Because I’m running the light board for Godspell, I’ve spent a total of thirty-six hours in the theatre in the last week. Yes, that’s a lot for someone who’s simply pressing buttons at the command of her majesty the stage manager, but I wouldn’t want a single one of those hours back.
I’ve seen a full run of the show seven times now, and I still get chills every single time. It’s a powerful performance.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Godspell, it pulls texts directly out of Matthew and intersperses songs between parables to tell the story of Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion. That’s it. That’s the script: sole scripture and inspired song. Compared to other musicals, it’s fairly basic, which allows for a lot of freedom in interpretation on the part of the director.
Where should we set the show? What sorts of characters should the eight disciples (who take the name of the actor playing them, as the script offers little explicit characterization, allowing the actor to build the character from almost scratch) portray? Should the same actor play Judas and John the Baptist, as the script suggests, or should we deviate from the norm? What sorts of modern bits should we insert in for comedic factor, since the copyright information is so lienent as to allow us freedom to add/cut whatever we want to suit the needs of our audience?
And, most importantly, how are we going to handle the fact that the show closes just after Jesus’ death, with no resurrection specifically written in?
Many theatre companies use the musical to poke fun at the Christian tradition, putting Jesus in a Superman suit, stripped pants, clown makeup, etc. I saw a rendition last summer that used this type of ridiculous Jesus, portraying him as a teacher corralling naughty children (the disciples) on a playground. This version also neglected a resurrection, heading straight into curtain call after Jesus’ dead body was carried offstage. This sort of un-conclusion left my self and the other audience members restless, as if the director was saying, “Jesus was a great storyteller with some good morals. He died. Hope you enjoyed the show. You can go home now.” There was no hope, and because of the nature of the script, the director was entirely valid in his interpretation.
But Dordt’s department isn’t like most theatre companies. Rather than taking the easy option and avoiding this musical altogether for fear of offending our primarily Christian audience and defacing the Gospel texts we value so highly, we accepted the challenge of performing this open-to-interpretation script through a redemptive understanding.
With God as head over all, we need not run away from anything; instead, we have the privilege of partnering with Him in seeking out and cultivating the good. If God is truly sovereign, if His hand is present in everything, then it must be possible to perform biblical texts, to portray Jesus as a character onstage, to use a play that lacks a momentous resurrection scene in a way that brings glory and honor to Christ – who isn’t a mere character, but is God manifest.
And friends, Dordt did it well. I’m blown away by the courage of each designer, of our director, of the cast members, and of our college as a whole. In selecting this piece, we dove headfirst into a risk, and God has blessed and has been glorified in our risk-taking.
I wish I could continue to write about all the artistic choices our designers enacted, all the metaphors placed onstage that allow audience members to more concretely understand who Jesus is, but … [insert shameless advertising statement about needing to see the show instead of reading about it].
October 22 at 7:30 pm. October 24 at 2:00 pm and at 7:30 pm. TePaske Theater at Sioux Center High School. $8 for adults. $5 for senior citizens and non-Dordt students. $1 for Dordt students. The box office will open an hour before the show starts. Purchase tickets ahead of time at www.dordttickets.com. Contact Robin Suing at Robin.Suing@dordt.edu or at (712) 722-6208 with questions.
See you all this weekend! I’ll be creeping on you from the lighting booth!