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Performances tell of life of Christ in modern Godspell

by: Alana Kansaku-Sarmiento Horizon High School's theater instructor Jane Vander Velde works with Taylor Barnes, a junior, as they decide what to do with her hair and costuming for their upcoming performance of ‘Godspell.’

The Horizon Christian High School drama department, led by Jane Vander Velde, will present 'Godspell' this weekend, Jan. 27 to 29, at the Portland Community College, Sylvania campus. Shows, which will be held in the campus' large theater, take place at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.

'Most plays, when you get the scripts, they say not to make any changes,' Vander Velde said. ''Godspell' is like, 'This is what we did - but do whatever you want with it.' Usually, every director does that. You can go with the retro, '70s feel, or the modern-day feel, which is what we're doing.'

The play will also feature the George Fox University's Voices of Praise gospel choir, led by Chris Benjamin.

'There's a song near the end of the show, and it's very gospel, and there are so many songs in this show I was really kind of wondering what we should do with that, because it's kind of a funny placement,' Vander Velde said. 'It is just before it gets super intense, and it felt like we just really needed to have an infusion of strength.'

Vander Velde's daughter attends George Fox and was the first to suggest the idea of working together.

'It's just been the coolest experience,' Vander Velde said. 'When we got all done with it, we were like, 'Well, we gotta find something else to do together.' It's been that much fun.'

Horizon hired Vander Velde three years ago to help start the drama program. Last year the school put on its first musical: 'Fiddler on the Roof.' This year's musical is a production that centers around parables and occurrences pulled mainly from the Bible's book of Matthew.

'It just fits with who we are as a school,' Vander Velde said. 'Not just because it's about the life and times of Christ, but it's about community and supporting each other, and that's very much part of the school.'

Some students even say the experience has deepened their faiths.

'I want to use all my gifts to glorify God as best as I can,' said Zach Nielsen, who plays Jesus in the musical. 'This play has helped my relationship with God too. It's been humbling to play Jesus as well.'

Vander Velde said finding talent was easy.

'Horizon only has 130 students, and to have the amount of talent that we have out of 130 students is just amazing,' Vander Velde said. 'That's what Chris said. They were just walking by him, and he was saying, 'She can sing; he can sing; she can definitely sing.' He was just amazed.'

Vander Velde has taken the liberties to make additions or changes in the musical numbers.

'We have a stomp,' said Vander Velde, describing it as rhythms made from non-drums. 'We have one that's done entirely with umbrellas, almost as a puppetry kind of thing. It's very Asian in it's orientation. We also have one student that drew anime…it will be projected…and the kids tell the story like they're looking through a book.

'I think the biggest change is that we're using TVs. Every single one of them is hooked up to a computer. When the Pharisees are questioning Christ, there are different, modern-day portraits of people that the kids chose as Pharisees.'

Last year's musical production sold out during their performance weekend, which included five shows in four days. This year, Vander Velde decided to 'put a little less stress' on the actors ('Five shows in four days is a lot if you aren't a professional actor,' Vander Velde said.) by doing fewer performances, but in a larger venue.

'This cast and crew have been extraordinary,' Vander Velde said. 'I would say, hands-down, that this has been the best experience of my teaching career.'

Tickets are $10 and are available online at horizonchristianschools.org. For more information, call the school at 503-612-6521.