About the hymns used in BEND US

hymnbookAs musicals go, Bend Us is unusual in a number of ways.

  • It is a near-even mix of historically accurate hymns, mostly sung a capella, and contemporary compositions sung with an accompaniment track.
  • The first act contains mostly solos, one duet and one trio; the second act has several ensemble numbers.
  • The music is used primarily for emotional impact rather than to move the story along.
  • The scene in Act 2 called “Transformations” is entirely underscored, is 17 minutes long, and employs 45 light cues! About a dozen different hymn tunes are played or sung during the scene, which shifts from chapel singing, to newspaper reporter Awstin interviewing individuals about the revival, to scenes featuring an increasingly angry and critical Rev. Peter Price.

Here is a list of the hymns you will hear during the play: Continue reading

Characters in the play: historic or fictitious?

BEND US imageI confess that I had never heard of the Welsh revival until Dave Frincke shared his script with me. But it has become increasingly obvious how much reading Dave has done on the subject.

For example:  A scene feels long–I suggest cutting the hymn, since it feels extraneous. “Oh no,” says Dave. “That hymn is strongly associated in all the accounts with this incident.”  So we find another solution.

Many of the characters portrayed are historic, including:  Evan Roberts, Sidney Evans, Florrie Evans (no relation to Sidney), Annie Davies, Peter Price and William Griffiths. In come cases, what is known about a character is very slight, which has allowed the playwright some freedom to use his imagination, and his knowledge of the revival at large, to fill in the blanks.

Florrie Evans (played by Amanda Gordley) is the best example of this: we know

afO actress Amanda Gordley holding a photo of the historic Florrie Evans, whom Amanda portrays.

afO actress Amanda Gordley holding a photo of the historic Florrie Evans, whom Amanda portrays.

that she stood up in a chapel service and declared her love for Jesus Christ. We know that the others present were stirred by her words and a sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence. There was weeping and confessing. And the young people decided on the spot to visit other chapels and share their testimonies. Dave has made Florrie one of the central figures of his play, and uses her parents to represent two other Welsh populations: the coal miner and the traditional lukewarm church-goer.

More is known about Reverend Peter Price (Jeff Salisbury), pastor of Bethania Chapel in Dowlais and an outspoken critic of one of the key figures of the revival, Evan Roberts. In the second act, Peter Price’s letter to the Western Mail (a Welsh newspaper) is quoted verbatim.  Nathan Smith portrays Evan Roberts, a dynamic young preacher, and several key scenes in the play are based on well-documented events. Some include Roberts’ own words.

Rev. Seth Joshua (John Dunlap) appears in one brief scene. He is credited with originating the metaphorical phrase, “Bend us!” which is a plea for God to help the believer to fully surrender to His perfect will, and this is depicted in the play.

While the events of the revival are interesting from both a historical and a spiritual perspective, they don’t necessarily provide a typical story arc, although Peter Price is antagonistic towards Evan Roberts. The central conflict of the play is provided by the fictional characters, as they react to the revival and its effects on the culture. These specific characters, though not historic, are yet acting consistently with everything we know of the events of the times.

For an excellent overview of the revival, please check out this post on the blog, Welldigger, written by a Welshman whom Dave visited several times. He has prepared this summary as an accompaniment to the play.

Some of the cast of BEND US, at Taste of the Arts on August 29, 2015.

Some of the cast of BEND US, at Taste of the Arts on August 29, 2015.

What in the world is “BEND US”??

BEND US image

Introduction:  A musical?  Really?

Things have been hopping at all for One behind the scenes!  We moved to new corporate offices last September, and into a new theater in April. It is long past time to give you all a glimpse of what you will see when we open our 2015-2016 season next month, with our first-ever world premiere musical!

all for One has not been known for producing musicals, although we do often incorporate music into our plays. A Sentimental Journey included vocal music of the 1940s, with live piano. Last year’s A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas included folk music from the late 1800s, accompanied by members of the Hearthstone Ensemble. We have included choreography on occasion, whether to interpret a scene emotionally (e.g., Tilly), because a scene takes place at a dance (e.g., Emma) or just because it’s fun (e.g., The Princess and the Goblin)!  Appropriate (recorded) incidental music is a significant feature of all our Home Stage Productions…often the music is original.

But a full-fledged musical is not something we’ve attempted. Broadway-style musicals are costly, and there are other companies locally who already make them a specialty. So producing musicals on a regular basis is not what we are called to.

A unique opportunity

However, in October of 2013, Dave Frincke was introduced to me (Lauren, afO’s Artistic Director), by a trusted mutual friend. Dave is the worship pastor at Heartland Community Church, and had written the score for a local musical (The Twelve) several years ago. This time, however, he had written the book and lyrics as well. I was recommended as the person who would be “brutally honest” with him about the script. I had never heard of the Welsh Revival of 1905, but I was intrigued by Dave’s backstory. My initial reaction ran to three pages, single-spaced.

“Thank you, first of all, for the step of faith of allowing a comparative stranger to read your script, Bend Us: The Story of the Welsh Revival. I began it with great anticipation after hearing the amazing story of how you were compelled to write it.”
(P.S. I hope to get Dave to write a post telling you the story of how he came to write Bend Us.)

The bottom line, for me, was that the music was wonderful, the subject was compelling and important–but he had not found a theatrical way to tell it. Dave–gracious, humble and open-minded throughout the whole of the past two years–asked great questions. And came back a day later with an entirely new script.

The script, in essence, which you will see in September.

Dave took the vast reading he had done, along with interviewing and visits to Wales, and used this to imagine an appropriate historical back story for one central character of the Revival, Florrie Evans, about whom virtually nothing is known beyond her standing up to testify in a chapel meeting. He gave her a mine-worker father, and a spiritually-cold mother.  Dave also found a dramatic way to introduce the dissenting voice of those who opposed Evan Roberts, the most prominent preacher during the Revival.  He wove together historic a capella hymns and his original words and music.

afO onboard!

The result  of all Dave’s effort is a gripping story. In the course of meetings to go over dialogue and scene structure, Dave had invited me to direct the eventual production. I would only be able to do that during the summer, and I tentatively said yes for the summer of 2015. Then in the Spring of 2014, afO was approached by Arts United to consider making the ArtsLab our new home. I felt strongly that Bend Us could be done on this flexible stage. After talking with the afO board and staff, and with Dave, we added his musical to our slate of shows for this season. I am thrilled to be  bringing this project to the afO stage.

Future posts will include more on the historic elements, with links to great further reading, coming in our next post. For now, here is a listing of the cast for our world premiere. You will notice a number of new names.

JOHN–Andrew Bower*
RHYS EVANS–Kevin Keats*
ANNE EVANS–Teresa Bower
FLORRIE EVANS–Amanda Gordley
SIDNEY–Colin Aumiller*
REV. PETER PRICE–Jeff Salisbury
ENSEMBLE (all play multiple roles):
Susanne Aschliman*
Bridget Bogdon
John Dunlap*
Richard Halquist*
Ruth Keller
Christine Newman-Aumiller
Tod Mohr*

*Actors making their afO Home Stage debut