Godspell: A Silent House & Waco Civic Theatre Collaboration
To conceptualize Godspell around a narrative is to do the play an injustice. Sure, audiences will see a modern retelling of events from the Gospel of Matthew and the parables Jesus taught the disciples before his death. And while it’s set on a playground to a rock-ballad soundtrack, to understand what Godspell accomplishes, one must acknowledge the parts of theater that go beyond music and recitation of lines from a script.
What audiences will experience is in one sense intangible but will nevertheless leave them enthralled as witnesses to the birth of a community. Don’t miss this exhilarating live performance that’s thanks to the efforts of two Waco theater groups: Silent House Theatre Company and Waco Civic Theatre.
Godspell runs through Saturday, August 27, at the Waco Civic Theatre. Performances begin at 7:30 pm each night with an additional 2:30 pm matinee on Saturday.
In a League of their Own
Godspell is a rock opera created by John-Michael Tebelak as his master’s thesis at Carnegie Mellon University in 1970. In preparation for an off-Broadway run in 1971, Tebelak, alongside composer Stephen Schwartz and much of the original cast from Carnegie Melleon, infused Godspell with a decidedly personal touch. Over the course of rehearsals, they improvised dialogue and set directions, leading to the distinct “garage theater” style that Silent House co-founder and director Collin Selman says it is known for.
“The original had a very raw element to it. When they first did Godspell, not only did they write it together, they directed it together. They all brought their own thing to it. And then the original script, it is the names of the actors,” Selman explains. “So, if you look at the script, there’s a character named Peggy… that’s just the name of the actress.”
Silent House has shown it can speak with a unique voice and continues to imbue eagerness and originality into each performance. Godspell’s level of passion, dramatic weight, and spirit of community makes it an effective choice for its musical theater debut.
Selman, with measured thoughtfulness, adds: “We’ve chosen to do Godspell as our first musical to showcase that we can do this for the community. We want to show you that we’re capable of it and that we want to do it. Yes, we have our brand and we do our ‘pushing the boundaries’ theater, and we’re still doing that with this. But we want our theater to reach as many people as we can. That’s our community.”
The Law of Conservation of Energy
Each facet of the production has been constructed with great care. This show will feel especially unique as the stage is located in the center of the theater with rows of seats creating a square surrounding the actors. This crew needed to be sure that every design aspect, whether technical or aesthetic, be thoughtfully considered from four different perspectives. Things like the choreography, blocking, lighting, and props must be equally appealing and comprehensible to the audience no matter the side they are sitting.
A wooden set of monkey bars painted in pastel blues, yellows, and reds is built on top of a mobile square platform and provides the centerpiece for a playground setting. This enables Ethan Trueman, who leads the show as Jesus, to easily engage with everyone in the audience while naturally interacting with the set.
The most ingenious adaptation, though, is their utilization of angles. It is subtle, but throughout the play, actors are positioned in corners so their voices project to two sides of the audience at once. In one dramatic scene, Lamar, played by Nick Marquez, faces off against Herb, played by Goolie Alvarez. They are positioned across from each other to establish opposition but also to maximize the amount of sound reaching the audience. In this way, the actors widen their coverage close to what they’d have facing forward on a traditional stage.
This may be Silent House’s first collaboration with Waco Civic Theatre, but a shared love for live performance binds them seamlessly. Melissa Lohr is an administrator and the summer youth coordinator at Waco Civic Theatre and is also the Godspell music director. During rehearsals, she’s been impressed by the amount of effort the cast and crew have poured into the collaboration.
“What’s interesting is almost everybody is a 20-something. Our oldest person is [about] 33, right? This whole time, it’s been this different energy,” Lohr says. “It’s like we’re coming in here, we’re creating together, and this is so fun. But it’s also professional because all of us want to be doing this. You have to have that kind of energy to be willing to both work and play.”
It is not hard to imagine something similar happening as volatile creativity bounced around the theater walls while Tebelak, Schwartz, and their fellow Carnegie Mellon classmates pieced together Godspell for the first time. For them, just as with Silent House, it’s a love of art and the thrill of expression that drew them together. And that energy has found its way through time and space to theater here in Waco.
Season’s Greetings, Season’s Endings
Silent House’s next production is Hedda Gabler, Henrik Ibsen’s 1891 tragedy about the might of societal pressure in the life of the title character. Auditions have already begun, and the show will run for two weekends: October 14–16 and 21–23.
For the final show of the 2022 season, Silent House will produce the classic holiday story A Christmas Carol. It will run for one weekend, December 9–11, and replace the previously scheduled production of It’s a Wonderful Life. Auditions have not yet begun.
Performances of Godspell at the Waco Civic Theatre, 1517 Lake Air Drive, run through Saturday, August 27. There will also be a 2:30 pm matinee performance on Saturday. Order your tickets online.
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To conceptualize Godspell around a narrative…