Wading in Tense Waters: “Metamorphoses” Confronts Mythical Challenges

Miller_Jeffrey_2008_11_21_03_02_36Using an ambitious set that includes a real pool of water, Jeffrey S. Miller, professor of theatre arts, has directed Metamorphoses, a play by award winning playwright Mary Zimmerman that showcases a cast of ten students. Performances run April 3–5, 8–12, 2014 and tickets are available at www.gordon.edu/tickets.

The play explores the tension between the real and the transformational, the human and the mysterious, told through vignettes of classical Greek myth and drawn together by the universal need for water. Conceived by scenic designer Rick Rees, a theatre professor at Bethel University, the set also consists of Mt. Olympus and Hades while centering around the pool.

Here’s how Miller describes the play in his Director’s Note :

“We often think myth is the opposite of truth.  As many great thinkers have pointed out and as most of us know intuitively, myth is truth wrapped in story.  Since we as humans cannot consider truth as abstract concept (with our heads) at the same time we experience it fully with our senses (with our hearts), myth is a critical tool for helping us examine, understand and embrace the mystery, the fullness of our lives and choices.

Similarly we often think theatre is the opposite of reality.  But the best constructs of this performing art take us into another world where we see, feel and know better, deeper, the truth of our lives and choices.

Metamorphoses merges these two truth-bearing forms – poetically, humorously, sometimes darkly and often surprisingly. A character in our play poignantly points out, ‘Unfortunately, we give our mythic side scant attention these days.  As a result, a great deal escapes us and we no longer understand our own actions.’ This is as true today as ever.”    For a video preview of the play, click HERE.

Screwtape on Stage, Thanks to Jones and Stevick

Norm Jones

The imperfections of the human soul provided British writer C. S. Lewis plenty of fodder for his classic novel The Screwtape Letters, a humorous story told by a tempter in Hell offering instruction on the art of deception. Now, to mark the 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death and to celebrate his life and works, Theatre Arts Professor Norm Jones has teamed up with English Professor Mark Stevick to present The Screwtape Letters on stage, opening Oct.  25.

“Lewis has had such a profound influence on so many of us in the Gordon community,” Jones said. “We wanted to honor that impact by staging this unique and insightful adaptation of his novel to correspond with this anniversary.”

Mark Stevick

Adapted by Stevick and directed by Norman Jones, the production integrates three works by Lewis: The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce and Poems. The staged version dramatizes a series of letters written in Hell—where the souls are food and the stakes are high—by a senior tempter, the rigorous and ironic Screwtape, to her niece Wormwood. It features a cast of 17 student actors, some of whom play several characters. Jones’ production transforms The Screwtape Letters into an 80-minute cosmic—and often comic—tour of the battlefields where the struggle for souls is waged. 

The show opens in the Margaret Jensen Theatre of the Barrington Center for the Arts on Friday, Oct. 25 and runs through Saturday, Nov. 2 with nightly performances at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 4 p.m. Tickets are $12 for general admission, and $8 for students, senior citizens, and faculty/staff of Gordon College. Tickets can be purchased here.

When Students of the Stage Become Colleagues

Sabbatical is a time for new ideas, fresh experiences and ongoing scholarship. Each happened this spring for Jeffrey S. Miller, professor of theatre arts, when he returned to Minneapolis to direct a show  . . . . with former students who are now professional artists. He wrote the following response: 

Jeff Miller (c) with the cast of “Kingdom Undone.”

“Every Teacher-Artist’s Dream”    by Jeffrey S. Miller

I suspect fathers and mothers experience something similar when their kids joyfully choose to take up the professions to which they have given their lives.  Teachers certainly do when their students become their colleagues. But all the imagination in the world could not have prepared me for the deeply moving and richly satisfying experience of creatively collaborating with young artists I once badgered, criticized, prodded, cajoled, hassled, humored, reprimanded and—hopefully—nurtured when they were starting their professional journeys.  This was one of those rare moments of unexpected astonishment every teacher-artist should have, and one I will always treasure as evidence of God’s grace and confirmation.

Technically, it all started at Bethel College, now University, where I both earned my undergraduate degree and later taught in the Department of Theatre Arts.  I had plans to be a doctor but a wise professor named Rainbow, of all things, saw in me certain proclivities that would never fit with a life in medicine.  And though far too young and inexperienced, I was given an opportunity to hone my skills teaching and directing at Bethel just as I was completing graduate studies at the U of MN.  My earliest students were just a few years younger than me . . . Continue reading

Jones Explores Nature of Hope in “Waiting for Godot”

Norm Jones

Often regarded as the most important play of the 20th century, Samuel Beckett’s classic existentialist tragicomedy Waiting for Godot is re-imagined in the hands of director and theatre arts professor Norman Jones. His production of the absurdist masterpiece emphasizes not the futility of human hope—as many productions are wont to do—but the “insidious nature of hope,” exploring how and why we continue to hope when it seems there is no hope left.

The Gordon College Department of Theatre Arts production of Waiting for Godot opens April 12, and performances will follow on April 13 and 16–20. All performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Margaret Jensen Theatre at the Barrington Center for the Arts. Tickets may be purchased online.

