'Godspell' right fit for Salvation Army arts program

'Godspell' right fit for Salvation Army arts program

July 14th, 2012 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

Jesse Rademacher, Chet Rivera, Ellen Poole and Krysten Pound, left to right, rehearse a scene from "Godspell." The Salvation Army is producing a run of "Godspell," and held rehearsal at the ReCreate Cafe on Thursday.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.


"Godspell" will be staged for the general public at 7:30 p.m. Friday and July 21 and July 23-24 and at 2 p.m. July 22. Seating is limited to 70 people. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors ages 65-up.

They may be purchased at The Salvation Army Area Command office, 822 McCallie Ave., between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday-Friday; by phone at 756-1023; or online at www.csarmy.org.

There also will be a free evening performance on Sunday, July 22, for the homeless community on ReCreate Café's regular karaoke night. Monetary donations to offset costs for the production may be accepted at the Area Command office or before or after each show.

Ellen Poole first fell in love with "Godspell" when she was about 8. Chet Rivera had no idea what "Godspell" was.

But both actors say the musical's sense of connection to the general public is unmistakable.

The Gospel of Matthew-based play will be produced with both housed and homeless participants Friday through Tuesday, July 24, by the Chattanooga Salvation Army 614 Corps as part of its expanding ReCreate Café Arts Program.

"It's such a timeless show," said Poole. "No matter where you are, or what's going on, it can speak to you."

Salvation Army officials decided to stage the musical when they determined they not only needed to offer their Recreate Café space to the public but also to produce something in it with their clientele.

"It's the perfect show to do something like this," said Tenika Dye, artistic director for ReCreate Café. "The Gospel message fits with the Salvation Army."

The show also is a good fit with a sometimes migratory homeless population.

"It one of the most accessible shows [for] cast and audience," said 614 Corps Capt. Jon-Phil Winter.

"There's an equal playing field" for actors, with most roles other than leads being interchangeable, he said. For audiences, "there's a familiarity to it, even if they're not religious. Because we're The Salvation Army, it checks a [spirituality] box quite comfortably. Other than that, it's just a fun show."

The structure of the musical is a series of parables, based both on Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, as well as on the passion of Christ. The parables are interspersed with modern songs set primarily to lyrics from traditional hymns.

Dye said even though The Salvation Army had been cultivating relationships with homeless individuals for a year through its ReCreate Café, it was a risk to audition to and cast them.

"We needed them to make a commitment for [a certain] number of weeks," she said, "and even if they were willing, would they want to sing and dance and act?"

Five auditioned and were cast, Dye said. Since the casting, two declined their parts, and two have left the area.

The audience will not be told which cast member is homeless, she said.

For the Salvation Army's first show with a diverse cast, Dye said the agency wanted to "do something big and professional and done well to stir more interest."

As such, she said, it hired Deborah Kirby, associate professor of theater at Covenant College, to direct the musical. In addition, Steve Ray, assistant professor of theater and speech at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, is musical director and set designer, and Gaye Jeffers, also of UTC, is helping with production and costuming.

In all, Dye said, six colleges are represented among the actors, directors and producers.

To accentuate the production, a band and lighting designer have been hired, and costumes have been procured from various places. Even the 11-member cast is receiving a small honorarium.

"We wanted the experience to be a high-quality production," Dye said. "Our community deserves that. We did not want anything halfway done."

The community aspect was emphasized throughout rehearsals, several people associated with the production said.

Rivera, 50, a native of Honduras whose last theatrical role was in "Li'l Abner" in the seventh grade, said the musical has "an energy to it."

"We're all connected," said Rivera. "['Godspell'] lends itself to that right off the bat."