Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
May 21, 2001
More than one way to a revival
In Tent Meeting, character revives faith through events of daily life
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Back in the 1930s travelling tent meetings or Bible meetings were common. They would come to town complete with tent, preachers and Gospel music. Their mission was to evangelize. As they passed through, they would often change people's lives.
That's what Tent Meeting, playing at the Kaasa Theatre in the Jubilee Auditorium until June 2, is all about.
"I think that this play comes from a real desire to see the secular and the sacred meet in some kind of common ground," explains director Morris Ertman of Millet.
"This play is really about the notion that God is alive outside as well as inside the Church."
Tent Meeting, written by Ertman and Ron Reed 17 years ago, is set in the 1930s in rural Alberta and is the story of a tent meeting coming to town. And since it's also the story of the reunion of a Gospel quartet, the whole show is peppered with four-part harmony Gospel music.
In the story the audience meets George and Dolly, a farm couple in trouble. It's the dirty '30s, George's farm is blowing away, and he's destitute. He is an embittered man who's left faith behind because he believes God has deserted him.
As George (played by Alberta-born Royal Sproule) is moving farther and farther away from faith, his wife Dolly (Seana-Lee Wood) is moving more and more into the Church. Two solitudes exist on the farm - people who can't connect anymore, a marriage that's in tatters.
Dolly used to play piano for this Gospel quartet when they were younger and George used to sing in it but he's got no desire to sing Gospel anymore.
Into their lives comes the Rev. Elroy Phillips (Tom Pickett), who is the evangelist coming to town. Elroy used to sing in the same Gospel quartet with George and Dolly and there are unresolved tensions among them.
George and Dolly also get reunited with Sam (Jonathan Bruce), who used to sing in the Gospel quartet as well and now runs the pool hall at the end of town.
"So this is also a story about the re-awakening of friendships (and) it's really the story of how a tent meeting becomes the catalyst through which George comes back to life and to his marriage and through which Sam and Elroy find some kind of common ground," Ertman says.
The notion that God lives outside as well as inside the Church is reflected in the fact that Sam, owner of the town's pit of sin, the pool hall, becomes as important a voice in George's life as does the travelling evangelist.
Within the context of the story, several people, almost all the characters in the story, appeal to George.
And it's finally through both Elroy and Sam, that George comes to realize he needs to do something with his life.
"The truth in the play is not just meted out by ministers, it's meted out by the owner of the pool hall and it's my belief that God works that way," Ertman says.
Even though Tent Meeting is a play about the Gospel and about faith revival, it articulates non-belief well and it allows non-belief to be aired and spoken of freely.
"It doesn't make you feel guilty if you are a non-believer," Ertman says. "This play deals honestly with unbelief and it allows people to be in a place of unbelief if that's where they want to live."
Over the years, Tent Meeting has had eight productions in the U.S. and Canada and has earned four Dora nominations, including best new musical.
Several local Christian churches are helping to promote the play and hope to do the same for future productions.
"We believe that the arts provide a wonderful way to bring Gospel values to the greater community in a non-threatening way," says Cathy Harvey, coordinator of the archdiocesan Commission for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations.
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