nickname is The Emerald Isle. The flag of Ireland has a green stripe that represents the Catholics of Ireland and…St. Patrick is thought to have used green shamrocks to teach about the Trinity. (God the father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). 

I do love the folklore of the Irish and would love to meet a leprechaun! Who wouldn’t want to make friends with someone who spends his time protecting his pot of gold that lies at the end of a rainbow?

“Wherever you go, whatever you do, may the luck of the Irish be there with you!”

“May the luck of the Irish lead to the happiest heights and the highway you travel be lined with green lights.”

As this week comes to a close enjoy this number from the latest Irish musical! Once. Have you seen it? If not, I hope luck brings you to this wonderful musical soon! Oh! Sooooo good!

When this day was first celebrated it was a day of prayer and reflection.

May we all reflect on the blessings we have had this past year in spite of the disease that plagued our world.

I would love to hear your thoughts about St.Patrick’s Day! Do you celebrate it? How?

As always it would be so kind of you to follow my blog and share it!

Until next time!

acting, artist, artistic vision, audience, backstage, christian blog, christian theater, communication, entertainment, theater

Doing “YOUR THING” Matters

I am so excited to share this post from our guest blogger today! Meet Julie Gernand! I’m thankful to have her as a part of Overshadowed and blessed to have her as a friend!

Today’s guest contributor, JULIE GERNAND, is wife to Ted and mom to Benjamin (3) and Peter (5 months). She has been seen on the OTP stage in the summer 2016 musical Guys and Dolls and was honored to choreograph both I’ll Be Seeing You (winter ‘17) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (summer ‘18). She currently resides in Oswego, IL and enjoys teaching theatre classes for Heritage Homeschool Workshops and diving into her new passion of bringing joy to others through weekly online Zumba dance fitness classes. You can join her live on Facebook every Tuesday evening and Saturday morning!

Doing YOUR THING Matters.

I think it’s really important to find “that thing”. 
You know what I’m talking about. “That thing” that brings you joy in ways nothing else does. The creative outlet, class, hobby, or interest that makes you YOU. For my husband, it’s Cadillacs and baseball. Not necessarily in that order. 


For me? It’s theatre.


The fact that you’re reading this blog today probably means that you have an interest in theatre too. Is it “your thing” too?  In my case, I didn’t realize this about myself until about 7th grade. I was cast as Kate, an orphan in the musical Annie, Jr. with a small theatre group that met at a local dance academy. Sure, I had been in some hodgepodge church productions and elementary school music-class plays (for which my mom has saved every playbill and script in memoriam…anyone else?) but this was my first “big deal” role. I knew I liked being on stage, but it wasn’t until this musical that I felt it. The goofy camaraderie among the cast. The butterflies of that moment just before the curtain opened. The “going out to dinner with your show makeup on” sort of giggly pride. I really felt like I had found my people.


 Among these things, one moment that shaped this experience for me was during a live performance. We were performing the scene in which the orphans sing “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and perform an angsty dance with a rolling laundry basket when the musical accompaniment track suddenly cut out. The bunch of us, all elementary and middle school girls, were left to finish the song a cappella. I remember looking around, making knowing-glances at the other girls as we just kept singing. I mean, “the show must go on”, right!? Part of the true joy and magic of live theatre is learning what to do when mishaps occur, because they will. We threw Molly into the laundry basket, hit our final pose, and left the stage. I was so proud to be part of that cast as our director hugged us after the show, who through tears congratulated us for finishing that song strong and without missing a beat, as though nothing had happened to the music. From then on, I was pretty hooked on this musical theatre thing.


I’ve recently read a book (That Sounds Fun by Annie F Downs  – highly recommend) in which the author talks about the importance of doing something that you love, even if you’re not the best at it. In our world, we often think we have to be a professional at something to be doing it at all. This point resonated with me. Maybe it resonates with you, too.


The thing about my love of theatre was… well, I wasn’t the best at it. Sure, I had sung in our church’s children’s choir for a few years at that point and had a knack for silly faces, but I certainly wasn’t the singer they would choose to be the lead in any show, nor was I an exceedingly convincing actress at 13. But as I think back on this topic, I remember what my third grade teacher told my mom at a parent teacher conference:
“Julie thinks she has to know everything before we’ve covered it. She needs to realize she is learning!”
If I hadn’t found some brave part of me I’m not sure how I found, I never would have tried out for that musical. Well, I do know how I found it. God, in his kindness, gave me the gumption to try something that pushed me out of my comfort zone. Over time, I became  better at this craft, and found my true-love niche of musical theatre, dance.  The passion I found as a braces-wearing, awkward middle schooler became my college major, and eventually part of my career.


