International Christian Film Festival Awards

Tonight the International Christian Film Festival Awards will be aired on TV and online.

Here are the nominations for which I might have gone to the stage:
• Represented A Matter of Perspective for Best Short Film

• Performed and served as Acting Coach on One Day, which was nominated for Best Short Film

• Represented Mike Hill for Best Director of a Short film for A Matter of Perspective

• Coached Andrew Hurt, who was nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Short Film for One Day

• Was nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Short Film for A Matter of Perspective

• Represented Hudson Michael Hill for Best Lead Actor in a Short Film for Mission Underground, for which I was a consultant

• Represented the Hill family for "Father Daughter Dance," which was nominated for Best Animated Film

• Represented the Hill family for "Father Daughter Dance," which was nominated for Best Student Film
I got to go up three times, so if you forgot which ones, don't look them up so you can enjoy the suspense! The third time, they cut what I said after the director.

Here's an article on the event: International Christian Film Festival Exceeds Expectations.

Here's how to watch:

Web/Social:

IOS & Android Apps
Search TATV (IOS Apps being updated)

Android is Available

Watch the trailer below, or if you received this via email, click here.

Restoring Fellowship

Joyce celebrates Father's Day by teaching on Matthew 27:45-56. She mentions the confirmation of my grandfather's Salvation. Opening by Pastor Jim Warren. Communion by Dr. Linda Warren.

Click the arrow below, or if you're reading this in an email you can click this link, to play the service:



This service is available for download free on iTunes, where you can also subscribe to our podcast. Search for "Westchester Chapel" on the iTunes Store.

If you want to more about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ visit www.WestchesterChapel.org/Salvation.

Photo courtesy of NicolettiPhoto.com.

Treasure Seekers will share some exciting news this Sunday

Trevor has been having adventures up north, and on Sunday you'll hear an amazing story about a translation of the Beatitudes and how they can bring life to our lives.

Click the arrow below, or if you're reading this in an email you can click this link, to play this ad for Treasure Seekers:



If you want to more about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ visit www.WestchesterChapel.org/Salvation.

Renew the Love!

Joyce teaches on the Book of Ruth, which is read every year at the Feast of Weeks, celebrated by the Church as Pentecost, which falls today. She referenced Ezekiel 1:1-28, 3:12.

Pastor Rachel Taylor opens and prays over the service. Call to worship by Melanie Solomon, who also reads John 14:16-17.

Pastors Jim and Linda Warren renew their marriage vows and are commissioned by the board as the new co-lead pastors of Westchester Chapel.

Click the arrow below, or if you're reading this in an email you can click this link, to play the service:



This service is available for download free on iTunes, where you can also subscribe to our podcast. Search for "Westchester Chapel" on the iTunes Store.

If you want to more about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ visit www.WestchesterChapel.org/Salvation.

Photo courtesy of NicolettiPhoto.com.

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Registration is now open for the 2017 Rocky Mountain Christian Filmmakers Camp, and we have a surprise opening! Send an email to the address on the Registration Page at www.ChristianFilmmakersCamp.com.

Celebrity Confessions: Live from Broadway

I've been cast in an exciting New York City production, Celebrity Confessions: Live from Broadway, which opens June 12!

We'll be baring our souls and sharing how Jesus Christ met us in our lowest valleys.

Among the cast I have four friends involved:

Daniel Knudsen, Joyce Swingle,
Kristina Kaylen, Patricia Mauceri
and me at the NYC premiere
of Courageous Love
Patricia Mauceri (Courageous Love, The Farmer and the Belle, One Life to Live) and I have worked together for more than a decade. She has worked alongside James Earl Jones, Christopher Plummer, Richard Dreyfus, Johnny Depp and many, many more.

Joyce and me with Jim Chandler
and his wife Jenn Gotzon.
Jenn and I are each holding
our Best Lead in a Short
Film awards at the International
Christian Film Festival.
Jenn Gotzon, who has performed in five films with me, and her husband, Jim Chandler, who's been in over 35 film projects. I was a producer on the NYC footage of their film The Farmer and the Belle in which I also played Jenn's character's manager.

