Reflecting on Godspell - spirituality, theatre, community



A photo my fellow cast member, Liz, snapped of me last night at dress rehearsal


As many of you know, I'm doing a production of Godspell this weekend at my church, Unity North Atlanta. 

I did Godspell ten years ago with Cobb Children's Theatre when I was a senior in high school. I have always loved the music and the overall energy of the show, though it is a little chaotic and random at times. (It's kind of like Hair. With Jesus. And without the nudity.)

I haven't done a musical in so long, unless you count Hedwig and the Angry Inch. (I thought of the Hedwig experience, though, as more of a "band" experience than a "theatrical" one though--probably because I had a guitar strapped to me throughout the whole show.) Mostly, the past ten years of my life have been more focused on playwriting or writing in general and performing my own music, whether in bands or as a solo artist.

So when I saw that Unity was having auditions for a production of Godspell--which is also the first theatrical production of this scale being performed at Unity--I knew I had to audition. I had literally just finished grad school, I was still taking a break from playing my own music in the Atlanta music venues, and I wasn’t working on anything artistic aside from novel. Also, I thought it was too coincidental that the production was going on literally ten years after I last did it.

I don't plan on going to my ten-year high school reunion, really, but in many ways this production has made me more reflective about the last ten years than any reunion could. I keep remembering the CCT production of Godspell, and I keep thinking about how different I was then.

The thing I have noticed the most was that my motivations for performing have changed. As a teenager, acting/singing and being in musicals is very much about finding yourself and finding your own voice. I think CCT was so important because so many of us essentially grew up in that organization--we discovered who we were underneath the lights of the Jennie T. Anderson theatre. So much of being a teenager and coming of age is feeling insecure and wanting people to acknowledge you, and when we performed in these shows, we got just that. We discovered who we were by pretending to be other people.

Ten years later, after hundreds of performances in smoky dive bars and music venues and the vulnerability that comes with having my own words being performed on stage by different actors, I am able to approach acting and singing (and even dancing) in a totally different way. I'm no longer an insecure 17-year-old. I don't need people to tell me that I can sing or that I have artistic talent because I at least believe in myself enough to know that much now. I'm no longer going into a show thinking "I hope people walk out of this going 'Wow, Sara did a great job!'" I want people to walk out feeling inspired. I want people to walk out feeling a sense of joy, a sense of community. I want this show to resonate with people in whatever way they experience spirituality. And my personal goal is that I can add my voice and my talents to that. It’s no longer about my personal performance and my ego. It’s about the collective experience, the community. And that is one of the best things I have gotten out of my own spiritual journey that began when I started going to Unity regularly and reading Eckhart Tolle and meditating and beginning my own spiritual practice.

My favorite part of Godspell (and maybe even the Bible) is when he talks about how you should store up your treasures in Heaven. I interpret this as saying "don't seek fulfillment on the level of the ego--in material possessions or in other people's opinions of you--because these things are fleeting and inpermanent. Instead, seek fulfillment on the level of the Spirit where we are all One because this is permanent." And for me, my whole experience with Godspell this time around has been a practice at doing just that.

I think Godspell is all about building a community and coming together, and I feel like that's my main motivation for doing this show this time around. And I was thinking about how I have had some questions about doing such a Biblical show at Unity where we don't exactly have a literal interpretation of the Bible or even reference the Bible as often as traditional Christian churches. But then I thought about it in a new perspective. I feel like one of the main goals of Unity is to bring everyone together and create a community of love and celebrating God in whatever way is right for you. (I especially saw this a few weekends ago when they did the inter-faith revival and had speakers from the Muslim faith, the Hindu faith, the Buddhist faith, the Jewish faith, and the Christian faith all speaking about what revival meant to them.) Of course we should do this show at Unity because even though it is so Biblical, it is a perfect example of building a community of love and the celebration of God.

I noticed the other day that life has also mirrored art, as it usually does. Julie, one of the cast members, was singing “Beautiful City” (one of my favorite songs in the show). It’s a song all about how we can come together essentially and build something beautiful and new together. And I think that is what we have done as a cast and crew. We are all incredibly different—the age range alone of the cast members is expansive. We have cast members in their 20s and cast members in their 70s and everything in between. Some of us are Unity members, some of us are members of Roswell United Methodist Church, and some of us are just members of the community. And just as Jesus has special hand signals with each cast member in the show to represent his relationships with them, every single person in the cast has inspired me in some unique way, and I have learned something from every person. As different as we all are, we are coming together and creating something new and beautiful. I think that is one of the things that I love so much about theatre—how collaborative it is. But it seems to have new meaning for me doing this particular production in this particular church.

Godspell will be performed Thursday, March 28th, Friday, March 29th, and Saturday, March 30th at Unity North Atlanta in Marietta - all productions are at 7:30 - tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors. Ticket information and other information available at http://unitynorth.org

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