But sometimes, our passions don’t become our career. At OTP, so many performers hold daytime jobs that have nothing to do with performing arts, but they craft and mold their passion for theatre on the Medinah stage. This matters. Because it brings joy. Doing what you love will automatically bring joy to your own soul and to others sheerly because you love it. It will start to spill over, this thing you love. Sure, it may lead to bigger and better opportunities, but sometimes our joy is just our own. But I believe your thing is a reflection of the creativity and beauty of God. We get to see a little bit of the beauty of his creation through your passion. And that makes a difference, professionals or not.

Julie and Byron Mrowiec From Guys and Dolls Photo by Francisco Montes

What is your “thing”? Is it theatre? Building sets? Writing scripts? Share it with us!

Until next time!

acting, artist, audience, christian, christian blog, christian theater, directing, entertainment, family, stage, theater, theater education, theater professions

Why Do Theater?

This week I looked out over an audience of only 38 people. We are allowed 50, but Illinois had a huge snow storm and some of our audience decided not to come.

I always stand in the corner of the balcony at curtain call and glance over to see the audience’s reactions. Will they give the cast a standing ovation? Will they grudgingly stand or enthusiastically reward the cast for their performances? Were they moved by the performances or bored silly?

This past Saturday the cast of Noah! finished the first part of an extended run. We had performed for three weeks. We will now take three weeks off and then come back ready to perform again. Covid restrictions has reduced us from allowing 198 audience members to only 50. It is really empty in there.

(Photo by Francisco Montes)

This show is emotional and tiring and these eight characters give it their all. In fact, so does the technical crew, stage crew, box office and front of the house. So when I saw the audience enthusiastically stand to applaud, I was thrilled. We all worked as hard for 38 people as we would have for 198.

Still….

I felt a little badly for them. As an actor, director, we all want sold out, full houses. It is so quiet in the theater with such a small house.

Don’t get me wrong! We are super thrilled to be able to perform! But, what would it be like if night after night we could have the audience of 198? It might not change the performance, but would it change us?

Acting involves a great deal of collaboration from many people. As you build/create your characters you also build/create a relationship with the other cast members. The costumes add a layer to your performance as the hair/make-up and tech also does. Live theater is important because you must be FULLY PRESENT with another group of FULLY PRESENT people to truly be authentic. And especially after this past year, I believe that live theater is not only good and enjoyable, but also necessary for the human spirit.

Why?

  1. Theater reminds us that we are not alone. We share each experience with the audience and actors. We connect. Actors and audience agree for a time period that we will take a journey together.  Perhaps we will laugh, perhaps cry, but we will do it together.
  2. Live theater is never the same. The script is the same and the actors are consistent. But acting is reacting so if one actor has a little different emotion or reaction it might cause the next actor to react differently. It is a unique experience each night.
  3. Live theater allows us to forget, laugh, weep and many other emotions. For just a brief moment in time we are insulated and can forget the troubles of our days and lives.

So why do we do theater?

Because we want to be that person that can share that experience with a room of strangers. I heard recently that audience’s hearts beat together as one. I’m not sure how that was proven, but if it is indeed true it is a beautiful thought. We are sharing a moment that is so unique that will never be the same. We also want to be that performer that makes the woes of the world disappear.

If that is true, then changing even one person’s life is worth it all.

Large audiences might be a rush, but there is an intimacy in a smaller one. The person is the same. Let’s connect. Let’s take this journey together.

Why do you do theater? How do you feel about performing for small audiences? How does it make you as an audience member feel?

I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,

This is just me-talking to you-from the wings!

anne frank, book review, christian, christian fiction, entertainment, non fiction, reading, theater

The Book List–2020

Last year at this time I was inspired by all of my friends who one after another listed the books they had read over the past year.

I must admit, I was a little ashamed that I realized my love of reading had gone by the wayside. Almost completely forgotten like an old toy. I decided that I could make time easily to read one book a month. I set an easy target and continued to read, “The Diary of Anne Frank” (A book that I was rereading and had been plugging away at it for almost a year by this time.)

Three months later, I finished it.

Not a good start to this lofty goal of 12.

