The Dramatic Work of Rich and Joyce Swingle

MWF Off-Broadway

11.30.12 07:14 PM Comment(s) By Rich

Fifteen MasterWorks Festival students now have their first Off-Broadway credit!

Performing Off-Broadway in
Theatre 315
Our play was The Jeweler’s Shop, written by a young man named Karol Wojtyla, who would eventually become Pope John Paul II. The profound insights into marriage that a celibate man brought to the world are mind-blowing. I watched as couples in our audiences poked each other when the truths of the play hit them. Many told our actors how specifically the play spoke into their relationships.

We were encouraged in our choice of the play, which--as the title suggests--revolves around a jeweler’s shop. Being Polish, the pope set that shop on Krakow’s market square. One of the orchestral faculty at the Festival connected with one of our theatre faculty and one of our students at the South Bend Airport as they were all arriving. The French horn instructor told them how she had just picked out wedding rings for her fiancé and herself at a jeweler’s shop on Krakow’s market square. You can see a readers’ theatre performance that tells the story here:

Because the play called for about half of the number of students we usually have in the theatre program, we cast two students for each of the main roles. We used the setup for a very unique exercise: All the students were on stage for each performance, and a number of times they had no idea whether they would perform the role for which they’d prepared or remain a part of the “wall of humanity” watching the drama unfold and leaping into smaller roles as required. The instant before the play was about to begin I would walk up to the two gentleman who had prepared to play the role of Adam, the narrator of the story, and I would hand one of them a note telling him who was playing all of the roles. He would give the others their assignments during the context of the play, so that they, too, wouldn’t know which part they’d play until the audience saw them cast in that role by Adam. Some of the students were terrified by this approach, but all of them overcame their fears and gave professional-level performances. Because they performed with different actors throughout the month they really had to listen to each other in each moment, and it brought a new level of awareness, concentration, flexibility and connection to their fellow actors.

The MasterWorks students
were so talented! I wish I
wouldn't have come alone.
Next year I'll invite lots of

--Rachel Prozeller
New York City
The exercise paid off, and many, including Dr. Patrick Kavanaugh, the director of the Festival felt they gave the best performances yet for the theatre program. People came up to our actors with tears in their eyes, thanking them for their great work. Jan Fields, a counselor that works with couples, called the production a “jewel.” Elizabeth Pepper said that watching both performances gave her additional insight into the Pope’s words. She spoke to the cast the morning after their second performance in a suburb of Pittsburgh and told them how each cast was totally unique and totally professional in the level of their work.

In all we had a dozen performances: four in Winona Lake, where the main Festival takes place, two near Pittsburgh and six in and near New York City. It was remarkable for the students to get so many performance opportunities because in theatre one of the best teachers is the audience.

One of our students gave me permission to share a very special story: During the first week of the Festival she asked me if she could be the one to share after our performances and invite the audience to give to the Festival. After hearing her story I heartily agreed! She didn’t have any money to attend the program, but received a half-scholarship. Then, when it looked like she’d have to walk away from that scholarship, her university provided a scholarship for the other half! After our final performance she went on to share how we had done an enacted prayer for her friend. She had shared earlier in the Festival how this friend was in a coma. My wife Joyce, the Festival’s Director of Spiritual Care, led a week of devotions with our theatre students. After one of Joyce’s devotions the student said she was afraid that her friend would not survive the coma. We did an enacted prayer, something we do every year on the second Wednesday after an hour of comedy improv. Typically someone portrays the person giving the prayer request so that they can watch it with perspective, but we were having a difficult time finding a young woman to step into her role. One of the women I asked told me that she sensed that the Lord wanted the young woman to portray herself. We followed that impulse. I played a part of the Trinity, and we immediately circled the young woman and comforted her. Then we circled around a young man on the floor who portrayed the young woman’s friend. We “breathed” into him and lifted him to his feet. We led him over to the young woman, and he hugged her. Then we, as the Trinity, circled the two of them with a heavenly hug.

The next morning the young woman reported that her friend had come out of his coma!

The young woman explained how the experience had enriched her faith, and she recently updated us: "He's doing really well, he's back in school and getting healthier by the day. His mother was grateful for all the prayers and support on our end, she said it was such a comfort to know the extent that God was present in their lives."

Every year that we do enacted prayer we have students and faculty tell us similar stories of how the Lord moved after we all saw it happen on stage, agreeing together for the outcome.

The comedy improv was led this year for the first time by MWF alumna Kaelen Carrier.  We had four students in the Long-Form Improv track, but several of the other students would work with them when they were not in rehearsals. Their intensive work also played into the whole group as we worked together to delight through improv. Viola Spolin, considered the mother of American improv, believed that the work done through improvisation is as powerful a learning tool as Stanislavski’s Method. Improv teaches spontaneity and role training, two vital skills for every actor.

Patricia Mauceri blessed our students for the seventh year in a row.

Her insights from her Juilliard training and thirty years of working as a professional in the entertainment industry brought a huge wealth of knowledge to our students, especially as she met with them one-on-one to talk about their characters and their personal lives.

Patricia’s testimony of how she walked away from a fourteen-year role on a television program because they handed her a script she was uncomfortable performing still reverberates through the theatre program and the campus at large.