Donna East at Comedy Strip Live,
where she's hosted several events.
My friend of two decades, Donna East, will be opening the show. She is a comedienne who has performed around the world with the USO.

I've been blown away during the rehearsals to hear surprising, shocking, healing, encouraging things from friends I've known, in some cases, for decades! I'm so blessed by these folks!!!

The director and producer is Jordan Scott Gilbert. I met Jordan a couple of years ago through Mastermedia. He is the first recipient of Broadway Global's Producer of the Year Award.

Broadway World ran a great article on the production.

Watch my Schedule if you'd like to be sure to see me in a performance, and save the service fees by using the code RSwingle when you buy your tickets at the door: Actors Temple Theatre, 330 West 47th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenue). You can also buy tickets in advance at St. Luke's Theatre Box Office, 46th St., between 8th and 9th Avenues, New York, NY 10036. Be sure to check box office hoursFor Group Sales click here, and use the code when you pay by check.

We're actually putting together a group for the July 24 performance, which will provide you with a $30 savings over the deal that follows. If you're interested in joining us, shoot us a note through the form at the very bottom of the page. Be sure to let us know how many tickets you'd like to reserve. We'll email you information on how and when to pay.

We are now offering 20% OFF of all ticket sales exclusively through www.TelechargeOffers.com with the code CELEB01 (enter it in the box at the top - left hand side of the page).  To go directly to this offer, you can also click here.
Friends, the producer has kindly set up a system whereby the actors can earn a commission from your tickets. After you purchase your tickets using CELEB01 I'd be SO grateful if you would send a personal email to info@oceanbayentertainment.com before that performance begins with the subject: CELEB01, and in the body of the email: your first/last name, # of tickets, final sale price, show date, and RSwingle, as illustrated below:

Subject: CELEB01
John Smith
2 Tickets
TOTAL SALE PRICE 
RSwingle

We've discovered other discounts online.

Please help spread the word: Like our Facebook Page and join our Facebook Event!

*Parents should know there are themes of addictions and brokenness mentioned en route to wholeness in Christ.

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Registration is now open for the 2017 Rocky Mountain Christian Filmmakers Camp. We have one unexpected opening! Email the address on the Registration page at www.ChristianFilmmakersCamp.com.

Lamplighter Theatre

Crystal Van Artsdalen, Rebekah Stought,
Rachel Marley and Morgan Fairbanks
have been my students at MasterWorks
 and The Rocky Mountain Christian
Filmmakers Camp
.
I played several roles and served as Afghan accent coach in the audio dramas Escape from the Eagle's Nest and The Giant Killer for Lamplighter Theatre, part of Lamplighter Ministries (www.Lamplighter.net).

When they're finished in a few months they'll be broadcast on about 2,000 radio stations around the world. The Giant Killer is now available for pre-order, and on that page you can hear my voice in the Behind the Scenes Recordings at 19 seconds and 1:23.

Both stories are based on books by A.L.O.E., which stands for A Lady of England. It was the pseudonym she used to get those and many other books published in the 1800s.
In the booth with Israel Oyelumade,
Rachel Marley and David Sanborn.

After I was cast as a cook (to perform the role, not to actually prepare food), I was asked to recommend someone who could play an Afghan who grows from a little girl into a married woman. I recommended some of my students, and they chose Rachel Marley. Besides being my student numerous times she was on our performing arts team in Sochi during the 2014 Olympics. What a delight to work with her and have several scenes together.

A few weeks after they cast Rachel, producer John Fornof told me there were visa issues. They used to record in London, so that's where all their contacts are. John’s US contacts are union actors. He asked if I could get the word out to my nonunion contacts in case the visas did not come through since just about everyone besides Rachel and I were coming from the UK. This was the first time they invited people to watch the process, so dozens of observers were signed up, coming to Mt. Morris, NY, from as far as North Dakota.

