The exciting road ahead with light and spectacle

Muhlenberg College plans to welcome in new performances throughout the weekend of Dec. 2-5

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Photo courtesy of the Muhlenberg Office of Communications

The fall semester is coming to an end, however, the Muhlenberg campus is still alive and well this upcoming weekend, with live performances and emotional spectacles. The Muhlenberg theatre department plans to put on the final performance of the season with an exciting collection of plays “The Saint Plays” by Eric Ehn. This riveting production will take place in the Studio Theatre while the Egner Memorial Chapel will welcome back a long-standing Muhlenberg tradition. The Advent Candlelight Carols will return on-campus to mark the continuation of this important performance and to invite first-year and second-year students to experience the performance for the first time in the traditional manner. 

“‘The Saint Plays’ are based on the stories of different Catholic Saints. The playwright Eric Ehn turns the saints’ stories on their heads and presents a radical view on each one. The Muhlenberg theatre department is specifically focusing on six of the stories: ‘Wholly Joan’s,’ ‘Incide,’ ‘Tree of Hope Keep Firm,’ ‘16670,’ ‘The Freak’ and ‘The Song For the End.’ We hope that the audience is taken through a spiritual journey as they enter the space,” mentioned Savannah Hastings ‘22.

“I’m so proud of this show. Being in New York during the rehearsal period was tough, but the creative team had such specific visions for their art that they made composing the music a breeze.”

– Zach Montenegro ‘23

Hastings is directing the play “16670,” which focuses on the pains of the past and how difficult it is for one to reconcile with it. Hastings explained why she selected the piece, declaring, “The writing itself painted a vivid picture in my mind. Eric Ehn handles the subject so carefully and realistically. He exposes the pain of the person who has to tell the story of Maximillian Kolbe.”

The talented cast for “16670” features Jake Watzman ‘22 as Kolbe, who’s story is retold from the past in the piece. “Every single person involved has put a ton of passion into the project and I really believe it comes across. There are so many horrifyingly beautiful moments that wouldn’t be possible without the amazing cast and crew that we’ve got,” Watzman stated. 

The characters in each play are portrayed by various actors from the Muhlenberg community, with select actors portraying more than one role, but each play has a unique cast. The whole company does come together for the ending performance, however, to perform “The Song For the End.”

“When running our rehearsals we did it as if we were running our own performances. We each have our own stage managers and company,” Hastings declared.

Lauren Koranda ‘23, the production stage manager (PSM) for the entire group of plays, mentioned, “Being a part of ‘The Saint Plays’ as PSM has given me the chance to sit at the convergence of five different pieces, most of which are student-directed, and participate in conversations to find where they overlap in both a dramaturgical and technical way.”

The piece is one of the five emotional plays, as mentioned above, which are directed by a variety of students and James Peck, Ph.D., the chair of the theatre department. 

“Seeing one play after the other is very powerful. It feels like you’ve wandered into the mystic vision of a prophet or seer. It’s weird and beautiful and moving in an oblique way that’s hard to pin down but nevertheless palpable. Taken as a whole experience, the production invites a sort of meditative response that I think many audience members will find to be a source of succor and respite in these hard times,” Peck stated.

The powerful piece that ends the collection of plays is titled “The Song for The End,” and was composed by Zach Montenegro ‘23. 

“I’m so proud of this show. Being in New York during the rehearsal period was tough, but the creative team had such specific visions for their art that they made composing the music a breeze,” mentioned Montenegro.

The Candlelight Carols is another powerful and musical piece hosted in the Egner Memorial Chapel this weekend which combines various choirs from across campus in collaboration with the music department. The piece celebrates the Advent season with traditional aspects of scripture amongst performances from the various choirs, such as the Women’s Ensemble.

Rev. Janelle Neubauer, the College’s chaplain stated, “Candlelight Carols is about togetherness. That togetherness of course means gathering for each of the services as a congregation, but also points to working alongside so many others at the College to bring this meaningful service to life.”

Kailani Reis ‘24, a performer for the Women’s Ensemble, mentioned the excitement of the piece and the return of Candlelight Carols back on campus. “I am excited because I have never done an in-person Candlelight Carols. We did an online version last year but it was all pre-recorded singing that was spliced together and it’s very fulfilling and emotional to sing as a whole group again,” Reis stated.

“Choral Directors Dr. Chris Jackson and Dr. Néviton Barros have been so important to this process. While the service itself follows a similar outline each year, our choral directors are responsible for shaping the service with songs and lyrics that bring new and deeper meanings to the texts we share,” Neubauer declared.

“For all who are attending and watching, I am hopeful that this service will point to the reminders of times past when unexpected hope has arrived in our midst, bringing new life and reviving our spirits.”

– Rev. Janelle Neubauer

Katie Harris ‘24 described her experiences with the rehearsal process in preparation for the concert and praised the work of Jackson, Ph.D., as they work to bring the musical pieces to life. Harris stated, “I sing in both Chamber Choir and Women’s Ensemble and so far I have found the rehearsal process to be pretty manageable. I’ve done holiday concerts in the past where the music directors don’t always consider the needs of their choirs and push them too hard, and Dr. Jackson is really careful not to do that. The rehearsals haven’t been too long or strenuous so far and they’ve been a lot of fun.”

“I’m so excited to witness the entire chapel filled with the candlelight and the beautiful acoustics from all three of the Muhlenberg choirs,” mentioned Isabelle Peters ‘24, a Women’s Ensemble member.

The performances will hopefully impact audience members across Muhlenberg College with vocal performances and theatrical plays. “The Saint Plays” takes place at 8pm on Dec. 2-5, with additional performances at 2pm on Dec. 4 and Dec. 5. The Candlelight Carols will delight audiences on Dec. 4 at 7:30pm and Dec. 5 at 3:30pm and 7:30pm, with the latter performance being live-streamed as well. 

Neubauer stated, “For all who are attending and watching, I am hopeful that this service will point to the reminders of times past when unexpected hope has arrived in our midst, bringing new life and reviving our spirits.”

“I’m hoping the audience will understand that it is okay to struggle with the past. These stories are hard to tell, let alone understand. We just have to take it one moment at a time. We are the storytellers now,” Hastings finalized. 

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