Players and Prayers: The Production of “Godspell” at St. Cecilia Parish in Wilbraham
By Rebecca Drake
We were a group of 35 people, ranging in age from 8 to close to 80, dressed in tie-dyed T-shirts. The women wore flowers in their hair and peace signs adorned some sneakers and jewelry. The music was the upbeat, catchy rock score of Stephen Schwartz’s 1971 musical, “Godspell.”
And, for me, this debut production presented by the St. Cecilia Players was the most moving and inspirational experience in my 30-plus years of performing in community theater venues. I’m sure the overtly religious nature of the play, based on the Gospel of Matthew, was one of the reasons for this transformative moment.
But the biggest difference between this play and all of the others I have been a part of was the fact that we ended each rehearsal in prayer. And, most often, these prayers were led by the teenage members of the cast. These young people included members of St. Cecilia Parish as well as students from the performing arts program at Holyoke Catholic High School.
Raised in family, parish and school environments where prayer and the presence of God are as abundant as academics and sports, these teens and young adults are as comfortable conversing with God and Jesus as they are with texting their earthly companions. In these moments of prayer, however brief, a multi-generational cast of actors became a community of believers who genuinely cared about each other. (Not so coincidentally, this is exactly what is supposed to happen in the play!) And the tears were very real each time we performed the scenes of the Last Supper and Christ’s Passion.
I hope, in sharing my thoughts in this blog, to assure the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, school staff members, parishioners and pastors – all those who have helped to form the characters and faith of these young people – that your words and deeds, and, most importantly, your example, have made a difference.
There were no egos and superstars in this cast – least of all the 17-year-old Holyoke Catholic student, Patrick, who played Jesus. When I interviewed Patrick for a publicity article, he told me, “I don’t view my role as any bigger than anyone else’s.” This young man, and his peers, “get it,” they have learned their lessons well, to paraphrase a song from the show. They know that Jesus came to serve and not to be served. They know that “All Good Gifts” come from heaven above.
The impressive acting, singing and dancing talents of the young “Godspell” cast members were balanced by equal measures of graciousness, humility and respect. What an honor it was to share the stage with these beautiful young people!
As for my peers, the more “seasoned” members of the “Godspell” cast, some of us got to know each other a little better and we welcomed the mother of a new St. Cecilia Parish family into our midst. As the “elders” in the production, we were happy to serve as “theatrical” relatives to the children and teens, and some of us have already talked about going to see the students in their upcoming performances.
As the 11-year-old in the cast observed, “We are all different, but we are all one big family.”
Amen to that!
Editor’s note: Rebecca Drake is the editor of The Catholic Mirror and a veteran of many theatrical productions.