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Alum Returns to Chair Theatre Department

Alum Returns to Chair Theatre Department

Top right: England performs in Calvary’s 2010 production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Bottom right: England as The Cat in the Hat for Calvary’s 2013 production of Seussical.

“Story is a way to worship.”

Calvary alumnus Kenneth England is taking over the Theatre Department following the retirement of department chair Bobbie Jeffrey. England grew up in rural Illinois and came to Calvary for a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts. He said, “I knew that I wanted Bible education and Theatre education. I decided to do the Bible first and Calvary is where my parents attended and where my older sister was a sophomore.” After finishing his degree at Calvary, he earned his MFA in Acting from Purdue.

Theatre has been integral in England’s life for many years. He decided to pursue it as a career while in high school. “I was enraptured with the act of creation involved with theatre. Theatre’s magic captured me… I had never experienced such passion and joy as I did while doing theatre. I decided to take a risk and pursue a career path that I loved and inspired me.”

England started teaching at the undergraduate level while studying at Purdue. In the spring semester of 2020, he joined Calvary’s faculty as an adjunct professor of Theatre Arts. England said when the role of Department Chair opened up, he applied because he believes “Calvary needs a Theatre Department and I want to do what I can to make it successful.” He added that he was invested in the department because of the influence it had on his own spiritual growth. “When I was a student, the department played a huge part in the development of my spiritual life. In fact, many aspects of the faith did not make sense or only became personal to me after I learned to put Christianity in the context of story. I want to be able to provide the opportunity for that same growth to the students.”

As he steps into this new position, England is excited for the opportunities to help students connect their art with their faith and “connect the techniques of theater with Christianity.” He noted that the department is in a time of change, both in leadership and in the transition to a minor-only program. Since the department will only perform one full production per school year, England is looking for more ways to provide opportunities for student led projects. England said story is a powerful method to teach about relationships and connections and understanding the world around us. But ultimately, he said, “Story is a way to worship. God is an artistic God… So, when we engage in art, it is worship.”

A Look Back at One Voice

A Look Back at One Voice

Director Bobbie Jeffrey and Playwright and Lyricist Deborah Craig-Claar reflect on Calvary’s Spring Musical, One Voice.

In March, Calvary’s Theatre and Music Departments performed the musical, One Voice. When CU’s president, Dr. Christopher Cone, first asked Theatre Department Head Bobbie Jeffrey to produce a biblical musical, she contacted her friend and mentor Deborah Craig-Claar about adapting Craig-Claar’s Easter pageant One Voice for Calvary’s theatre.

One Voice follows the ministry of Christ through the eyes of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Craig-Claar said, “I have always been fascinated with the big cast of “secondary characters” in the Bible. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were two such characters and I have often wondered not only how these two Pharisees came to a saving knowledge of Christ, but when and where they finally professed their faith to the world and to each other. Now there’s a story! And I finally decided to try and tell it. The result was One Voice.”

When it came to adapting the script for CU, Craig-Claar said, “I think it comes down to a simple shift of focus: the larger pageant version focused on events; the musical theatre version emphasizes characters… The human story is what is central to good theatre and that’s what became front and center for Calvary’s production.”

Jeffrey commented, “I think some of the strongest moments of our particular show came as a result of our limitations.” Ceiling height limitations made it most practical to have the crucifixion happen offstage, which became one of the show’s most powerful moments. Jeffrey also noted that they didn’t have enough people for the final scene. “We only had probably fourteen people left on the stage when we got rid of all the people who had played bad guys. So at that point I just made a decision that that had to be a point where we took off the mask. We had the entire cast come back… and they were themselves as they sang the final verse and chorus of One Voice.”

The power of the story’s beauty reached more than just audiences and the director; it found it’s way into the cast as well. After the production, the cast and crew circled up to pray and discuss what they had learned through the process of the show. Jeffrey said, “A lot of their reactions were that there was such an incredible sense of unity among the cast. And no one said this because it would have been cheesy, but they spoke with one voice more than any other experience they’ve had in a show.”

Reflecting on Calvary’s production, Craig-Claar said, “I am so blessed and honored that even after 26 years, this show seems to keep finding a new perspective and a new voice. As I watched Calvary’s fantastic production, I remember thinking ‘Most of these actors weren’t even born when I wrote this.’ But that’s the eternal message of Christ’s story, isn’t it; it never fades, it never ages, it is ever present and forever life-changing.”

A Reluctant Pilgrim: “One Voice” Premieres Thursday, March 12

A Reluctant Pilgrim: “One Voice” Premieres Thursday, March 12

Amy Garlett, who plays Tamar, and Tori Roberts, who plays Tabitha, rehearse for One Voice with the rest of the Jerusalem crowd.