Then….yeah..you got it….COVID.

And reading became the thing to do. I started blogging about the books. I made new friends with authors I was discovering. I convinced people to read. I learned. I was inspired. I became reacquainted with my lost love.

Thank you to Rebecca Kaser and Bob Bixby for several of the book suggestions!

I don’t recommend everything I read, but I do recommend that you read even if you start small.

2020 goal -12
Read-20
2021 goal–52

1. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank N/F 5/5
2. Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull N/F 5/5
3. When I lay My Isaac Down by Carol Kent N/F 5/5
4. Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon 4/5
5. The Sea Before Us by Sara Sundin 4/5
6. News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt 2/5
7. As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner 4/5
8. Educated by Tata Westover  N/F 5/5
9. The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon
10. If For Any Reason by Courtney Walsh 5/5
11. The Sky Above Us by Sarah Sundin 4/5
12. What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon 4.5/5
13. All That You Leave Behind by Erin Lee Carr  N/F 2/5
14. The Last Flight by Julie Clark 5/5
15. Untamed by Glennon Doyle  N/F 3/4
16. Homegoing by Yaa Yasi 3/5
17. Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh 5/5
18. Just One Kiss by Courtney Walsh 5/5
19. The Promise of Rayne by Nicole Deese 5/5
20. The Land Beneath Us by Sarah Sundin 5/5

Did you read any of these? I’d love to know what you thought! Did you have a favorite book this year?

Until next time!

christian, Christmas, entertainment, family, theater

What’s on Your Christmas List?

My December has not looked like any December I have ever spent. During most of my adult life December has always been full of shopping, meeting with friends, family times and tons of recitals, plays and church events.

Well, not this year. On those rare occasions that I have been around friends and family there are nagging questions, “Was this a mistake? Did they wash their hands? Where is my mask?”  and more.

But. This is Christmas. Christmas isn’t really about shopping and tons of recitals etc. Christmas should be about ONE thing. We should be focused on the birth of Jesus. The very name “Christmas” has CHRIST at the beginning. He comes first.

Is it possible that after years of struggling to keep the main thing the main thing–that this year could actually RESET our way of thinking? Perhaps with the stopping of the hustling and running around we actually can put CHRIST at the very center of all of our activities.

Over and over we ask our friends, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

What does that even mean?

Some of us make lists.

1) shopping
2) cards
3) decorate
4) bake
5) coordinate calendars
6) send Christmas lists.

And maybe a great deal other items are on that list….

This year I added:

1) Find ways to keep Christ the center of Christmas every day.

Just putting that statement on the top of my list changed my awareness.
But I added a few others as well.

2) Read a chapter of Luke each day in December. (Doing that leads you through the life of Christ so that you focus on the whole gift of God)

3) I found a calendar for Acts to Keep Christ in Christmas. There weren’t 25 suggestions, but there were several that were interesting. (All focused on giving rather than getting and most in the spirit of Jesus–giving to those in need.)

4) Watch Christmas movies that incorporate the reason of Christmas!

5) Instead of writing a letter to Santa–write a letter to Jesus. Keep them. It will mean so much to read how your relationship and thoughts about Christmas might change year after year.

6) Have a Bethlehem dinner. Tell the story of Mary and Joseph and eat a dinner they might have eaten on Christmas Eve. Perhaps dress up and maybe even eat by candlelight.

7) Study the symbols of Christmas. It is interesting to know why bells, trees, candles are so important at Christmas. Take one a day or one a week and really highlight the reason many of them are part of our celebrations.

8) This year I heard about a new tradition that some friends are adding. They are going to celebrate Christmas Eve-Eve. They will have a traditional meal and then sing Christmas songs together. Sounds like a great way to usher in the real Christmas Eve.

9) Study Advent and prepare your hearts.

Whatever you do –remember that the true gift of Christmas is Christ. Remember, it isn’t about giving or getting the biggest or best present. It isn’t about having the best decorated house or the one with the most lights. It isn’t about getting everything done on your list.

This year let the presence of Jesus reign in your home and heart.

Let Jesus reign. Allow Him to give you the hope of peace that only He can give.

One final note: Growing up I used to love to watch The King Family Christmas Special. To this very day I remember one particular episode that well, was really meaningful.  Home is pretty special more this year than others perhaps.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAf806Fdc0o

What are ways that you keep you keep Christ the center of Christmas?

Merry Christmas!