Monday, April 01, 2013

Jesus Christ Superstar: From the Other Side



        This year, after twenty-one years of seeing Jesus Christ Superstar performed by Salt City Center for the Performing Arts, Ted Neeley’s various touring incarnations, my alma mater, and the Stratford Festival, and after harassing various church musicians into incorporating Superstar into worship so I could get a small taste of participating in the production, Saturday night I finally got to take the stage as a bona fide member of the cast, in all my miscellaneous-villager glory, instead of singing along quietly(ish) from my seat.
            I’ve spent a lot of time writing about the production over the years, reviewing the show, offering my peanut-gallery comments. Now, as a cast member, I can’t exactly give an unbiased review, so instead, I offer some reflections.
            First, I had so much fun being in the show. I was a theatre minor in college, and even though theatre was my minor and pre-theology was my major, my life in college revolved around theatre. That’s what took up my time. I worked on just about every regular season show during my three years at Ohio Wesleyan in some capacity or another. I loved it. I’ve missed it. Since becoming a pastor, I hadn’t yet been able to figure out how to incorporate theatre into my life. During my first year of ministry, I did makeup design for a community theatre production. (I cannot even recall the title of the show I worked on – how sad is that?) I ended up missing several shows due to deaths in my congregation, and I never really tried to get involved again. Recently, I noticed that one of my colleagues (thank you, Michael Terrell) was doing some theatre in his community, and I began for the first time in a long time to consider whether or not I could get involved in something again.
            But this wasn’t just any show. This was Jesus Christ Superstar. As I was waiting in the wings right before my first entrance – “What’s the Buzz?” – I realized I had a huge grin on my face, and I was having a little trouble wiping it off to replace with “perplexed townsperson.” I’ve imagined being in the show for so long. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but I really didn’t see how I would be able to be in the show that went up during Holy Week while I was serving a church. I am so thankful for this experience.
            In fact, as I think about my experience, a lot of “thank yous” come to mind. I want to thank my co-pastor, Aaron Bouwens, for not minding, for being supportive, when I told him I had committed to a project that would mess up our carefully worked out schedules, make me unavailable for some meetings, leave him on his own at Good Friday worship, and render me exhausted on Easter morning. I have to thank my congregation at Liverpool First UMC. It would be easy, especially when we are still in our first year together, for folks to have balked at my spending so much time away during Lent, rushing out at the ends of meetings to catch second halves of rehearsal, rescheduling programs to accommodate my schedule, etc. Instead, they were totally excited for me, and got together a huge group to come and cheer me on Saturday night (and then they still showed up on Sunday morning for worship!) I feel very blessed to be their pastor. I’m thankful to Bob Brown and Cathleen O'Brien Brown for being so flexible when I filled up my audition form with a huge list of rehearsal conflicts, and for Bob, as a director, going out of his way to make sure that the other pastor and I who were in the show could choose to portray our villager-characters in a way that wouldn't be harmful to our spirits – so thoughtful. I’m thankful to my family, and my dear friend Heather, for celebrating me on Saturday! There were flowers, “Beth Quick, Superstar” t-shirts, and Heather, also a pastor, might have had other things on her mind Saturday night, but she was still there, cheering me on! And of course, I have to thank Henry Wilson, who was playing Judas the first time I ever saw the show, who I had a huge crush on, which in turn fueled my love of the show, my questions about Judas, my theological searchings, and really, impacted my path into ministry in some important ways. I’ve been very upfront in writing about this influence on my blog and in my sermons over the years, and to be the focus of that commentary – well, there are many different ways a person might react to that! Henry, who I finally met after all these years, was entirely kind and gracious, and I enjoyed getting to watch him, now playing Jesus, bring the same depth and quality to this role that he always has, always taking rehearsals seriously, culminating in a truly moving performance.
            I know the folks involved in Superstar bring a variety of faiths and believes and experiences to the show. For me, though, it is always a spiritual experience. What would you have done, if you’d been there? Where would you be in the crowd? As a teenager, watching Superstar awakened in me the lifelong quest to answer those questions. It is so easy to believe that we would be supporters of Jesus, defenders, pleading for his freedom, pleading for his innocence. The thing is, I’ve never been much of a risk-taker. Heck, I even sat in my car for a good while on the night of Superstar auditions, talking myself out of auditioning several times before I finally went in and took the plunge, and that was for an experience that was all for my benefit, that I knew I would love. Would I risk raising my voice in an angry mob, shouting for crucifixion? I wonder how many of us would even be in that crowd, and how many of us would avoid the scene altogether, just trying to stay out of it. Where would be in that crowd? Where I am in this crowd? I claim to be a disciple of Jesus – what risks am I taking today to stand up against injustice? To speak for the marginalized? To love in the radical, sacrificial way of Jesus? What cost am I willing to incur? What truths must I speak and live? On this Easter Sunday, I feel particularly blessed to have had such an awesome vehicle for exploring these questions in Superstar, as I continue seeking new life.  
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