“We are a family knit together by the deep examination of the richest of texts… A family with a foundation of shared faith.”

Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Barukh shem k’vod malkhuto l’o lam va’ed!
Ani Adonai eloheikhem.

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.
Blessed is the name of God’s glorious kingdom forever!
Your God, Yahweh, am I.

So begins the prologue of One Voice. So began the unexpected journey of a very reluctant pilgrim. A few years ago, our university president, Dr. Cone, asked me to produce a biblical show. “Something with Biblical themes and values?” I asked. “Redemptive themes? A Christ figure as a protagonist? Something with definite allegorical parallels to the Christian experience? A modern parable?” 

“No,” he said, “a real, Bible times, Bible character, biblically true story, dramatized.” (Apologies toDr. Cone for the paraphrase!)

My heart sank. My mind was screaming! “AHHHhh! No…not a bathrobe musical! Shoot me now!”

But he wanted one. If I were going to do Shakespeare or a classic every four years, he wanted a biblical production as in Sight and Sound every four years. I protested we certainly didn’t have the technical capacity to pull off Noah, but he patiently steered me back to what was possible.

I went home, and the dam burst as excuses flooded the turbines! I can’t do cheesy Christian drama. There’s no good material. It all makes me gag. Often, the genre is emotionally manipulative. It’s end result is frequently counterproductive; it’s intended for unbelievers to encounter the truth but instead they’re offended by the method, while Christians remain in their comfort zone. Everything I’ve ever taught about conflict, character, plot, theatricality, and truth will be violated. My students will crucify me. At the very least, they’ll  brand me, and I will be forced to join Hester Prynne, wearing instead a scarlet H, a hypocrite condemned to roam the earth to the end of my days!

The boss was not to be dissuaded, so I settled down in my white leather office chair for a blue funk. I didn’t even know where to begin. It was then a wee niggle at the back of my cranium began to tickle. Many years ago, my mentor and good friend, Deborah Craig Claar, had given me a musical she had written with a collaborator, Robert Sterling. She had recently dusted it off for two large churches who had commissioned them to expand it to a full length musical. Twenty years ago, it was one of the few overtly Christian pieces of theatre I actually liked. So I took another look.

Fast forward to this moment with a cast of 27 intrepid players at Calvary, a distinctly Christian University. This is a cast composed primarily of Calvary undergraduates, but in our ranks are a retired Bible and theology prof, a mother getting a masters in education, a young woman with operatic training who once had high hopes of being a nun, two retired Sergeant Majors, an IT specialist, and the list goes on. A disparate group, but one rich in community. We are a family knit together by the deep examination of the richest of texts. A family with a bridge built of questions. A family with a foundation of shared faith. A family who understands what Jesus meant when He asked us to take up our cross daily. A family who desires truth in the inmost parts. A family with one voice.

For years my metaphor for creating story has been undergirded by making the word flesh from John 1. Never have I ever attempted to take the greatest story ever told and give it flesh. Examining the goals and obstacles of these flesh and blood biblical characters has made them come to life for me as no Bible study or sermon ever has. Meditating on their given circumstances, their humanity, and their fears has been a key to understanding my own. And so this reluctant pilgrim ends her journey surprised by joy, humbled by God’s gift, and standing in awe. May it bless you in the same way. Ani adonai eloheikhem!

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Doubts, Sorrows, and the God Who Carries Them: Reflections From a Dumpster

Doubts, Sorrows, and the God Who Carries Them: Reflections From a Dumpster

What is the place for a show called Doubt?

Calvary’s fall theatre production, Doubt: A Parable, tells the story of a nun in the 1960s. The nun believes a priest has been sexually abusing a boy named Donald in the parish school and sets out to have him removed. The topic and content raise the question: What is the intent of a production titled Doubt?

I read the script for Doubt my first semester at Calvary, and immediately loved its literary craft. I read it again the next year and found it resonated even more. It echoed passions God had already begun planting in my heart. As Calvary gears up to tell this thoughtful story, it is vital for us to know why it matters.

Finding Freedom in a Dumpster

How does this story speak the truth, love, and beauty of God? The answer, for me, was found in a dumpster. Some of the most prayerful and vulnerable moments of my life were spent there when, as a cabin leader playing hide-and-seek with the campers, I found myself crouched in a dumpster with plenty of time to think and process.

