Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Setting the stage for fun and outreach

September 24, 2012 01:40 PM

By Sarah Gioe


The stage in the parish hall of Christ Lutheran Church in Newburgh was being used for storage. As a thespian and recent high school graduate in 2009, Laura Donovan was looking for an opportunity to direct. She noticed the great stage at her church and asked if she could put on a show. Her youth group provided the initial funding; the property committee renovated the stage to include track lights, footlights, and curtains. Donovan chose a play, held auditions, ran rehearsals, and after two performances of The Brothers Grimm Specatculathon, she had raised $1,000 for the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. "It was incredible," says Donovan.


That was the beginning of the Basement Stage Theater. Three years later, the theater is not only a labor of love for Donovan and the congregation, but a community outreach tool as well, as they put on plays every summer. For the most recent show, Clue: A Murder Mystery, an open casting call through Facebook brought 12 people from the neighborhood to auditions. The cast and crew ranged in age from 10 years old to senior citizen, as church members and local thespians came together to rehearse, sew costumes, and build a set. A little money in the budget allowed them invest in lights and sound.


In addition to drawing on the community for actors, Basement Stage welcomes the wider community to the audience. "It can be hard to get people who don’t go to church into a church even for a play. The actual act of community outreach is a real challenge but this year we did a phenomenal job," says Donovan, now a senior theater major at Mount Holyoke College. "We reached out to sources the public would hear about. We had interviews with local newspapers, radio commercials, and signage. We used our own website and social media. Also, we’ve been here for three years now and people have heard about us."


The results were fantastic. The local paper, the Times-Herald, wrote up Clue as a "must-see" event for the weekend. The play sold out all four nights and the mayor of Newburgh attended. The following Sunday, Mayor Judy Kennedy attended worship at Christ. "The timing was incredible because that day during the liturgy we prayed over a list of outreach ministry ideas we have been working on in this parish," says Pastor Ernie Mossl. "The mayor gave her input to those ideas during coffee hour. She and I had a wonderful conversation about the plights and hopes of the city."


"The production brought several hundred people into the church and showed again that the church lives in the world," says Pr. Mossl. Basement Stage Theater has become its own entity now, to Donovan’s surprise. "We started out with zero dollars—it was just a crazy dream so I could get some experience. Now we’re even talking about having another show in January," reflects Donovan. "I do it because I really love it. I feel really great giving back to the community this way."



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