PLAYING OUR PAST
These plays were written to be presented during a church service; whether or not you opt to produce a play in church, school, or somewhere else, some of the following suggestions may prove useful to you.
We have found that two general guidelines are especially helpful: orient the audience to the play, and include the audience in the play.
Orient the Audience
A. Announce to the audience or congregation several weeks ahead of time that a special "Heritage Sabbath" or "Heritage Day" is nearing and that they might want to consider dressing the part for that day. We always have a number of people, other than the actors, who do so.
B. Consider a heritage weekend. Our Heritage Weekend is held annually on the Sabbath closest to October 22. Early advent hymns are featured at Friday night Vespers; stories of pioneer missionaries are told in Sabbath School; the play is presented during the church service; and a special potluck meal (featuring more baked beans and cornbread than lasagna, perogies, and curry) is held afterwards.
C. Have a separate program for the play. In it you can include historical notes, a scene-by-scene synopsis of the play, words to hymns if they are not readily available to the audience, short character sketches, even pictures of the main characters – anything that will make your presentation more understandable. Included with each play are some suggestions for a program.
D. Have a short period before the start of the play to orient the audience. During this time, the pastor or producer not only gives announcements, but also states the real purpose of the offering, gives a brief background to the play, states where the hymns may be found, and leads the audience in prayer.
Include the Audience.
The audience should be participants in each play, whether they are costumed or dressed in their usual clothes. To encourage this, most plays include a meeting scene. At the start of the meeting, many of the actors and other costumed participants enter from various points of the building and sit throughout the audience. The offering is generally taken during this part of the play (ushers are also encouraged to dress for their role), a short prayer is offered, and one or two advent hymns are sung by the entire audience. In this way, whether or not they are in costume, the members of the audience do not feel like they are just watching history being enacted, but rather like they are participating in it: Seventh-day Adventist heritage is their heritage.
Staging the plays should be relatively simple if you keep in mind that the audience should not be focusing on the furniture and props on the stage, but rather on the action and ideas of your presentation.
Included with each play are suggestions for arranging furniture on stage. The following pieces of furniture are very useful:
A. Two small, old, lightweight pews. These work well for seating at a meeting, but quickly covered with an afghan, can double as seating in a home. If such pews are unavailable, chairs can be substituted, although they are not as versatile.
B. A small podium. This is used for meetings or, when books are placed on the inner shelf and the podium is turned around and topped with a plant or picture, it doubles as a bookshelf in a home.
C. A wooden table, wooden chairs, and an oil lamp.
D. A pump organ. This is not necessary, but if one is available, it can add an air of authenticity to your play.
It is not difficult to find costumes for these plays. Keep in mind that most of the pioneers (especially those featured in "The Legacy of the Unfinished Chamber") were not rich people, so simple clothes are best.
For the women, long skirts (preferable dark) and long-sleeved blouses are appropriate. Shawls add a nice touch, as do hats, especially for meetings. For the latter, you can be very inventive with a bit of meeting or a dark scarf and an old hat found at the Community Services Center or hidden away on a shelf at home. For less formal occasions, women may want to add an apron to their basic costume.
Men are even easier to costume. Dark trousers and a white shirt will often suffice. A bow tie (especially the narrow type with long tails) and simple suspenders will heighten the effect. For main characters, especially in meeting scenes, you may want to consider renting coats and top hats from a local costume shop. Farmers will find plaid shirts appropriate with their dark trousers.
Using appropriate music adds to the effectiveness of a production. There are special sections in the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal and the Church Hymnal respectively entitled "Early Advent" and "Early Advent Hymns." Dates of composition are sometimes available (especially in the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal) so those who are organizing the music can avoid choosing a hymn written in 1853 for a play set in 1844.
Advent Singing (compiled by James Nix and available from the North American Division Office of Education) is a valuable supplement to the hymnal. The hymns are classified chronologically: Millerite Advent Hymns, the only ones appropriate for "Two More Days"; Pioneering Sabbathkeeping Adventist Hymns, especially applicable for "The Legacy of the Unfinished Chamber", "The Blessed Hope", and "Making Us a Name"; and Early Seventh-day Adventist Hymns, some of which are appropriate for "Light and Shadow" and "The News from Minneapolis."
Of course, any of the early hymns can be used for plays with later settings.
Distribution of Duties
Having one person responsible for the entire production of one of these plays is not desirable. We have found that three people, each with his or her own duties, but each helping and consulting with the others, has worked well. We usually distribute the tasks as follows:
1. Producer: has overall responsibility for the production. Works with the script writer in researching the topic for the play, and in outlining the scenes. Casts the play and contacts the actors; distributes the script; arranges for practice times; arranges costumes (we have collected some shawls, long dresses, top hats, wire-rimmed glasses, and bow-ties) and costume rentals; provides basic furniture including pump organ, and oversees production of the printed program.
2. Script writer: does research; writes the play; helps the producer cast the play; helps producer with the printer programs; and plans the music.
3. Director (stage production): directs practices; decides on staging matters such as how furniture is arranged, where entrances and exits occur, and how microphones are shared; advises actors on interpretation of their parts; and helps provide furniture.
The work of the script writer is already done for you, and some of the work of the producer and director; nevertheless dividing the duties among several responsible people or committees will not only increase your enjoyment of the play, but will also increase the number of people who are involved with their Adventist heritage.