Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Seminary Plays

 When I arrived at seminary in 1976, my goal was to teach Theatre in a Christian college.  The school didn't have a major for that, so we invented one.  I had a teacher who was also very interested in producing that program.  Her name was Paula Brooks.  She was great. 
 We did a few plays and other Drama pieces during my time there.  The first was in the Spring of 1977, and it was called "How in the World".  It was done for Mission Week.  The play centered around an amusement park and doing things that one would not normally do.  I was cast in a supporting role as the Little Strong Man.  I wanted the male lead, because he and the female lead got to go to Six Flags to shoot some film of them riding on the rides.  The footage was used in the play.  I got to use one of those contraptions where you use a hammer to ring the bell.  It had to be rigged so that I could do it.  I wore a flimsy tank top.  It turned out to be the pivotal role in the play, because I had to ring the bell, and I didn't look like I could.  But, a lot about the Theatre is illusion.  It worked.  I also designed the lighting for that play.  It was very well received.
 In April of 1977, I was taking a course in Youth Work, and the school was having a special day for the workers in the area, as well as some young people.  They wanted a theme presentation for the day.  Our class came up with a play called "Our Way".  I actually co-wrote it and was the assistant director, as well as an actor.  The original title was "Have It His Way", but we changed it to be clearer.  The scene was a fast food restaurant.  There were several people dressed in black and white and wearing "Our Way" t-shirts.  I had each actor mime eating a hamburger, selecting a French Fry and eating, and then drinking a Coke.  Because we had very little money, we mimed it rather than having real food.  Everything was done in unison.  I set it up like a clock.  The burger was at 6.  The fries were at 10.  The drink was at 2.  I had the actors count out 6-10-2 in their heads, so that all would be doing it at the same time.  They all watched me to stay in step.  One actor came into the scene dressed in colors.  He was his own person, and didn't conform to the crowd.  The point of the play was about conformity and individualism.  About six months later, Wendy's came out with a commercial using exactly what we had written.  It turned out that their advertising firm was in Dallas, and someone saw the play and thought it would make a good commercial.  I wish we had copyrighted it.
 I also started to do Bible monologues.  I wrote one on the personification of the cross.  It was physically demanding, and I don't think I could do it now.  It started out with a seed growing into a tree, and then the tree is chopped down and fashioned in a cross.  The tree doesn't know why this is happening or who the man is that is nailed to him.  It was good, but I got better later on.
 For Christmas of 1977, I was asked by my teacher to come up with a Reader's Theatre program for the season, and I put together something called "Advent/Coming".  I used scripture with dialogue for the program.  There were four of us in the presentation, and we did it for a woman's club in Euless and a church in Ft. Worth.  It involved using candles, and we had to watch that the hot wax didn't get on our hands. 
 Because I was majoring in Communications, and we kind of made of the major as we went along, it was determined that I had to do a thesis for my degree.  The seminary decided that instead of writing something that I would direct a play.  One of the professors, Dr. Bill Hendricks, had written a play called "The Harrowing of Hell", and he wanted to see it produced.  I was assigned to direct it.  Dr. Hendricks had to approve my direction in order to pass me, and he was a very hard teacher.  The play had to do with Jesus coming down to Hell after being crucified and taking on the 7 deadly sins. The cast was very big.  Because of the size of the cast, and that most of the participants had church jobs on weekends, we never had a full cast rehearsal until the dress rehearsal.  This drove me crazy.  I was eating Rolaids like candy.  I was having severe headaches.  My body was a mess.  Besides not being able to get the cast together, I also was using dry ice to create smoke on stage.  I couldn't rehearse with that, because we had a very small budget, and we could only afford enough for the dress rehearsal and the two shows we did.  The first show was for chapel one morning.  I had the 7 deadly sins sit in a semi-circle on stage.  I told the guy doing Gluttony just to eat all through the play.  I had not slept the night before and was a mess.  He brought a can of Pringles and stuffed in in one of his pockets.  During the course of the play, the can accidentally popped open, and the chips fell out one by one onto the floor.  The audience thought that was supposed to happen and roared with laughter.  It just goes to show that sometimes the accidents work better than what was planned.  Dr. Hendricks thought my direction was great.  I passed.  Rolaids spells Relief.
 Apparently, my work was well received, because the seminary started a Communications major and later hired a full-time Communications professor.  One side note on all of this is that I felt that none of these things were "productions".  They were "presentations".  And, I was uncomfortable in getting applause.  I did these things to present the Gospel message, not to show off my talents.  If I got applause, it was because the audience thought I did a good job.  Applause is a drug, and I crave it, but sometimes it takes away from the message.  That's the difference between a "production" and a "presentation".  Praise is good for the individual, but don't just praise without taking in what you have witnessed and receive a blessing from it.

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