CSA teens tackle full-length ‘Godspell’ in two weeks

CSA teens tackle full-length ‘Godspell’ in two weeks

Cody Walls has a cast of 27 actors and singers who range in age from 13 to 18 — and two weeks to put a full-length production of “Godspell” on stage.

The Community School of the Arts has done it the past two summers with “Elf Jr.” and “Legally Blonde Jr.”

“With those productions, we only had 10 days, and we were floored with what the actors were able to accomplish in such a short time,” says Walls, who is also director of theater for CSA. “We added a few days this year to give us two full weeks, but it is quite the challenge!”

The students spend eight hours a day, six days a week in rehearsals, “very similar to what professionals in the industry do,” Walls says.

“We often refer to it as the ‘professional summer experience’ because of how fast the entire process is,” he explains. “Students enrolled in the camp and then auditioned just a few days before rehearsals began for placement within the show.

“A lot of prep work goes into this summer production,” he adds. “The set is already constructed, costumes are easily pulled, props are built and ordered, we hire a fantastic lighting designer and sound designer. All of these elements, including me and my co-director, are managed by a stage manager.

“We learn music, block, and choreograph everything within the first week. Then we throw the cast on the stage for four days of tech prior to opening.”

“Godspell” was selected after students lobbied for a full-length show, not a junior version.

“I love anything Stephen Schwartz has written — I mean, ‘Pippin’ and ‘Children of Eden’ are two of my favorites,” Walls says. “I listened to ‘Godspell’ and read the script, and I knew we had to do it.

“The show is not preachy — it delivers parables in a modern light that audiences can connect to. It’s challenging, but the messages of community, forgiveness, kindness, and mercy are so essential to life right now. Not only is the show a great growing and learning opportunity for our young people, but also a great production that can move and resonate with anyone who watches it.”

The choice made, Walls went with the updated 2012 version of “Godspell,” but “we are really taking our own spin on it.”

“We really want the audience to be included in the entire process,” he says. “We have many moments of actors being in the audience, talking to the audience, and completely breaking that fourth wall. We have very minimal and simple costumes with a very simple set. We did not want anything to distract from what the show is about. We even have some surprises in store for the audience where we pull a few people up on stage. All that to say, this version is very different from what the writers originally produced.”

Walls admits “Godspell” is testing him as a director.

“The music is certainly challenging, but balancing the material’s flashy and exciting aspects while keeping it powerful and meaningful is the hardest part,” he says. “Throughout Act I we watch these normal, everyday people transform into this group of believers who are committed to passing on these stories of love, inclusion, and forgiveness.

“We have to build these relationships and emotional base between the characters so that the events in Act II really hit the audience. We, as a team, must take the audience on a journey where they are just as much a part of the story as the cast.

“While the show is a lot of fun, most of the text, especially the musical lyrics, are taken from the Gospel according to Matthew,” he points out. “The purpose of the show is not just to be entertaining, but to communicate important philosophical and moral concepts in a more relatable fashion. That is very hard.

“My favorite line is ‘building a beautiful city of man’ from the song ‘Beautiful City,’” Walls says. “Despite demographics and background, ‘Godspell’ stresses the importance of unity in a ‘beautiful city of man.’ I hope audiences walk away remembering that. The show celebrates what makes each person unique and inspires us to love and appreciate each other just a little bit more. What message could be more special?”



WHEN — 7 p.m. July 28; 2 & 7 p.m. July 29

WHERE — King Opera House in Van Buren

COST — $12-$18

INFO — csafortsmith.org/godspell-tickets

Categories: Family Friendly