Director's Note

May 2008

 

There are a myriad of reasons as to why I’ve chosen Godspell as Westhill High School’s first student-run production. Firstly, there is freedom. The freedom Godspell affords its director is essentially all but limitless. In fact, a key component often missing from other productions is the tailoring of the book (and its references) to the times and place the piece is being staged – as advised by the playwright. This allows for every incarnation of Godspell to effectively stand on its own, serving and mirroring its intended audience. Likewise, its director is meant to shape its tone, extrapolate its themes, and discover its sense of humor – all the while listening to and learning from their cast. 

 

Which leads me to character. Each and every actor I have cast in this production is the source material in terms of how their character’s been crafted – collaboratively becoming heightened versions of themselves. Usually, this is showcased by the actors playing themselves; using their own names instead of those of the original cast. My cast, however, preferred to keep those of the originals; to embrace the separation between their ego and their role – to maintain a sort of reverence for those that came before them. 

 

This brings me to legacy. The first show I ever performed in was Onondaga Hill Middle School’s Godspell Jr., in April of 2004, at Onondaga Community College. That same year – while this auditorium was being renovated – the high school did its own Godspell downtown at the Oncenter. Now, four years later, it’s the first show I’ve ever directed; my last high school production; and the first time that this show will have been performed in this new space – thus making it full-circle in every possible way. Also, make no mistake, my leads are purposefully sophomores – entrusted with the duty of maintaining our stage as sacred. 

 

If nothing else, my hope is that you leave our show assuaged; assured that the theatre is alive within these walls – and more so that, “anything is possible if you’ve got enough nerve.” 

 

Yours,

 

J.R. Westfall

A Godspell Q&A

 

Where and when does the show take place?

 

Although it can be anywhere at any given time (in the Common Era), this particular production of Godspell takes place in New York City, in a vacant street alley, somewhere west of Queens; modern day.

 

Why does each character have their own individual color?

 

As I see it, each character’s essence or personality is part of the larger whole – which, of course, is Jesus…or God – however you prefer to phrase it. But it is because of this that each of his followers bears a singular color, that – when combined together – form the Body of Christ. This is why Jesus wears white, {the composite of every color}; while Judas, the betrayer, is clad head to toe in black. The rest are as follows:

 

Fuchsia (Joanne): Confidence, congeniality and grandeur – the only fully saturated color not visible on the spectrum of light – it exists at the highest frequency.  

 

Red (Sonia): Passion, purpose and self-sufficiency – somatic by nature.  

 

Orange (Jeffrey): Abundance, pride and creativity – the color of youth.

 

Brown (Herb): Resilience, humility and comfort – raw umber is one of the oldest pigments used by humans in artwork.

 

Yellow (Gilmer): Loyalty, joy and ingenuity – often considered electric.

 

Green (Lamar): Harmony, growth and gratitude – always of the Earth.  

 

Cyan (Peggy): Friendship, order and tranquility – like a bright, cloudless sky. 

 

Indigo (Martha): Wisdom, conformity and justice – it manifests awareness.

 

Violet (Robin): Intuition, faith and enlightenment – commonly worn by royals.

 

Each character receives an item from Jesus – what are they, and why?

 

All of Christ’s followers receive an item of clothing throughout “Save the People”, and each of them is given from a part of Jesus’ body, unique to the character receiving it – completing their costume – almost as if it was brought just for them. In the original production, this gesture of kinship was done through the use of clowning, with each of the actors painting their faces and branding themselves with color. In ours, however, the idea is found objects; things that can be worn and taken with the person after their encounter with Christ. Joanne receives an arm warmer; Sonia a boa; Herb a wallet; Jeffrey a bandana; Gilmer her missing hair tie; Lamar his shoes; Peggy her glasses; Martha a bracelet; Judas his gloves; and Robin a ring. 
 

Why are there no ensemble members in this production?

 

There is a certain level of intimacy I think Godspell really requires, one that a cast of twenty or more would render all but futile. Moreover, the original Off-Broadway production featured only ten principals, with a five-person pit band and a handful of crew. Here you’ll find the exact same formula – with one minor exception: the character I’ve added myself. She sings the harmony in “By My Side”, and she’s the soloist in “Beautiful City” – fittingly, a song later added to Godspell. And I have so named her after two distinguished women: the first is her Biblical namesake (the sister of Lazarus), who saw her brother rise again thanks entirely to Christ; and the second’s our first FLOTUS, who witnessed the birth of our nation, and whose presence was deemed essential on the front lines of the Revolution. 

 

Do any of the other characters have Biblical equivalents?

 

Yes, while Jesus, Judas and (now) Martha are apparent, each of the other followers is rooted in Biblical canon – specifically a “role” they play throughout the course of the show. Joanne is the “rich man” whose crops yielded bounties; Sonia is a prostitute to whom Jesus would have ministered (more specifically, here, she is the “master of two servants”); Herb embodies Lazarus, always hungry for more; Jeffrey is the “prodigal son”, prone to making mischief; Gilmer is the “good soil”, capable of greatness; Lamar is the “sewer”, who is taught how to harvest; Peggy’s the “good Samaritan”, gentle and kind; and Robin is Mary Magdalene, mixed with bits of Priscilla – two of Christ’s disciples and early leaders of the church.  

 

What is the “Tower of Babble”, and who are its Philosophers?

 

The “Tower of Babble” is the prologue to the show, and can be interpreted many ways. In my conception, it’s a tale of the progression of Western civilization, and the once contrarian beliefs that truly helped to shape it. The Philosophers wear robes of black because they are free from time and space, existing in a void of sorts, known as the Akashic Record – where all of their thoughts and proclamations live on infinitum. What’s more, each of the characters embodying them has been chosen with a purpose. Joanne does everything first, so of course she must be Socrates, whose mistake of not repenting juxtaposes “Bless the Lord”; Robin’s sense of devotion makes her perfect for Thomas Aquinas, as, according to the score, his faith is considered to be “romantic”; Jeffrey is Galileo because they face a similar trial, the former’s nature and the latter’s discovery at odds with the Catholic church; Martha and Gilmer are Da Vinci and Thomas Edwards, because the former’s sense of creation is consistent with “Beautiful City”, while the latter’s harsh judgments ring true of “Learn Your Lessons…”; as green is too the color of greed, Lamar plays L. Ron Hubbard – whose faith was based in nothing other than the money he could steal; Sonia embodies Sartre – the father of existentialism – because, due to her profession, she feels cynical and alone; Herb is Buckminster Fuller, the humblest of the lot, who was said to look at public appearances like “an alert little clergyman”; and lastly, there is Peggy, who {technically} recites the rest of Sartre – but having added Martha, I needed another name. And as the Philosophers for this number are constantly interchanging, I thought that Charles Darwin would pair best with Jean-Paul Sartre – after all, Darwinian existentialism is most definitely a thing. 

 

Other Philosophers that have been used in other productions:

 

Martin Luther, Edward Gibbon, Friedrich Nietzsche, Marianne Williamson, Georg Hegel.