“It is poignant, endearing, and surprisingly funny,” said Jones. “I was drawn to the characters’ desperate attempts to find meaning in an uncertain world.”

Notably, the cast includes two women in the roles of Pozzo and the boy, joining a small number of productions that have allowed women to take on any of the five male roles, which Beckett famously insisted be played by men.

The production features Gordon students Ryan Coil ’13 (Nashville, TN), Chloe Eaton ’15 (Santa Barbara, CA), Amelia Haas ’15 (Roslindale, MA), Luke Miller ’14 (Coopersburg, PA), and Taylor Nelson ’13 (Northwood, NH), as well as an original set designed by Salem State University professor Michael Harvey. 

Waiting for Godot is part of Gordon’s Celebration of the Arts, a week-long festßival of art exhibitions and performances with leading voices from across artistic disciplines, such as Gordon Lothlórien Distinguished Chair in Fine Arts Bruce Herman, film producer Ralph Winter, artist Makoto Fujimura, pianist Mia Chung, and theologian Jeremy Begbie.

Click HERE for the full schedule of events.


“Working”: A Musical For Today’s Job Market

Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, marks the opening of Jeffrey S. Miller’s tenth production to direct at Gordon when “Working—A Musical” takes the stage in the Barrington Center for the Arts. Miller, professor of theatre arts, was drawn to the musical based on a book by Studs Terkel, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, interviewer and historian, in large part because of the issue of jobs and work in today’s economy and election.  “Working” includes a cast/crew of 15 students, three musicians and countless alumni and staff who’ve worked hard in the process. Miller’s own work includes directing credits such as Macbeth, Guys and Dolls, Shadowlands, Tartuffe, The Secret Garden, An Evening of Pinter,  Love’s Labour’s Lost, Joyful Noise, Into The Woods, Pirates of Penzance, and Growing Up Christians. Below are some of Miller’s directorial notes for the show. (Ticket and showtime information can be found HERE.)

Jeff Miller: “Work has been a major part of our national dialogue of late – certainly in the current presidential race. We have an odd and ambivalent relationship to work, don’t we? On the one hand, it’s something to avoid, to get done as quickly as possible, and, eventually, to retire from. On the other hand, it’s something we must have to survive; it gives our lives meaning. In our culture, we often define ourselves by our work.

“I’m not sure that ambivalence is so bad. Some of us are painfully aware of the extremes, whether too little or too much work. But it seems clear we are wired to find meaning in or as a result of our work. We want to provide for our families, to help others, to give something of value to society. Our work allows us to do those things. But it should not and cannot be everything to us.

“This musical, Working, based on the book by Studs Terkel,seeks to explore the many dimensions of work – the good, the bad, the confounding. In doing so, we hope it lays bare some of the hollow and insidious ways work can impact us. We hope it reveals our own insensitivity about others’ work. We hope it makes visible and gives dignity to the many people who serve us each day in ways we often fail to see. We hope it celebrates those who have labored on our behalf to make our lives better, especially our parents and those before them. We hope it resonates with the Old Testament reminder that finding satisfaction with work is a gift from God, as well as the New Testament exhortation to do all our work as if for the Lord. 

And no one could be more blessed than I am to do work that I love and in such a supportive place with such a gifted and energetic company of young artists. May you all find such meaning as you work in this community and beyond.”

Theatre in Scotland & England: ‘A Crucible of Culture and Conversation’

Professor Mark Stevick, center, with students at All Soul’s Church in London.

If all the world’s a stage, the United Kingdom is the host and this year marks the 18th consecutive theatre trip there for Gordon professors and students. From August 10-26, 2012, Mark Stevick, associate professor of English, and Norm Jones, professor of theatre arts, will lead 30 students—the most enrolled since the course began in 1995—for a week in Edinburgh, Scotland, and a week in London, England. This year also celebrates the 300th student to participate in the study abroad seminar.

What began as a two-credit elective course has now grown into a four-credit interdisciplinary exploration of such subjects as history, art, English, creative writing, theatre, psychology, and communication, which fulfills core requirements for the aesthetics theme in the Gordon core. Here’s how poet and creative writing professor Mark Stevick reflected on the history of the class as well as their upcoming trip:

“The two-week trip is a crucible of culture and conversation, one that inspires the leaders for another year of making art, and makes some indelible life memories for the students.

We used to travel right after commencement, and in those years our itinerary included places like Dublin and Galway (Ireland), and in England, Bath (with its Royal Crescent and Pulteney Bridge—twin to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence), Stratford-Upon-Avon (home of three very different theatres and to the Bard’s crypt), Oxford (with a cooling pause at the Inklings’ Eagle & Child pub), and Cambridge (there to savor an evensong at King’s College Chapel)—and, always, London.  Day trips have taken us to Salisbury (tallest spire in the UK—at 400 feet) and nearby Stonehenge (big gray stones; little red poppies), to Ely (named for its eels, and home for a decade to Oliver Cromwell), to Coventry (with its massive Graham Sutherland tapestry behind the altar of the 1962 cathedral, itself verging on the ruins of the Nazi-bombed 14th-century cathedral), and, in Ireland, to the Aran Islands, to James Joyce’s tower in Sandycove, to Glasnevin Cemetery, chaste resting place for the 19th century’s greatest English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and to the village of Kinvara.