Nathan "Nato" Jacobson and I have
been a part of four films together.
I sent out about 350 emails to students and colleagues who turned in 189 auditions. John and executive producer Mark Hamby said they had perfect peace about the situation and were sure the visas would come through but if not, God would provide. When the final word came that the visas were denied John and team went through all the auditions in two days, normally a two-week process! The casts were announced on Friday and Saturday and we began recording on Monday!

Garry Nation and I (who share three
film credits
) got to play giant brothers:
He was Sloth, and I was Selfishness.
The only one from the UK was Israel Oyelumade, who volunteered his time to bypass the need for a visa! Before I performed Beyond the Chariots for the community he shared how the Lord had led him to play Jesus in a massive Passion play. It was done outdoors with 300 actors.

I was delighted that Lamplighter Theatre cast four of my students, and that I got to perform with colleagues from numerous films. My friend David Sanborn was cast in twelve of the 17 roles for which he auditioned, and then he picked up others along the way.

Working with so many great friends in and of itself made it one of my favorite weeks, but the highlight came through a new friend, Akmal. Patrick Powell the director of Escape from the Eagle's Nest found him on an internet search. Akmal lived his first twelve years in Southern Afghanistan, where the story takes place! He translated passages from The Sermon on the Mount, Revelation and Isaiah into Pashto, and then he came up with a tune inspired by music from his homeland and recorded himself singing the Scripture while he played keyboards underneath it.

John Fornof and I in London where
he directed me in The Dragon and
the Raven
.

Our director for Escape from
the Eagle's Nest
, Patrick Powell,
is one of a very small number
of actors who have performed
St. John in Exile by Dean Jones.
David Sanborn sang the Scriptures with our friend's tune, then he led the rest of the cast humming the tune. We were portraying the Afghanis who began by shouting down the foreigner. Then, as they were hearing words of life in their heart language, sung with a familiar tune they quieted down, and slowly started to join, humming the tune. I got to direct small groups who joined as the Scripture moved along. Once all of them had joined in, something extraordinary occurred. As had happened when he was singing the Pashto translation, David became overwhelmed with what was happening. We were all touched at a very deep level, so much so that everyone observing, including the director, were weeping. Executive Producer Mark Hamby compared it to the tongues of fire that fell on the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2)!

I can't wait to hear how it turns out! Be sure to get the announcement of its release by signing up at www.RichDrama.com/Updates.


Fellowship with Jesus: Lavish Love

Joyce teaches on Matthew 26:1-16 at Westchester Chapel Church of the Nazarene. I open the service sharing highlights from District Assembly and showing my award for Best Actor in a Short Film to my church family who helped me win it! I also mention the story Pastor Larry Mancini tells in my last postPastor Jim Warren leads communion, reading from Hebrews 10, and shares announcements. Jan F. mentions our prayer calendar (prayer updates), to which you can subscribe by clicking here.

Click the arrow below, or if you're reading this in an email you can click this link, to play the service:



This service is available for download free on iTunes, where you can also subscribe to our podcast. Search for "Westchester Chapel" on the iTunes Store.

If you want to more about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ visit www.WestchesterChapel.org/Salvation.

Photo courtesy of NicolettiPhoto.com.

Pastor Larry's Work in Haiti

Larry Mancini was telling me so many profound and marvelous stories about his six (so far) trips to Haiti that I just had to capture one of them...



Here's a link to his Facebook page: To Haiti with Love.

Evaluating w/ Jesus Values: Riches

The morning after I won Best Lead Actor in a Short Film at the International Christian Film Festival in Orlando for my performance in "A Matter of Perspective" our church, Westchester Chapel Church of the Nazarene, celebrated the award!

