Lauren E. Nichols is one of all for One‘s founding members. She is the company’s principal playwright, (A Mighty Fortress, The Redemption of Ruth, A Sentimental Journey, etc.) and frequently directs Homestage Productions.
It would be easy to pigeonhole all for One as a “performance ministry” which produces God-honoring drama in our community, in our schools and in churches. But the phrase coined by founder Sharon Henderson in our company’s infancy is still true today: “Drama is the means but not the end of our ministry.” We are about people: encouraging and assisting them to achieve their goals, teaching skills, creating opportunities, and through it all seeking to be the Body of Christ to everyone we meet.
Frogs, Dogs and Sloths (oh my!)
Let me illustrate with two great new experiences from the past month, people-driven activities which involved drama, but so much more. In June, the Young Playwrights’ Competition was test-driven in two clubhouse programs sponsored by Taylor University-Fort Wayne, at Huntertown Lutheran and at Zion Lutheran in Fort Wayne. Thanks to the generous underwriting by Great Lakes Pediatric Surgeons, over a hundred children (kindergarten to fifth grade) had the chance to write an original two-page script. Twelve judges read all the contributions and chose two winners and two honorable mentions from each clubhouse. All eight top playwrights got beautifully-framed certificates, the winners received a selection of age-appropriate books, and the top two plays from each clubhouse were produced by afO actors and performed for the teachers, students, and their parents..
As one of the judges and one of the actors at Zion Lutheran’s clubhouse program, I got a firsthand experience both of the value of the Playwrights’ contest and the strong clubhouse programs. I saw proud ecstatic faces of winners, heard delighted laughter from the audience—children and adults—who watched Frog and Sloth, and The CD She Had to Have (I wish you all could have seen Ron Stauss as my miniature greyhound named Collie…). I had the pleasure of watching and listening to the concert the children presented that same evening, a selection of songs and readings which gave us some idea of the richness of the month they had spent in this program.
Most of all, I had the privilege of being directed by Rebecca Sanchez, the Young Playwrights’ Festival coordinator. Rebecca brought us this vision, and it will become a reality during the coming school year, culminating with performance showcases next May in the theater at the Allen County Public Library. This extraordinary actress/director has a passion for children’s theatre, boundless energy and a depth of creativity and imagination when it comes to staging the simple stories written by the children. I performed in two pieces, perhaps six minutes long in all, and felt as if I’d run the Boston Marathon. I am eager to see what Rebecca will be able to do with longer pieces on which students have had more time to work. I’m excited when I think about the power of story being unleashed in young lives, and the impact that this project will have on many of our city’s young people, as they find—perhaps for the first time—that they have a voice to express what’s in their heads.
The Beginning of a Beautiful (Creative) Friendship
In May of this year, during the run of American Primitive, I had the pleasure of meeting local playwright Ruth Tyndall Baker. I had heard Ruth’s name several times in the past few years, but we had never connected before. She was delighted with our production, and began to tell me about her long and frustrating search for a local company who would produce one of her many original plays. I said I was interested in reading some of them, and she soon brought me several to read. One, A Christmas Key, was especially promising in content, as the kind of piece that all for One would like to produce. There were some issues I thought needed to be addressed, some rewriting to be done, and we talked about these things. In fact, Ruth was both gracious and appreciative of feedback from a relative stranger, a reaction which impressed me. However, I had no idea whether she would actually make any changes to the script.
To my surprise, I got a phone call from Ruth within six weeks, telling me that she had finished the rewrites and the script was ready to be read aloud. I told her I wanted to gather a group of all for One actors to read her play for her. I felt sure she would be pleased with our talented readers, and was excited by the opportunity to share in someone else‘s creative process…in the past, the only new scripts we’ve read have been mine.
Monday, July 7th, six of us gathered in the living room of Ruth’s historic home off West Main. We were joined by our mutual friend Joan Bromelmeyer, and a lovely young woman who had been boarding with Ruth while working on an internship. Sharon Henderson, Lorraine Knox, Dennis and I, Ron Stauss and Michael Wilhelm made up the cast, but we felt as if we were audience, too. How we laughed at the comic moments as they arrived! At least once, I was fishing for kleenex in my pocket; we breathed a collective sigh of satisfaction when we reached the end. After light refreshments, we regathered and talked through some observations and questions. I told Ruth how impressed I was by the quality of the rewriting…the subtle changes in dialogue really pack a punch, and the script is really ready now for a first staging. It’s possible that all for One will select it for our 2009 – 2010 Homestage season.
But whether we do or not, this has been an all-too-rare chance for us to encourage a fellow theatrical professional as she hones her craft with integrity and perseverance. Ruth’s play with its themes of forgiveness and reconciliation is a rarity in contemporary theater: a play which is about the true spirit of Christmas. Best of all, the spirit of mutual encouragement and fellowship in her living room left me with an afterglow which lasted for days.
In September of this year, all for One will celebrate its 16th anniversary. We are still a small company. But “small” in size doesn’t limit us in terms of influence. I love this quote from our friend, Pastor Jon Swanson. (This appeared in his blog some time ago.)
“Big is about consumers. Small is about artists. Big is about changing people to your world. Small is about preparing people to change their world.”
Through the Young Playwrights’ Festival and through our contacts with Ruth Baker, I believe all for One is indeed preparing people to change their world.