This past fall, Olivet Nazarene University Theatre, like many theatre departments across the country, faced the challenges of producing shows amidst pandemic protocols.
Director Ashley Sarver ’15/18 MBA realized that a unique way to maneuver the various roadblocks, specifically for licensing with the approaching spring productions, was to create an original piece. Sarver spoke to this in an ONU news release.
“As Christians with the gift of story-telling, it is our job to provide quality content that points people to truth and light,” Sarver said in the news release.
Using her own professional background in directing and producing new works, and her passion for creating Christ-honoring productions, Sarver recruited the help of her students, co-workers and colleagues to begin the process.
Beginning to write
To start, they needed to decide on a story that would allow them to glean from good source material. As the author of 8,000 hymns within the public domain, and as a Christian woman living in the 1800’s, Fanny Crosby’s life was the perfect choice.
In what should have been a six- to seven-year process, Sarver and her team defied odds and wrote twenty-four original songs accompanied by an original script within the matter of months.
“God’s hand was in it all,” Sarver said. “The right collaborators, instrumentalists— everyone came together to form a team to compose, notate, record and write the script.”
New Works Program
The creation process of the musical has proven to be an invaluable learning experience for all those involved, especially the students. With that, the musical has become the launching point for the New Works Program at Olivet.
“At Olivet we have the ability to teach and incorporate our Christian values into our productions,” Sarver explained. “We want to prepare students to be lights in this industry, teaching them how to create and to use storytelling as a service for the glory of God.”
As part of the teaching process, students were given the opportunity to participate in workshops for the musical to enhance and explore all that the script could be.
Freshman Marisa Constantino, who stars as Fanny, said in the release, “Being a part of creating a show from scratch has been very eye opening.” She continues, “It is a tiring process, but having a finalized script is so rewarding because it’s a reminder that all our time rehearsing and finalizing the story was not for nothing.”
Constantino and other cast members have agreed that being involved to this capacity in producing the show has been so influential on their growth as actors.
“I think the most exciting and challenging part of the process was creating the character of Fanny,” said Constantino. “I have been able to learn a lot about how to develop this character genuinely from Professor Sarver and her vision for the show, and that has helped me grow into a better actress and storyteller.”
Since its primary stages of development, Still has evolved to become a modern retelling of Fanny’s inspiring life story, and what was intended to be a simple story has developed into something deeper than the cast and creators could have imagined.
“Fanny’s story tells our story,” Sarver said. “The hope is that all of us can see bits of our own journeys in hers.”
Experience the story
The virtual premier of Still will be on Friday, April 9, and will continue to be accessible for on demand streaming through December 25. Tickets are $20 and available at olivet.edu/tickets.