Dr. Linda Warren teaches on Matthew 19:16-30 and shares her testimony. Rachel Taylor prays over the service and shares announcements, including my award. We watched "A Matter of Perspective" last Sunday, but if you missed it you can see the trailer, and watch for an announcement through our New York City updates for a possible screening in NYC.

Click the arrow below, or if you're reading this in an email you can click this link, to play the service:



This service is available for download free on iTunes, where you can also subscribe to our podcast. Search for "Westchester Chapel" on the iTunes Store.

Rich performed a sketch on today’s passage when he, Joyce and Elizabeth J. were in Romania during the 2012 Olympics...



If you're reading this in an email you can watch the video by clicking here.

If you want to more about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ visit www.WestchesterChapel.org/Salvation.

Remain In Fellowship – Remain Ready

In this service at Westchester Chapel I open the service and introduce the short films A Matter of Perspective and One Day. I also mention Twin Rocks Friends Camp and the Joni and Friends performance that put me in touch with the filmmakers of A Matter of Perspective.

Rachel Taylor teaches on Matthew 24:36-44 and Genesis 6. Dr. Linda Warren prays over the message and over Joyce and my trip to Orlando for the International Christian Film Festival where both films are up for Best Short Film, Best Director and Best Lead Actor. One Day is also nominated for Best Screenplay. Dr. Linda also shares announcements.

Click the arrow below, or if you're reading this in an email you can click this link, to play the service:



This service is available for download free on iTunes, where you can also subscribe to our podcast. Search for "Westchester Chapel" on the iTunes Store.

If you want to more about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ visit www.WestchesterChapel.org/Salvation.

Photo courtesy of NicolettiPhoto.com.

I play a lead in Providence, which you can bring to your area.

Pure Flix Is Getting Attention

The New York Times just did a front page of the SundayStyles section article on Pure Flix: Seeing, and Streaming, Is Believing. Though the title of the article is having fun with the subject, the article is quite fair-minded. 

If I missed one please post it in a comment below. Thanks!

I play a lead in Providence, though it's not yet on PureFlix.com you can bring to your area.

The High School Final

Joyce and I with Cindy on a recent
visit she took to NYC.
Since about 1994 I've been performing in public schools through the invitation of Cindy Sebring.

That year I drove (back when I tried to keep a car in NYC) down to the DC area for a Christians in Theatre Arts conference. I remember the rain was also driving, and my windshield wipers weren't staying up with the volume. I ended up getting there in the middle of a performance by Frank Runyon, the third one-man play I'd seen, after Curt Cloninger and Roger Nelson. A gentleman in the back of the auditorium welcomed me, and after the performance we struck up a conversation. He knew some folks at the Lamb's Church of the Nazarene where I was an intern at the time. He asked me where I was staying, and I told him I hadn't figured that out yet. I didn't tell him, but I was hoping someone would give me a place to stay so I wouldn't have to spend a significant percentage of my savings on a hotel! He invited me to stay with his family, and to join them on Sunday at their church. 

That Sunday I met Cindy. Soon I was invited to perform at a retreat that church was hosting. Cindy offered to drive me to the retreat from DC. 

Soon after the retreat started Friday evening I told the pastor who would be preaching Sunday morning that I'd be happy to write a fresh piece to go with his sermon, but he didn't know what passage he'd be using. At about 10pm Saturday night he said he'd be preaching on John:15:1-17, about the Vine and the Branches. I stayed up until about 3am writing (and rehearsing) The Legend of Billy Branch, which came with some musical interludes. I discovered the next morning that Cindy's room was next to mine and she heard me singing as I rehearsed the piece! 

I'm pretty sure it was on that trip, despite her loss of sleep, that Cindy invited me to perform and teach workshops at her public high school for the first time. In those 23 years she only invited me if her classes were well-behaved, but there weren't many years I missed. 

I just returned from my final performance for her students. She is retiring in a couple of months. It was a very special trip, because these opportunities have been priceless.

