by Paula Gail Benson
Each year, I write a Christmas musical that is performed as a dinner theater at my church, St. Paul’s Lutheran in Columbia, S.C., during the first two Fridays following Thanksgiving. I thought I was ahead of the game this year. By mid-summer, I had worked out a story about a hobo storytelling contest during the Great Depression and developed roles that fit the folks in our company of St. Paul’s Players. I even had many of the musical numbers ready.
Then, one of my Players had a terrible accident, falling from a ladder and breaking ribs. He kept telling me he was working to recover, but those kind of injuries take time. By the end of summer, he regretfully told me that he would not be able to participate.
He encouraged me to cast someone else, but I’d written one key role with him in mind and wanted him to have the chance to play it. About that time, I went to Killer Nashville and, with friends, attended God Help Us!, a show starring Ed Asner in the title role at the Franklin Theater.
|Libby Penland, Jillian Carey Bigony, Kristen Coulter, Brenda Byrd, Jim Jarvis, Reggie Hall, Tim Clark, Janie Fulmer|
I read Carol’s story and liked it very much, but its main character was a thirteen-year-old girl. My company of Players were all adults.
|Jillian Carey Bigony, Kristen Coulter, Libby Penland, Brenda Byrd|
|Libby Penland, John Arnold|
|Jillian Carey Bigony, Kristen Coulter, Jim Jarvis, brenda Byrd, Libby Penland, John Arnold, Reggie Hall, Tim Clark|
This year, I truly experienced “if you build it, they will come.” Members of the company brought friends and family members to join us. Our cast increased to nine people, John Arnold (the mysterious man), Jillian Carey Bigony (the mother), Brenda Byrd, Tim Clark, Kristen Coulter, Janie Fulmer, Reggie Hall, Jim Jarvis (members of the town and Hooverville, which I named BeHooven), and Libby Penland as our thirteen-year-old Patty Shepherd. Margaret Davis made me believe I had some talent as a song writer. She helped me organize the music and took on a solo. Malechi Doren and William Paddock signed on as our accompanists and musical transcribers. Dean Long provided lights and sound and Billy Itter ran our spotlight.
Our audiences responded lovingly to the heartfelt nature of the story. We received some of the kindest compliments we have ever had.
In one last dramatic turn, our videographer had a stroke before she could film the production. Fortunately, she received the immediate care she needed and is recovering. (Thank you, Heather Coats, for the photos in this message. We love you and hope the healing process is speedy!) I found a group on Facebook and put out an urgent appeal for help. In true show business fashion, the show went on and we have it taped for posterity and for Carol, who cheered us on from a distance. We’ve held off our cast party hoping she and Bruce can come celebrate with us.
So, another opening, another show. This time, with a great deal of help from my friends.