The camp I counseled at serves indigenous kids in western Canada, and I felt way out of my depth. Their culture is defined by both a history of sexual abuse perpetrated by religious leaders in schools during the 1800s and a destructive cycle that has far outlived the original abuse. Victims turn to substance, sexual,  and domestic abuse and suicide in a culture that identifies itself by these tragedies. Every year, the reservations hold memorial services for the children whose identity and innocence were taken in the residential schools. These wounds of sexual abuse, inflicted by those who were and are meant to protect, last generations.

In a training session at the camp, a man who grew up in the indigenous culture spoke from Isaiah 53 and pointed out a verse I had previously overlooked. When we share the gospel, we communicate that Jesus can save you from your sins. This is true, but it is only part of the picture. Was he pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities? Absolutely. But that was not all Christ accomplished at the cross. Isaiah also says, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering.” So often we give Christ our sins but hold on to our sorrows, even though we cannot hope to carry them. And it is this deep grief that Doubt addresses.

These offenses create pain that only the God-man can heal. But the story and the pain run deeper. What Donald needs—someone to carry his pain—he looks for in Father Flynn. This solidarity is exactly what Sister Aloysius, Sister James, and even Father Flynn are also looking for. Someone to lift the weight.

The God Who Carries Pain

Pain is very real. You don’t have to look farther than your neighbor down the street to see that our world is wracked by the consequences of sin and legacies of suffering. We know what it is to hurt. Our lives have given us huge burdens to carry, but sin is an offense against God and causes sorrows that only God in the flesh can carry.

The truth is, the only thing people can do with their pain is feel hurt. We can’t fix it; we can’t ignore it, and no matter how we try to hide it, it’s going to come out eventually. That’s what I came to grips with in the dumpster. My campers had complicated, often horrible lives, and I couldn’t fix them. They had burdens far beyond their—or my—strength.

But, if a person understands that Christ not only paid the price for his sin, but also willingly carries his suffering, he is freed. Not from pain’s existence, but from its control. Instead of being dominated by struggles, he can surrender them to God in a continuous act. That is the glory of life with Christ—something Donald and my campers don’t have. They have all the sorrow and none of the hope.

As I huddled in the dumpster, my thoughts turned to Psalm 139, our theme passage for camp. David asks, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” He paints a picture of God hunting him down wherever he tries to hide. Everywhere we go, God is with us, offering to take our punishment and our sorrows. That is true for everyone. It’s true for the girl who changes foster homes every year, for the boy who just lost his father to cancer, for the doubting, for the abused, for you, and for me. God continually, perfectly, lovingly offers to carry our pain.

Creating a Space for Redemption

How does Doubt speak into this need? Doubt does not flinch from the truth of human depravity but acknowledges the pain and speaks to often-overlooked brokenness. And all of these things are exactly what the church is called to do. I love Isaiah 61 because it reveals the heart of God “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” This is the same spirit we want to see reflected in ourselves, our school, and the global church. But it is God who does the binding; we can only be conduits of His healing.

At camp, I discovered that I could not change the sorrows inflicted by centuries of abuse. I can’t get my camper’s father out of prison or stop her uncle from raping her. All I could do was love and create a space for God to speak. Michael Card calls it “a frame around the silence where God speaks to the heart,” a space without distraction that encourages vulnerability with the Creator. A space that offers redemption.

So, back to the original question: Why Doubt? Why this play now? Because we need that space. As a campus, as a community, as the body of Christ, we need a space for vulnerability. We long for a frame around the silence for God to speak and for Christ to heal. We are weighed down with burdens only Christ can carry. How much lighter the load would be if they were surrendered to Him.

As we prepare for this show, I feel very much like a camp counselor again. I am staring down the giant of Sorrows that Calvary is about to meet head on. Doubt reveals a world’s weight of sorrow we cannot carry. But my time in the dumpster taught me that we were never meant to. We love wholeheartedly and pray for God to speak in the space we create.

Because in the end, this production is God’s work. All we can do is lend ourselves to its power, stand in the wings, and pray: “Thy Kingdom come.”

“Newsies” and the Arc of the Moral Universe

“Newsies” and the Arc of the Moral Universe

"Newsies" and the Arc of the Moral Universe

When the Christian Bale version of Newsies first came out in 1992, it was a box office failure, and reviews were mixed. It cost $15 million to make and grossed $3 million in ticket sales. When Disney hired Christian Bale to play the role of Jack Kelly, they didn’t even tell him it was a musical. When it didn’t yield the expected dividend, they put the reel on the shelf and forgot about it. Yet I loved it, so much so that I naively wrote to the Disney Company and asked if they’d allow me to write a stage version of the movie. I was convinced it was perfect for the stage! Apparently, so did many other theatre groups, as unauthorized and illegal stage versions kept cropping up all over the country. Newsies was gaining steam. 

