Journey placard

I wanted to relate my extraordinary experience of today – Sunday, March 25th. This morning I was fortunate enough to be a part of Carmel United Methodist Church’s Palm Sunday program: Journey: Palms to Paradise. A friend from my association with Carmel Community Players, Gail Eastburn, was the production coordinator for this undertaking and she asked me back in February if I would be interested in being the narrator for the service. It was a huge project to put together. It’s centerpiece, the beautiful Easter cantata Once Upon a Tree by Pepper Choplin, utilizes a choir, orchestra, soloists and narrator (portrayed as the author of the Bible’s Book of Luke, Luke the Physician). To these requirements Gail added a dancer (to portray Mary), projected visuals, children (who enter waving palms at one point) and a second choir to boost the church’s 43 member choir to 96 voices. On top of that, Gail worked a miracle and contracted the elegant, still new, 1600 seat concert hall, Carmel Indiana’s Palladium, as the venue. One thing about Gail, she thinks big!

The Palladium concert hall, from my position onstage.

The Palladium concert hall, from my position onstage.

Playing Luke, using Ms. Choplin’s heart-rending script, was a good challenge for me. It required some, but not total memorization – an emotional arc as he faces the difficult task of writing of Jesus’ last trip to Jerusalem through his death on the cross – and lastly, a heavy biblical costume with a fake beard. Certainly all these things were doable. The X-factor for me was the prospect of being onstage at The Palladium. This is a huge concert hall, world class in it’s appointments, with a staggering audience capacity to imagine playing in front of. Up until now, the largest crowd I have ever performed in front of was in Little Rock, Arkansas when I was a company member of Arkansas Repertory Theatre in 1978 and we did a musical number at a gala for then newly elected Governor, Bill Clinton. But that theatre was not nearly the size of the Palladium.

Luke, just before going onstage.

Luke, just before going onstage.

So, after 6 or so rehearsals at the church, we arrived at the performance date today and I got my first glimpse inside the hall. If you have attended an event there, you know this is an impressive place. The performance hall itself is a very tall room, lined with balconies and boxes. The stage is massive, one of the biggest I have ever been on. And the backstage area is a complicated labyrinth of passages, which are clean and white and very well lit – looking more like a hospital than many of the backstage areas I have experienced. Because I was playing a character and had costuming to deal with, I was issued a private dressing room, which was actually more like a small suite, with a sofa, a few chairs, mirrors galore, a bathroom with a shower, and golden silk curtains. I have had private dressing rooms before, but never one of this, shall we say, stature. I wondered about the names of the famous performers who had used this dressing room before me. It was awesome.
A basic cue-to-cue run-thru was scheduled for 2 hours before the performance. It was wonderful to hear the full magnitude of the orchestra and full choir for the first time. Once levels and mike checks were completed, I went to my suite to prepare. I couldn’t help thinking, “this is the way it should be always”, as I changed and bearded myself in the deluxe setting, but I knew that it would likely never happen this way again.
A real moment of truth came as the church service started, I heard my cue, and walked out in front of what was estimated to be about 1500+ people who had challenged the frosty early spring snow to come worship at our service. As a rule, I never get nervous. And I don’t believe I was nervous at this moment. But a small jolt of excitement did pass thru my body as I walked up the steps to my position onstage. As always happens, once I spoke – all seemed under control.
Performing this piece was a very moving experience. I felt if I could capture the changing emotional state of Luke as he gets further into the Easter story, I could convey the strength of the message – the Christian message that Christ died a horrible death for our sins. That he lived his life as an example for us all. From the feedback I received, I believe I touched some people the way I had hoped.
The service and the cantata were a success. The music was astounding and for that I give a huge ovation to Chuck Shockney, Minister of Music at CUMC. Chuck’s understanding of music and, perhaps more importantly, of how to get great musical results out of his musicians and singers, is enviable. I told him this: I had never wanted to direct a musical, but if I could direct with him handling the musical end of things, I would strongly consider it. And I was so very happy for Gail Eastburn. All her hard work and persistence had come together and the service had been attended by hundreds of people. A deep bow goes to her, as well as a thank you for thinking of me with regard to the part of Luke.
It was only one performance, but it left me so full of deep feelings and new experiences. I am very glad about what we did at today’s extraordinary Palm Sunday service. Many kind people have told me they enjoyed what I did on stage this morning – but the greatest of compliments came to me from my wife, Donna. She said she’s never been prouder of me. Thank you, sweetheart. That makes me very happy.

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