This time around I performed The Fall, my one-act piece based on the novel Les Misérables. I shared it with three classes, and after each I followed up with a sociodrama. The first one was short, so I just based it on Les Miz. I engaged them in an exercise which allowed them to express the most valuable thing to them. The winning vote was, interestingly enough, food. My one-act revolves around the bishop forgiving Jean Valjean for stealing his silver, after which the bishop gives him his silver candlesticks. In our scenario the bishop character was a homeless man. Jean Valjean stole his pizza. A police officer brought him back, but Jean Valjean said, "If he stole from a homeless man he must really need the pizza more than I do," at which point he gave him a $5. All of this came from the students. 

The other two classes had just read Fahrenheit 451, a novel about censorship. The title is the temperature at which paper burns. The main character is a fireman, meaning he sets fire to books. I told them some of the discoveries we've made visiting Cuba, ChinaRussia, and two borders of North Korea

The first of those two classes did a sociodrama based on a student who was told by his parents that if he didn't cut his hair he would not be allowed to cut his hair until after he graduated from high school in a couple of years. Afterward I drew from another story they'd read: Death of a Salesman. I pointed out that Willy Loman drew his identity in part from his son, Biff. Tim Keller uses this as an illustration in a sermon on the Breastplate of Righteousness. Then I pointed out that parents who, regardless of motives, have the right to raise their children in the ways they think best, but dictators controlling what their people are able to read and say is a very different thing. 

The last class also brought up a parental scenario, but I brought up the difference between parents and dictators right up front. The students ended up exploring a world in which it was no longer legal for us to speak to people outside of our nation. The main character was on the phone with a friend in Russia. The police knocked on her door and told her they discovered that she was on an international call. She hid her phone, but the police did a sweep of her home and discovered a computer, which the enactors decided in the moment was also illegal. She complained that she had purchased the computer when it was legal to have one. One of the officers told her she should have thrown it out the window when the law was passed. (I pointed out that this was an SAT word posted in the halls of their school: "defenestrate.") In the end the young woman was able to escape with her hidden phone. I asked them if Fahrenheit 451 felt more real after living through a similar scenario. There was an overwhelming agreement that the sociodrama had helped make it more real. 

I hope there will be other opportunities to share my plays and workshops in public schools, so if you know of a teacher who might be open send him or her to www.RichDrama.com


A Clear Leading, one of the plays I've shared at Cindy's school, tells the story of Quaker abolitionist John Woolman, who spoke against slavery a century before our Civil War.

Easter Fellowship: Turn to the One Who Knows Your Name

Joyce teaches on John 20:1-18, and she shares one of her funniest stories from her corporate career! Pastor Jim Warren opens the service with "Happy Resurrection Day" in the numerous languages of our congregation, and Pastor Linda Warren prays over the children and the sermon.

Click the arrow below, or if you're reading this in an email you can click this link, to play the service:



This service is available for download free on iTunes, where you can also subscribe to our podcast. Search for "Westchester Chapel" on the iTunes Store.

We opened with Don Francisco's "He's Alive!" This rendition begins with Don talking about his process of writing the song...



If you want to more about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ visit www.WestchesterChapel.org/Salvation.

Good Friday: Abandonment to the Cross

Linda with Joyce and I just
before the turn of the century.
Tonight Dr. Linda Warren taught on Matthew 27 and Psalm 22:1-11, and as an analogy she shared how she came to the Lord. I was sobbing and sobbing, because she's the one who led Joyce to the Lord when they worked together at Sports Illustrated.

The opening is by Pastor Jim Warren. Readings from Matthew 27 by Pastor Linda, Elizabeth J., myself, and John C.



Click the arrow below, or if you're reading this in an email you can click this link, to play the service:

This service is available for download free on iTunes, where you can also subscribe to our podcast. Search for "Westchester Chapel" on the iTunes Store.

If you want to more about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ visit www.WestchesterChapel.org/Salvation.

Maundy Thursday Fellowship

At our service tonight I read excerpts from Psalm 78.