Well, just like you can’t keep a good newsie down, I guess you can’t keep a good story down! Disney finally decided that if there was a populist movement behind this story, maybe they should take another look. In 2011, the stage musical premiered at the New Jersey regional theatre, Paper Mill Playhouse, to popular acclaim, and it went on to Broadway in 2012 for a three-year run. It cost $5 million to stage, which was recouped in seven months, and became the fastest Disney musical on Broadway to make a profit. Walt, you should’ve listened to me…feels so good to be right! 

Pushing personal validation aside, the larger question remains. What is so appealing about this story? Why are we drawn to it? Why did audiences come to their feet multiple times in the middle of scenes during Broadway performances? What are those toe-tapping newsies fighting for that makes their story so compelling? It’s a question I always ask my casts, so I asked them. What do the newsies want? “Justice.” “A chance at a better life.” “To be respected.” “To not feel powerless.” “To have some control over their own destiny.” “To love.” “To be loved.” “A community.” “A family.” “A home.” 

And so, the question comes to you: what do all those answers have in common? We live in an age where we see not only young, mostly white and uniformly beautiful people dancing across a stage at Calvary University with these same needs, we see these desires in all colors and all ethnic groups across this globe. Refugee camps in Syria. Human trafficking in China. Detainment camps at the Mexican border. Clandestine schools for girls in Afghanistan. The corners of intersections outside your local Walmart. Marginalized, impoverished, powerless people are everywhere, all dreaming the same dream: Santa Fe. 

Where does it say ya gotta live and die here? Where does it say a guy can’t catch a break? 

Why should you only take what you’re given? Why should you spend your whole life livin’ 

Trapped where there ain’t no future, even at seventeen, Breakin’ your back for someone else’s sake? 

If the life don’t seem to suit ya, how ‘bout a change of scene, 

Far from the lousy headlines and the deadlines in between? 

Santa Fe! My old friend, I can’t spend my whole life dreamin’ 

Though I know that’s all I seem inclined to do. I ain’t getting’ any younger, 

And I wanna start brand new. I need space. And fresh air. 

Let ‘em laugh in my face, I don’t care–save my place, I’ll be there… 

Just be real is all I’m askin’, not some painting in my head 

Cause I’m dead if I can’t count on you today. 

I got nuthin’ if I ain’t got Santa Fe! 

 Jack personifies his dream of Santa Fe in Act One’s final defining moments, “Just be real is all I’m askin.’” So, what is it that fuels our dreams and weaves the common, connecting human thread? Hope. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This is our hope: God is not only just, He bends the arc. Newsies is a story about the bending power of hope. 

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 

Through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; 

And we exult in hope of the glory of God. 

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 

And perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 

And hope does not disappoint… 

Romans 5:1-5a

Newsies opens March 7 with an 11:00 a.m. matinee and continues on March 8, 9, 15, and 16 at 7:30 p.m. and March 10 and 17 at 2:00 p.m. For tickets, go to our box office: https://www.calvary.edu/theatre-box-office/

 

Auction Postponed with Many Events on the Horizon

Auction Postponed with Many Events on the Horizon

Weekly Portraits of Calvary Life

Due to the forecast of more winter weather, the Feast & Fund Auction has been postponed until March 29.  We hope our supporters will be able to change their plans or make new plans to attend on this date.  Click here to sign up.

March is a very busy month for Calvary.  The Theatre Department will be presenting Newsies seven times over the next two weekends.  Click here to purchase tickets.  We also have Calvary Days, our campus preview event, coming up next weekend.  Click here for more information.

In the midst of all this activity, Cycle 4 will be ending, and a new cycle will be beginning.  Shortly after that is Spring Break which coincides with the Chorale Tour.  Click here to see the Chorale’s schedule which includes stops in Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska.

The end of March brings the new auction date and a recital by senior Cherrish Palmer.  Would you pray that the weather has no further impact on any of these events?  We thank the Lord for each of the students, faculty, and staff who make these events happen.  Would you pray for health and energy to abound?  Finally, we hope you’ll consider attending one or more of the upcoming events!

Sara Klaassen

Alumni Relations Coordinator

Upcoming Calvary Events

Calvary Days                                March 7-9

Newsies performances               March 7-10, 15-17

End of Cycle 4                              March 8

Start of Cycle 5                            March 11

Chorale Tour                                March 18-26

Feast & Fund Auction                 March 29

Cherrish Palmer’s Senior Recital        March 29