'As It Is in Heaven' Staged in mid-November at CSU, Chico

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This fall, CSU, Chico’s School of the Arts takes audiences back to a more humble time in American history and shows us that angels can be found in the simplest of places. 

“As It Is in Heaven,” which will be staged Nov. 12-15 at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 16 at 2 p.m. and Nov. 18–19 at 7:30 p.m. in CSU, Chico’s Wismer Theatre, weaves a tale about the characters’ ever-changing relationships among one other, their prescribed faith and their experience of the divine.

Directed by Professor Cynthia Lammel, the musical tells the story of the ordinarily calm and ordered and often comic world of a Shaker village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, in 1838. When newcomer Fanny arrives and claims that she has seen angels in the meadow, other young women begin to receive spiritual gifts of songs, drawings, ideas and, to the consternation of the elders, giggles. As more young believers begin to question the elders of the village, the resulting upheaval threatens the prosperity and very identity of this utopian community.

“It is a beautiful play/musical based on the life, faith, songs, dances and beliefs of the Shakers in 1838,” Lammel said. “It is an exciting and, actually, very mysterious musical based in a time of spiritual upheaval in Shaker history. And, although the playwright Arlene Hutton worked with this particular period in Shaker life, she is very clearly speaking to a larger audience. I think she wishes to challenge us with her vision of how we come to terms with our own faith and still let others experience faith in a way unique to their own encounter with the divine.”

The cast of “As It Is in Heaven” is unlike any other that has graced the stage at CSU, Chico. There are a total of nine characters in the musical, all of whom are women. This detail was a significant factor in why Lammel chose the production for her students. 

“I thought it would be a great opportunity for the women in our department to work not only on the beautiful music and dancing in this piece, but to work in a very tight-knit acting ensemble as well,” Lammel said. “Each of the women's roles is essential and integral to the action of the play. Often the women of our musical theatre program end up in the chorus and frequently do not have too many lines to speak or characters to develop. This is not to discredit our university — this pattern is sadly traditional in the American theatre! However, we wanted to provide an environment where we could educate our majors who happened to be women. This musical was different and we embraced it. ”

Not only do the women act, sing and dance, but they also change each of the sets in the course of the 36 scenes in the musical, Lammel noted.

“There is no intermission, and the 90 minutes of the musical fly by!” she said.

Lammel and the cast have tried to stay as true as possible to the simple beauty that is typical of the Shaker aesthetic. All of the musical numbers in the play will be performed a capella, and no microphones will be used, creating a sound that is pure and natural. For the dance numbers, Lammel and choreographer Sheree Henning researched traditional Shaker dances in order to replicate them in an authentic manner.

Lammel hopes that audiences walk away from the musical with feelings of joy, healing and hope. She says the primary message of the production is that “we don’t need to share the identical experiences of others to believe in the validity of others’ experiences and value their truths.”

“We need to honor what has been given to us and honor what has been given to others, whether or not we understand those gifts,” she added.

Samantha Corbett, who plays one of the central characters, Hannah, has a similar message for audiences.

“I hope that the audience will see the equality and loving reverence that Shakers showed each other and that it might be applicable to how we handle our own relationships,” Corbett said.

“As It Is in Heaven” was written by actor-director Beth Lincks under the pseudonym Arlene Hutton. Hutton was inspired to write the musical after she visited the restored Shaker community of the Pleasant Hills Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. The title of the play is derived from a Shaker rendition of “Lord’s Prayer” called “The Saviour’s Universal Prayer (Our Father Who Art in Heaven).” Hutton has also written widely produced trilogies including such popular plays as “Last Train to Nibrock.”

“As It Is in Heaven” first premiered at the 78th Street Theatre Lab and soon after made its way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before finally landing at the Off-Broadway Arclight Theatre in New York City in 2002. Although the play ran for a relatively short time, it was well-received by critics. “The Herald” called it “a thought-provoking piece,” and “American Theatre Web” stated, “‘As It Is in Heaven’ contains a story that deserves to be told.”

“The play script is reliant on a strong concept by directors and designers and insists on a very confident and creative approach to staging, and therefore is perhaps not as widely produced as it deserves,” Lammel said. “We are deeply grateful that here at CSU, Chico we are able to produce such a work.”

Advance tickets, $15 for adults, $13 for senior citizens, and $6 for students and children, are available at the University Box Office at the corner of Third and Chestnut streets. Tickets are also available online or by phone at 530-898-6333; there is an additional $4 handling fee for phone and online ticket purchases. Add $2 for tickets purchased at the door. For special needs seating, please call 530-898-6333. 

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Story by Anne Stanley, School of the Arts Publicity Assistant
Photo by Sean Chen