For eleven years I've coached people in businesses on their presentation skills through Graceworks. The principles which help them make tremendous breakthroughs were taken directly from acting techniques, so it was wonderful to take this fine-tuned workshop I have been presenting all over the world to major firms and bring it to our actors. I’ve long wanted Carol Doscher, founder of Graceworks, to lead a MasterClass, and The Jeweler Shop made this the right year because so much of the play is spoken directly to the audience. The workshop laid the foundation that taught our students to succeed in this element of the production. After the workshop Carol coached some of our students, and that led to major breakthroughs for them in their work.

Philip Telfer, creator of the documentary Captivated: Finding Freedom in a Media Captive Culture, preached one Sunday morning at the Festival, focusing on how media can become an idolatry, and how it effects the way each of us think, even if we don’t plug into media. He referenced a study of media’s impact on a Polynesian island that had never had television before. Soon after it was introduced eating disorders began to appear in a culture that never had them before. They did a followup study ten years later and found that people without television were beginning to fall into eating disorders because the society had become so fixated on body image. Immediately after Philip’s sermon we launched a 24-hour tech fast for our theatre students. They weren’t allowed to use their cell phones, laptops or any other electronic device to access media or the internet. The students’ overwhelmingly resistant response confirmed the need to help them sense when media is becoming an idolatry, especially since they’re considering careers so immersed in media. It gave them a concrete way to pull back from it and lessen its impact on their lives, decisions and goals. The one exception to the tech fast was when we screened Captivated for the whole Festival, after which Philip answered questions. The next morning he debriefed our tech fast with our theatre students and told more of his story. For them to hear from someone who used the gifts and talents that he had to partner with other professionals to bring about a first-rate project was truly inspirational, but the biggest take-away was Philip’s demonstration of how we are part of God’s story, a concept that takes the pressure off of making life about ourselves. I thought it was our best MasterClass to date, and Patricia Mauceri confirmed, saying the very words I’d been thinking.

Steven Arcieri of Arcieri and Associates Talent Agency joined students for an impromptu early morning breakfast. He spoke about his work as a commercial talent agent for voiceovers and celebrity endorsements. He also shared some personal examples of how artists (and agents) in the entertainment industry must often make hard choices to honor their faith.

On our free day in New York some students went to museums and shopping, while I took the others on a tour of the 9/11 Memorial. I told them how I had written and staged my one-man play Five Bells for 9/11 and shared my recollections of what I had heard on the tour previously from Ann Van Hine. Ann is the widow of one of the men whose story is told in my play. She speaks after Five Bells every chance she gets. She wasn’t able to join us on the tour, but she spoke after one of our performances. She shared how our play about marriage had spoken to her. The Jeweler’s Shop features a woman whose husband died in their youth. Ann also shared how the Lord had comforted and healed her and their two daughters after her husband was crushed in the lobby of the South Tower. Next year she plans to give us the tour of Ground Zero herself.

I wanted our students to meet a number of media professionals at a single event, so I arranged to have Euna Lee share about her arrest and imprisonment in North Korea after she and fellow journalist, Laura Ling, were exposing human trafficking between North Korea and China. MasterMedia--a network of Christian media professionals founded by Larry Poland, who spoke at MasterWorks in 2010--also invited their members, and when Megan Alexander, host of Fox News’ Inside Edition, learned of the event she offered to interview Euna Lee for our students and invited guests! The event drew more media professionals than we had hoped. You can see a news piece that was done about the event below. Some of the media professionals joined our students upstairs to talk about their work, and then we went back downstairs to do an enacted prayer for some of their ministries.

We took our students to see Freud’s Last Session, a two-man play that ran for over two years, which is an extremely long run Off-Broadway. The play showed an imagined meeting between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis. One of the reasons the play ran for so long was because Freud’s ideas are given free reign. In a secular city like New York that approach packed in the audiences. But Lewis’ views were also given free reign. His testimony of how he moved from atheism to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is told in great detail, as are a number of Lewis’s thoughts on life, culture and scripture. We were blessed by a talk-back with the actors after the show. The man who understudies both roles came out first while the other two were getting out of costume and make-up. The three actors entertained questions for the better part of an hour, and several of our students and the parents of one of our students were able to get their queries addressed.

It’s always been part of my vision to let students know about faith-based projects outside of the Festival, and we saw two of this year’s students land roles through casting notices I sent out during the course of the year: Sam Carr performed for In His Steps, a web series in which his portrayal was voted the favorite character, and Brandon Langeland landed a role in the upcoming film Christmas Grace, a movie in which I also have a role.

We’ve been pleased to watch our students get into well-respected acting programs like the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, Biola University, Regent University, Belhaven University, Gordon College, Azusa Pacific University, University of Southern California, the American Shakespeare Center, Media Village in South Africa, Melbourne’s National Institute of Dramatic Arts, and the list keeps growing.

I’m thrilled that we’ll be heading back to New York next summer, and I know that from the planning sessions we’ve already had, that next year will be even more successful!

Find out about next year’s program, and then audition soon.

For a report from last year's program, click here.

Share -