Under the spell

Yellow Springs Theater Company stages “Godspell”

By Gary Spencer

Photo: Director Robert Campbell [standing, forefront] rehearses with Yellow Springs Theater Company Godspell castmembers

Faith can be a touchy subject. In the soul-hardened world of the 2000s, trying to connect with a faith or religion may seem like a daunting task. Being bombarded on a daily basis by electronic media of all sorts, trying to break through preconceptions and the opinions of others, it can be difficult to find your own relation to those two sacred topics.

This conundrum is one of the driving forces for Miami Valley startup troupe Yellow Springs Theater Company’s (YSTC) production of the legendary musical Godspell, which will make its debut for the company in April. YSTC Director Robert Campbell said the ubiquitous disconnect of people from others as well as their faith are among key reasons for the decision to produce this play.

“I was sitting eating lunch one day and I saw a family eating across from me,” Campbell said. “They each were on their own electronic device in complete silence connecting to the outside global community and ignoring each other and the people around them. With our technology we have become isolated and connected at the same time. We have become a culture where our news, ideas, philosophies are all be shaped by social media and the Internet.”

By staging Godspell, Campbell hopes to open up the stories told within the Bible to audiences in a way they might have never perceived or been open to. He also hopes to revive the art of storytelling.

“We are losing the tradition of passing stories down from generations because we get spoon fed much of our information,” Campbell said. “We have become a ‘get it now’ culture and everything is just a Google search away. I see it with children saying, ‘I’m bored’ and when asked what they want to do they respond ‘play video games.’ The best toy anyone has is their imagination. The ability to tell stories or come up with original ideas is a major attribute. Using your imagination is important and many times as grownups we lose that ability.”

The play itself is an imaginative concept, both in creation and concept. Godspell, based on a book by John-Michael Tebelak and developed into a musical by Stephen Schwartz in the early 1970s, is renowned for its inventive of concept of telling Biblical stories – mostly from the Gospel of Matthew – through its forward thinking use of songs based in modern 20th Century music, such as pop and rock. The musical has been a smash with audiences of all ages off and on over the past four decades. Its most recent major revival on Broadway has run for almost a year. The fledgling Yellow Springs Theater Company, which was founded a year ago, is hoping for comparable success for its own unique but true to heart production of the hit play.

“Each production of Godspell is unique given the freedoms set by the writer – the cast is improving ways to make it their own,” Campbell said. “[Godspell writer Stephen] Schwartz even indicates in the script that the director and cast are given liberties to make the production unique to their own vision when it comes to characterization and adlibs. The goal is to remain true to the production while bringing in modern elements.”

Even the performance venue was a careful consideration. “This may seem odd,” Campbell continued, “but we [were] looking at various spaces and I am looking at this production as if it could take place anywhere as long as we are telling the story and engaging the audience.”

A production of Godspell not only fits in with the Yellow Springs Theater Company’s artistic vision but also with their “belief that theater can enrich the soul, challenge the mind and expand the heart of the diverse community in which it serves.”

And Campbell believes their rendition of Godspell can possibly help one connect with or enrich their faith and spirituality within the community as well in a non-liturgical, way.

“This is based on the concept that religion had become too serious and needed to reach the masses in fun and festive ways,” Campbell said. “Religion in our culture can be polarizing. We are moving away from dialogue to ‘I have to be right because my religion/politics/beliefs say I have to.’ I personally don’t like to think in just black or white but mostly in shades of gray and I believe most people do. Yet we allow ourselves to blindly follow. Religion to me is inclusive, not exclusive. It is about love and not judgment.”

The Yellow Springs Theater Company presents its production of Godspell Friday-Sunday, April 3-5 and 10-12 at Mills Lawn School, 200 S. Walnut St. in Yellow Springs. Performance times are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be reserved by calling 937.708.1255. For more information, please visit The Yellow Springs Theater Company on Facebook.

Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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