Pastor Rachel Taylor leads us in remembering the Lord's Last Supper with his disciples. Kimberly A. reads Luke 22:7-13. Tamara W. Reads Luke 22:14-20.

Click the arrow below, or if you're reading this in an email you can click this link, to play the service:



This service is available for download free on iTunes, where you can also subscribe to our podcast. Search for "Westchester Chapel" on the iTunes Store.

If you want to more about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ visit www.WestchesterChapel.org/Salvation.

Photo courtesy of NicolettiPhoto.com.

Written on a Palm Branch

In this morning's service at Westchester Chapel Dr. Linda Warren shares a story about how she wrote Joyce's name on a palm branch on a Palm Sunday about 25 years ago. It brought me to tears! Pastor Jim Warren preaches on John 12:12-19, with readings from John 11:23-27, 12:1-11, Zechariah 9:9, 12, and Matthew 11:28-30. He mentions The Case for Christ, which is in theaters now. Read my review here. Opening and commissioning of our new evangelism program, Mission Accomplish by Dr. Linda. Joyce prays over the leaders of our new evangelism program, Mission Accomplish.

Click the arrow below, or if you're reading this in an email you can click this link, to play the service:



This service is available for download free on iTunes, where you can also subscribe to our podcast. Search for "Westchester Chapel" on the iTunes Store.

Here's the trailer for The Case for Christ, preceded by an introduction by Lee Strobel and followed by an interview with him.



If you want to more about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ visit www.WestchesterChapel.org/Salvation.


The Case for Christ

At the
AMC Empire on Times Square.
This is my new favorite movie, and that's only changed twice since 1981: Chariots of Fire and Risen are the only ones to have held that place in my heart since junior high.

The Case for Christ tells the true story of how Lee Strobel, a hard-boiled, award-winning investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribune set his skills on debunking the resurrection of Jesus Christ to convince his wife to abandon her newfound love for the Lord.

Acting, writing (Brian Bird: Captive, Touched by an Angel), cinematography (Brian Shanley: God's Not Dead, Do You Believe?) are all top shelf. Nothing cheesy about this one, and major papers are agreeing with that.

The worst The Hollywood Reporter could do was imply that the film stereotyped Lee Strobel as an atheist by showing him 'constantly acting like a jerk, including drinking heavily, accidentally terrifying his little girl, and whining to Leslie (his wife), "You’re cheating on me with Jesus!"' Maybe the reviewer missed the fact that this is a biography based on Lee's life.

My wife, Joyce, who was going to journalism school in Chicago when Lee Strobel was writing at the Chicago Tribune, said it was more accurate to say that those actions stereotyped Chicago journalists of the time. She said you had to be tough to make it.

The reviewer goes on to say that Leslie, 'on the other hand, displays infinite love and patience with her husband, proving that — as was also shown in the faith-based film War Room — Jesus makes an ideal marriage counselor.' I know the validity of Erika Christensen's portrayal of Leslie, because part of my own bride Joyce's testimony is that one of her co-workers said, about a year after Joyce gave her life to the Lord, that Joyce's changed life was the first miracle the woman had ever seen.

Also, the reviewer is leaving out the fact that both lead actors are much more nuanced than his review implies. Lee is very caring and loving at times, and it's clear that his investigation into the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an attempt to save what he perceives to be a crumbling marriage. He is deeply moved when he discovers something he didn't know about his father, played by Robert Forster. On the other side, Leslie certainly expresses the pain Lee is causing her through his attacks on Christianity, she raises her voice in numerous scenes, and at one point kicks Lee out for the night.

Forster's single scene was like an espresso: short but with a lot of punch. Another gem of a cameo was Faye Dunaway, playing another skeptic, but one who reluctantly directs him toward Truth.

One of the charming elements of the film is the detailing of the 80s: He drives a Trans Am with his massive mop flopping over his wide collars. He and his wife have worked out code for his pager. A fast call back to the editor is from a creatively marked pay phone. He pops open a flip top soda can. (I whispered to Joyce: "Hope that didn't take too many takes!") And my favorite: "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie-Pop? The world may never know."

