‘Godspell’ tells Gospel of Matthew in artistic way YOOH debuts new lighting at musical

By: 
Jordan Gerard

This year’s Ye Olde Opera House (YOOH) summer musical production of “Godspell” is a unique departure from previous musicals in the sense that it’s an artistic telling of the Gospel of Matthew.

The bigger story is eight strangers coming together as a group to be better people. Parables from that chapter of the Bible will be told under the stars at the Ye Olde Gray Barn July 18-21. 

Advance tickets are available now by calling 507-498-JULY (5859) or going online to yeoldeoperahouse.org. Cost for reserved tickets are $16. Additionally, you can email tickets@yeoldeoperahouse.org to reserve tickets. 

General admission tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for kids. Bring your own chair.

The green will open for dinner at 6:30 p.m. The meal will be catered by Red’s IGA. The show will begin at 8:30 p.m.

“Godspell” is a musical that leaves itself open to interpretation, which is the most exciting part about it, director Scott Solberg said.

“A lot of shows tell you exactly what it’s supposed to do like last year’s ‘Annie.’ ‘Godspell’ is not that way,” he said. “It’s way more creative in how we tell it than a normal musical script.”

He added the director’s book has ideas and suggestions for how other theatres have produced the show. 

The goal is to have a setting where eight random people can be in one place at the same time, so YOOH is setting their version up in a people’s market with vendors selling items such as vegetables and other goods.

The other unique feature about the musical is there are no blackouts in the show. Once the characters are on stage, they stay on stage until intermission and then again in Act 2, there are no blackouts. 

It’s been an interesting challenge for the actors, who are used to having off-stage breaks for water and costume changes. Since the setting is a people’s market, there’ll be a stall with water available to the actors during the show.

Luckily, the script lends itself to some calm scenes after a big song and dance number, Solberg said.

There are also no set changes either and no opportunities to retrieve props off-stage, so everything has to be set in its place before the show begins.

Furthermore, the “Godspell” production will have the audience seeing into the depths of the barn stage for nearly the first time. The stage appears wider than previous productions and the lawn space in front of the stage will also be used for the production.

“It took quite a while to figure out where we’d have [the scene],” Solberg said. “So we [took] down the walls of the barn and made it into a people’s market.”

A cast of nine people makes up the strangers and the role of Jesus. With a production such as this, it would be more difficult to structure the show if you had 30 people in the cast.

Solberg cited the “huge commitment” the cast has had from auditions to rehearsals in order to make the show happen.

“The cast is here every night because everyone has been in every scene,” he explained. “With a bigger cast, people have a few nights off.”

So with a long history of complex musicals with large casts, costume changes, set changes and other elements, why change it up?

“With big sets and productions, it burns people out a bit. There’s not a lot of set builders in town, or people that do lights, set or costumes, so we try to be careful to do something that big every year,” Solberg said. 

YOOH is also preparing for its 2020 musical “Spamalot,” of which they’ve wanted the rights to for a very long time. They know that will be a large production and between “Spamalot” and “Annie,” they decided a smaller production would fit.

“It’s much different, a smaller show, but different people like different things and we like to give people different stuff,” Solberg said.

For those people on the fence of deciding whether or not to see the show, Solberg made clear that it’s not replacing church and it’s certainly not like attending a church service.

“The way we are entertaining is stories that are in the Bible, showing them in a fun, entertaining way,” he said. 

Actress Chelsea McManimon-Moe said the show does not “constantly offend the Bible.”

Solberg added the show tells parables of the gospel in “very artistic ways.”

“There are some pretty cool stories. We’ve got one where people turn into sheep or goats and Addy Cross, as a goat, hops up on a barrel. And we’ve got a bit with a sock puppet that’s pretty darn hilarious,” he said. “There are a lot of funny moments in this show. The music is amazing.”

For 41 years the people of Spring Grove have trusted YOOH to put on a good show and they’ve never disappointed. Come out and see “Godspell” on July 18-21 at the Ye Olde Gray Barn east of Spring Grove.

New LED lights

Perhaps a subtle feature the audience may or may not notice is the new LED lighting that will adorn the stage during the production of “Godspell.”

The old system of lighting has been replaced with a high tech system that can all be controlled from one laptop and at the touch of a button, run an entire show.

Previously, if YOOH needed different color lights, they fired up 500-watt light bulbs and put colored pieces of paper in front of the lights for different effects.

The lights would get hot and suck a lot of electrical power. They were also hard to move and incapable of modern theatre lighting techniques.

But now the dark ages of lighting are over, thanks to a South Eastern Minnesota Arts Council (SEMAC) grant, YOOH was able to receive four LED lights that will be able to do a number of things for future productions.

“LEDs are cool to the touch, better for the environment and the actors,” Solberg said. “The way you run them is really different. You can make them brighter or darker, and figure out what color to make it. The way you move it changes. We knew it was a good thing to buy.”

YOOH purchased four of the lights last winter in preparation for “How to Talk Minnesotan,” and with the grant, they received four more lights for a total of eight.

However, a new system meant a bit of confusion, so the grant also brought in Patrick Strain to show YOOH how to operate the lights.

Strain holds a MFA degree in design and theatre design. He is an independent consultant and contractor.

Being familiar with ETC Electronics, based in Madison, Wisconsin, Strain was able to teach the crew how to operate the lights from a single laptop. The laptop has the same ability to run a light show that a large switchboard console would have.

“It’s the same power in a big expensive one. All of that processing power, except no rollers or buttons, just clicking and shortcut keys on the keyboard,” Strain said. “You can add hundreds of lights and control it off one laptop.”

It’s quite an impressive setup. The best part is the lights can be moved physically, so they can be used at the Fest Building and opera house, in addition to the barn.

Lighting crew can program an entire show on the lighting software and make edits to the program, even from their living room couch. Solberg said this new technology would “save some long nights.”

Though the lights are brand new, Solberg added they don’t have any plans to make “Godspell” very colorful or use every feature of the lights.

“We want to make sure they fit with the play. We have no desire to show them off just because they’re new,” he said. 

A few musical numbers will light up and do some cool lighting things, but the crew is doing their best to set the tone of the show. 

While audiences may not notice the lighting changes, YOOH is excited for the new lights and the motion of events that led to acquiring them.

About five years or more ago, a group called “Spring Grove Area Initiative” or SAGE threw money in to hire a grant writer. However, that didn’t happen and the money sat in the bank until Merchants Bank Personal Banker Teresa Fegyak told YOOH there was still money in the account.

She suggested they talk to SEMAC about a Rural Areas grant that was only available to small towns such as Spring Grove. 

The grant amount was $3,000, with a 20% match, which means about $650 that YOOH contributed. These new eight LED lights will last many productions throughout YOOH’s future.