‘As It Is In Heaven’ crew studies up on Shakers | SummitDaily.com
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‘As It Is In Heaven’ crew studies up on Shakers

LESLIE BREFELDsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc
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BRECKENRIDGE – Step into the 1800s utopian experiment in communal living of the Shakers via the Backstage Theatre next weekend. “As It Is In Heaven” director Lennie Singer along with the cast and crew researched the religious experiment in depth in order to create the play’s setting of the real 1838 Shaker village in Pleasant Hill, Ky.”They got their name Shakers because when praying they would get so enraptured with prayer people would sing and stomp their feet and actually start shaking,” Singer said.The setting of the play takes place during the zenith of membership for the Shakers when there were about 6,000 individuals in 19 communal villages, according to PBS.The entire cast watched the documentary, “The Shakers,” by Ken Burns to understand their character better, the director said.”When doing a period piece, it’s important to understand who these people were – how they act and even how they speak,” Singer said.Choreographer and one of the nine women in the ensemble cast, Maria Cheng studied the dance movements of the Shakers for the many “so-called musical numbers” in the play, she said. “It was an integral part of their worship and service,” Cheng said. The members of the Shaker community were always segregated between men and women, and although they would be in the same hall for worship, it was always group dancing, never a male and female dancing together. The practice, along with celibacy, came from the group’s founding prophet, Ann Lee, whom they called Mother Ann. Membership was kept alive through new recruits and Singer said people joined for any number of reasons, including simply not having anywhere else to go since the Shakers didn’t turn anyone away.Cheng said the movements of the Shakers’ dances were simple – walking, hopping and marching, yet the patterns they made on the floor could be very complex. “An entire pattern of dance could form a letter E or form a letter U,” she said. Singing and dancing was not reserved for worship either; they often sang while they worked and had barn dances for fun, Cheng said.

“When doing a period piece, it’s important to understand who these people were – how they act and even how they speak,” Singer said.Choreographer and one of the nine women in the ensemble cast, Maria Cheng studied the dance movements of the Shakers for the many “so-called musical numbers” in the play, she said. “It was an integral part of their worship and service,” Cheng said. The members of the Shaker community were always segregated between men and women, and although they would be in the same hall for worship, it was always group dancing, never a male and female dancing together. The practice, along with celibacy, came from the group’s founding prophet, Ann Lee, whom they called Mother Ann. Membership was kept alive through new recruits and Singer said people joined for any number of reasons, including simply not having anywhere else to go since the Shakers didn’t turn anyone away.Cheng said the movements of the Shakers’ dances were simple – walking, hopping and marching, yet the patterns they made on the floor could be very complex. “An entire pattern of dance could form a letter E or form a letter U,” she said. Singing and dancing was not reserved for worship either; they often sang while they worked and had barn dances for fun, Cheng said.

The play’s title, “As It Is In Heaven,” is derived from part of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven,” and is indicative of the Shakers’ belief that heaven is perfection.In charge of costumes for the play, Mary Lorch said of the group, “Everything had to be done perfectly. They were incredible craftsman and woman. It was a part of their whole lifestyle.”Lorch described the style of dress as similar to that of the Quakers of the past or today’s Amish. And while she created the dresses and shawls, the hats were ordered specifically from a Shaker tourist village.Singer also ordered flat brooms and is looking to order clothespins – two inventions of the Shakers – from sites that were formerly occupied by Shakers.

The set itself utilizes fundamental Shaker architecture with a single beam.”Everything in the Shaker community was symmetrical,” Singer said. “Everything had to be clean and simple.”Singer was challenged to keep true to the Shaker lifestyle while also giving the production a theatrical feel that would be enjoyable to the audience.She said she and set designer Phil Cope mainly used lighting to set the different moods, which kept the set minimal.”In its simplicity, it’s very complex,” she said.

The play’s conflict centers around the eldress Sister Hannah, played by BJ Knapp, and Sister Fanny (Nikki Heffner), the newcomer to the group, who begins to see visions of angels.”The show really deals with breaking the rules of society and how rumors can cause pain and suffering,” Singer said.Cheng also commented, “What’s interesting about this play, the playwright lets you see each of the women came to the community for different reasons and with different backgrounds. The play explores how each woman’s private agenda adds to the tension or commonality.”Tickets for the Backstage Theatre’s production of “As It Is In Heaven” can be purchased by contacting (970) 453-0199 or http://www.backstagetheatre.org.

What: Regional premiere Where: Breckenridge Theatre, 121 S. Ridge St., Breckenridge When: Opens Friday, May 26 at 7:30 p.m. and will run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through June 17. A special matinee is scheduled for Sunday, June 4 at 2 p.m. Tickets: $15. Call (970) 453-0199 or http://www.backstagetheatre.org. Reservations recommended, walk-ins welcome.


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