At the end of the day that's how Lee Strobel's atheist friend, aptly played by Brett Rice, puts it to him. We'll never know everything. It takes faith to believe or not to believe. If you're leaning toward disbelief I challenge you to see this film without presuppositions. If you still have questions read the book of the same title upon which the film is based. I have more ideas about faith at www.RichDrama.com/MyPassion.

I believe The Case for Christ is pure Truth in its best package yet.

We watched it in a packed house on Times Square, where it received robust applause. The showing after ours was sold out.

Find out if it's playing near you.

It's rated PG for images of the crucifixion, some smoking, drinking and a hospital scene of an injured gang member. At one point a character whispers, "Oh, G_d," and it's unclear whether it's a prayer.



I play a lead in Providence, which you can bring to your area.

Fellowship and Servanthood

Elizabeth J. in the Moses Seat at in the
ruins of Chorazin, Israel, flanked by 
Rebekah W. and Anna S. 
in 2005.
I opened this service at Westchester Chapel mentioning The Hill family, who produced A Matter of Perspective, in which I performed last summer. Pastor Randy Solomon preaches on Matthew 23:1-12. He mentions the film Sing Over Me and shares an illustration from The Insanity of God. Joyce shares about films currently in theaters: Facing Darkness and The Case for Christ (trailer below).

Click the arrow below, or if you're reading this in an email you can click this link, to play the service:



This service is available for download free on iTunes, where you can also subscribe to our podcast. Search for "Westchester Chapel" on the iTunes Store.

If you want to more about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ visit www.WestchesterChapel.org/Salvation.




Pilgrim's Progress

We saw a fantastic production of Pilgrim's Progress last week put on by The Glory Shop. I was proud of Alexis Duperree and Nealson Munn, who were my students at the Salvation Army Conservatory where I teach and direct most summers. Of course Nealson was playing guitar, so I had nothing to do with that, but I was still proud!

The story is a powerful look at how every path but Jesus leads to death, and even once you choose Him there are trials at every turn.

The script is written by my colleague, Tom Key. He stuck with the 17th century language, but he added a brilliant modem interlude, performed by Alexis.

It was creatively staged by Christopher Monroe, and had possibly the most inventive use of black boxes and PVC pipe I've ever seen! He also got Tom's permission to cast Pilgrim as a woman, well played by Juilliard graduate Kristine Chandler. It heightened the power of the character's choice to leave an unbelieving family behind, fulfilling Luke 14:26: 'Jesus said to them, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."' It also, in essence, combined the story with the second part in which Pilgrim's wife, Christiana, and their sons make the journey.

Another favorite element for me was the casting of the three angels. Each of their lines was spoken together in English, and then repeated in the actor's native tongue: Spanish, Mandarin, Portuguese. It was a foretaste of Heaven!

I have a very soft spot in my heart for this story, because it was one of the first I helped tell on a New York stage. In the early '90's I was an intern at The Lamb's Church, which had two Off-Broadway theatres. Twins Kurt and Keith Landaas were considering a production of their rock opera Pilgrim's Progress, and I happened to be the one showing them around the theatre. I mentioned to them that I'd love to audition, so they said, "Go for it." So I sang "Do You Hear the People Sing" from Les Misérables a'cappella right there in the balcony. It parlayed into my Off-Broadway debut, and we also performed it in New Jersey and Staten Island. It was a modern adaptation, and I played one of the darker characters. I found out later I was really intimidating some of the cast with faux piercings and borrowed motorcycle boots. LOL!

Watching Tom's script proved to me that Bunyan's allegory doesn't need a modern twist to make it relevant. It addresses many of the same issues we're still dealing with today.

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A Clear Leading tells the story of Quaker abolitionist John Woolman, who spoke against slavery a century before our Civil War.