In 2004, we switched to an August trip to take advantage of the thousands of theatre, dance, music, spoken word, and nearly unclassifiable performances in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival. We see as many as we can in one week: Jeff Miller, professor of theatre arts, manages three shows a day on most days.

We’ve honed our approach, so we can offer a lot of culture for a little green. Classes occur in the morning, usually with a latte, often in one of the several lobbies of London’s Royal National Theatre, or in an atrium at the foot of Arthur’s Seat at the University of Edinburgh. Continue reading

The Passion (Play) Reimagined

The last days of Christ on earth have been the subject of numerous passion plays around the world. But a new play imagines those dark days from an unusual perspective, that of Judas. From March 6-26, Jeffrey S. Miller, professor of theatre arts, will be heading to Minneapolis, MN, to direct Kingdom Undone, Jeremiah Gamble’s new play that focuses on the interaction between Judas and Jesus. (Gamble was one of Miller’s former students who performed last year at Gordon as well.) Kingdom Undone premieres at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, March 22-April 8. Miller’s director notes offer this perspective on the project:

“In seeking to preserve da Vinci’s 15th century painting The Last Supper, well-meaning restoration efforts have added oil paint, glue and shellac to maintain the work over the centuries. While it’s likely we would no longer have this classic piece had not such effort been made, the most recent restoration, completed in 1999 and carefully executed with the latest scientific techniques to get as close to the original as possible, has revealed that Da Vinci’s colors were much more vivid than any had previously expected.

This seems an apt (if limited) metaphor for Kingdom Undone. The original witnesses to the events of this play have told a story that has changed the world – a fantastical, tragic, astonishing and inspiring record. Over the years, it has become laden, covered and burdened with all manner of theological, philosophical, linguistic, social and cultural ‘stuff’ intended to preserve but sometimes blunting the vivid impact of the original. Continue reading

Salem: Coming to Peace with The Witch City

Just in time for Halloween weekend, Kristina Stevick, artistic director of Gordon’s History Alive! considers (in her recent Faith + Ideas = column) how the spooky, zany holiday shouldn’t be the only thing Salem, Massachusetts, is known for. (Her editorial column was also reprinted in The Salem News.)

By Kristina Stevick  Salem, Massachusetts, where I work, is a city with a complicated personality. She absorbs the historians, artists, college students, ministers, preservationists, Wiccans, psychics, and mediums who live here, and beckons about a million visitors per year.

Halloween (October 31) to locals is not a day, but a “season,” and during the other four, Salem is still “Witch City.” The broom-straddling hag, vixen, or sweetie—depending on your perspective—is the official emblem of cop and high school athlete alike. Though Salem is also a world-class destination for art and culture, a stunning seaside community and a showplace of antique architecture, the witch on the broom has practically jabbed the Sumatran pepper trader off the city seal.

I imagine John Winthrop, the Massachusetts Bay Company’s first governor, might be surprised. When he admonished the migrating English colonists to be “a city on a hill, the eyes of all the world upon [them],” his sermon outlined how their New Jerusalem could be A Model of Christian Charity:

Read the rest of her recent Faith +Ideas= column here.

Kingdom Undone

Miller_Jeffrey_2008_11_21_03_02_36From April 11-17, professor of theatre arts Jeffrey S. Miller will be in the Twin Cities area for a production workshop on a new musical entitled Kingdom Undone. Still in development, Kingdom Undone represents the largest venture to date for the Theater for the Thirsty, a small theater company based out of Minnesota. Working with theater colleagues and a few of his former students on a staged reading of the musical, Jeff will help to put the final touches on the production before a demo recording scheduled for May of this year. In an announcement on their website in December, the play’s creators described the musical as follows:

“This project is bigger than anything we’ve done in the past. We’ve written a rough draft, had a few informal readings and are currently underway with writing the music. We aim to create a show with the theatricality, humor and contemporary feel of Godspell, along with the drama, depth and passion of Les Mis– and it all centers on the story of the passion week of Jesus.”

Disciplines Mix in Salem’s Old Town Hall

114The Gordon College Institute for Public History has launched a public lecture series in Salem’s Old Town Hall, a historic building dating back to the early 1800s. The series opened with a lecture from historian Richard Francis that was covered by CSPAN and continues on February 17 with a talk by K. David Goss, assistant professor of history, on Salem and the Civil War.

The College’s work on Old Town Hall–led by Goss, Cliff Hersey (dean of Global Education), and Kristina Stevick (director of the Institute for Public History)–represents its commitment to interdisciplinary ventures. In addition to the lecture series, the building houses performances of the original play Cry Innocent, commissioned by Norm Jones, associate professor of theatre arts, and written by Mark Stevick, associate professor of English. Currently, the College is working with the city of Salem to transform the first floor of the building into a museum of public history.

For more information on the lecture series, which also features a presentation by associate professor of history Tal Howard next month on his forthcoming book, visit oldtownhalllectures.com.