In 2014 Glenn put me in our Christmas musical, Bethlehem. It was the only time I’d ever done a role on our stage. He cast me as the devil. I learned the lines, which were not all that much easier to memorize just because four years earlier, I’d written them. I learned where Glenn wanted me to be when I delivered the lines, and even though I had to cavort around the stage, then run up a small mountain while singing a very intense song, I have to say I enjoyed doing the role. The only thing I didn’t like was missing visiting with folks during intermission after the concert. There was no time for that.
I had twenty minutes. As soon as we finished the last song of the concert, I would dash upstairs to my dressing room, toss aside the frock coat, boots, vest, and the rest of my Kid Shalleen of Gospel Music attire. And start spray-painting my beard black. I tried masking tape and a variety of little cardboard shields, but I still managed to paint the inside of my ears and side of my nose many times. Then came the mascara.
I’d never had occasion to use mascara before. It takes some getting used to…both the idea of it and the technique. Touching up the edges and whatever I’d missed with the spray-paint, blacking up my eyebrows and trying not to laugh at how goofy I looked with all this gray hair and a coal black beard I would then struggle into my dress. If there’s another word for it, I don’t know what it is. It looks and feels like putting on a long-sleeved, floor-length dress…complete with the zipper in back. (And why am I placing this picture in your mind of me doing this I’m wondering?) Then, as quickly as possible, I put on the cape, because the cape actually did somewhat restore a sense of masculinity. You can’t help feeling just a little like a superhero with a cape billowing around behind you.
The black curly wig was last, which was, again, something I’d had no previous experience wearing, but that did seem to give me a feeling of becoming someone other than me. Which was sort of disconcerting.
I’ve always been very big on being nothing but me. Never a fan of phony. So I had to figure out the difference between portraying someone in a drama, and pretending to be something I was not. It helped that I’d spent months thinking about, and writing the words I would have to say. I knew Satan. Well, we all know Satan, but I’d spent a lot of time pondering about how he looked at things. I don’t like him, but in a sort of scary way, I think I understand his skewed point of view.
I decided that evil was almost frighteningly easy to play. Or is that just me?
I’m telling you all of this, because Glenn has given me my second role. He has cast me in our new musical, Rhapsody of Angels, our 44th production at Ragtown Gospel Theater. It is far from an evil character. I’ll be portraying the Archangel Gabriel alongside my brother, who will be playing the Archangel Michael.
When he cast me as the devil, he said it was type-casting. I wouldn’t really even have to act. I think he was joking. Yeah, I’m pretty sure he was joking.
But Gabriel? Gabriel is benevolent. Gentle. Wise. Tolerant. He gets riled up but he always feels bad about it after. I am not Gabriel. In a way, it’s much more of a stretch for me than playing Satan, and I can’t tell you how much that bothers me.
Fortunately, I will have my brother by my side. I told him, when I forget my lines, you just day, “What I think you’re trying to say is…”
I did a rough count of my lines today, and for a guy who is used to learning the lyrics to a three minute song, this is going to be…well, what it’s going to be is AMAZING!
Yes, I am expecting this play to be amazing. Not because I’m such a talented actor. Far from it. I have a talented director that I trust. He’ll make be look like I know what I’m doing. But I’m depending on even more than that. Glenn and I have always had a very similar relationship to that depicted between Michael and Gabriel. Two very different guys with overlapping skills. A productive blend of mutual support and just enough underlying competition to make it interesting. We’re brothers. We give each other grief. I have to believe Michael and Gabriel do the same.
Glenn’s passion is acting, but he can sing. Mine is singing, but I can act. He’ll direct me on the acting, and I’ll take the lead on the singing. We may do that brother thing once or twice…bow up and stomp around. Probably not, but we could, because we’re real, and this is a big creative collaboration. But it won’t happen often, and won’t last long, because aside from love, we have a lot of trust and a lot of respect for each other. We’ve been partners, first in business and then in ministry, for twenty-five years. And partners with our wives. You gotta know God’s in that deal.
So as I venture back behind that big red curtain that I normally stand in front of, I couldn’t be more excited about what we’re going to discover. I’m as proud of this play of any I’ve been privileged to write. It offers up a perspective on the birth of Jesus that I believe will make a lot of people think about things they’ve never considered. And just maybe we’ll all get a glimpse of the angels that are the vigilant, unseen, relentless participants in our lives. Maybe we’ll think about them living right alongside us, protecting us in ways we can’t fathom, until that glorious day when we see clearly how loved we always were….not only precious to God the Father, Son, and Spirit, but to a host of faithful individuals we never acknowledged, who were right there in the midst of our battles, standing in the breach by God’s direction, providing a way of escape when we were trapped in one of the enemy’s snares.
And aside from all that…I’m excited because I don’t have to spray-paint any part of myself this time.
Rhapsody of Angels begins November 2nd and continues through December 15th. I hope you’ll start making your plans to attend now. We’ll be sharing more about this production as the opening gets closer.