Oct 15, 2006

Rota Day 3: "The Worst Performance Ever Turns Out Great"

Sunday, October 8, 2006

If only it was easy as this to "be like Jesus"! Bono Girl and I share the stage in the final scene of Brett Hadley's play Per Chance to Dream, staged by REAL Christian Theater at the Roundhouse in Rota, Sunday, October 8, 2006

Sunday was a thoroughly confusing day. It tested me on the very things that I have the most trouble with: Uncertainty and change. I hate not knowing what the plan is. I hate when the plan changes. Both things typified Sunday.

First we couldn’t figure out what to do for fun. Normally when we travel off island we have someone who just offers to take us around. They make the plan, they choose the activities and we just show up. (Recall the fantastic rock island tour we took in Palau). But this time, our tour guide was the Vice President, and her approach to planning an itinerary was “whatever you want to do.” We weren’t sure when lunch was supposed to be. We weren’t sure whether we should go sightseeing or go swimming.

We finally decided to go swimming. The men left the church and drove over to the Rankins to meet up with the girls. By 11 we were on our way. Our first stop was an absolutely fascinating place. It was a salt-water water park connected to the ocean. I’ve never seen anything like it. A couple of swimming pools, one with a large slide, fed by the ocean itself.

The Salt Water Park

The sea would roll over the pool deck and into the pools. One of the kids favorite things to do was sit on the pool deck and wait for the waves to wash through the railing separating pool area from ocean, and sweep them into the pool. There was an anything-but-lazy-river, a channel of water with a strong current that ran from the ocean through the park and back out to sea again. It was really an amazing place. It was just such a neat experience, wading through the pool deck—it felt wild, like nature had overpowered what was man made.

The Vice President wading through the salt-water park.

The kids swam for an hour or so (I chose not to. I just have a thing that I don’t like to swim if the sun is not shining).

Then it was back to the Fiesta fairgrounds where a humungous feast of free food was spread out for the taking. Another amazing thing about Rota. An all you can eat buffet and drinks, all completely free of charge.

During lunch we’d encountered more confusion. We still weren’t certain where we were going to perform our full length play Per Chance to Dream. We’d had permission to use the Roundhouse but after having gotten a look at it the night before we weren’t so enthused about that as a performance location. Among its many problems was that there was no audience seating at all. We thought about moving the show to the SDA church, but since the church was basically in a house in Sinapalo, we thought that might not be very practical either. The suggestion had been made that we perform in the early afternoon, while the crowd was still loitering after the feast. But I didn’t want to do that. This was a dialogue-heavy play, best viewed by a stationary audience committed to seeing the whole play from beginning to in. I didn’t want to have an audience of people wandering in and out, unable to follow the story. It just wouldn’t work. It didn’t seem like there was a practical way to do the play, and after I spoke with mayor on the phone and he informed me that they wouldn’t be able to move the sound system to the Roundhouse, it seemed like we’d have to cancel the performance.

I broke the news to the team, and they were horrified.

“I’ve got 30 people who are committed to coming for sure,” cried the Diva.

“Yeah, my family is planning to come,” chimed in the Vice President.

“We worked so hard on this play. We have to do it,” others added.

“Well, we’ll have to do it in the Roundhouse and we’ll have no sound,” I warned them. The kids were undeterred. We decided to go ahead and perform at 6:00 P.M. at the Roundhouse with no sound system.

We went back out to swim and sightsee some more after that. Around 4:00 P.M. our day of fun came to an end and we began setting up at the Roundhouse. We borrowed the Rankin’s home stereo to play the music sequences. We borrowed chairs from the church for set pieces and audience seating. We mounted our lights on folding chairs as well. The kids got into costume, and at about 6:45 the show began. To my amazement people actually showed up. Mostly teenagers, but a few families as well.

The show itself was horrible. And yet amazing.

Per Chance to Dream staged at the Roundhouse in Rota. Sunday, October 8, 2006.

Our makeshift sound & light "booth" for Per Chance to Dream. Britni sits at the plastic table holding the Rankin's home stereo. Most of the time she was sitting on the ground next to the table manning the dimmer switches for our lights from there.

Horrible because the venue was awful. The place continued to stink of urine. It was filthy. The hard concrete floor and high concrete ceiling created an echo chamber so that when the actors spoke their lines their voices bounced and echoed turning dialogue into a muddy, unintelligible garble. Horrible because the performance was very rough. The kids were nervous. The new actors just hadn’t had enough practice and the veterans were rusty. They skipped pages of dialogue. They spoke too softly.

Rough going. The dinner scene during the first half of Per Chance to Dream. We tried to clean the place up a bit before the show began but the soda can in the foreground indicates that we weren't entirely successful.

During the first half of the play, I was in total despair. I felt like everything had gone so horribly wrong. The play was dead. Flat. Impossible to follow. I just wanted to disappear, to be somewhere else. I wondered if we’d somehow missed God’s direction. Maybe I should have followed my better judgment and just cancelled the show. Was this an example of God’s strength perfecting itself in our weakness. Or was this an example of us trying to do too much, biting off more than we could chew, instead of just letting go and resting in the Lord. I just didn’t know.

The second half of the show, things improved. Lines were sharper. The audience seemed to respond more to the play. Harry, the consummate comedian got them laughing with his antics.

Bono Girl, the Diva, CK Girl, and Harry onstage during the second half of Per Chance to Dream.

And then during the final solemn scenes, where Bono Girl, the star of the play, her character on the verge of suicide gives a dramatic symbolic recitation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”, the very moment of disaster turned into an amazing miracle. During “The Raven” Bono Girl paused. Just stopped for a long time. The pause dragged. She looked down, gulped. I knew she’d forgotten her line. She had the script in her hand since her character is an aspiring actress and “The Raven” sequence is supposed to be Lizzy rehearsing for her audition. But I could tell she was stuck. Lost. Frozen. Devastated. And then she began to cry. The audience was silent, and it was then that I realized that they didn’t know. They thought this was part of the play. And it WAS part of the play. AND it was real. The two melded. Bono Girl choked out the next line, sobbing, and you could have heard a pin drop. My mouth hung open. I was moved by Bono Girl’s courage, by her will to go on. I was moved by the character, Lizzy’s pain and lonlieness, the sense of failure that both Bono Girl and the character she portrayed felt. The performance had already been one of her best up until the point she broke down, and the rest of the performance was riveting. She was on fire. She absolutely was Lizzy and she tore “The Raven” up!

Bono Girl holds the audience spellbound with her rendition of Poe's "The Raven."

When we moved from there to the next scene, set to “Exit” by U2 where Lizzy attempts suicide—where the actors we call “the barriers” dressed all in black with plain white theater masks, that symbolize the walls Lizzy has put up to hide her real self, now keep her loved ones from reaching her and her from reaching them, every one of us was there with Lizzy. And in the final scene, where I entered the stage, playing the role of Christ to comfort Lizzy, and remind her that she didn’t need to wear masks, to pretend to be perfect, that she was accepted as she was, I knew that God had lifted us up and carried us. The Worst Performance Ever had turned into something truly amazing. And what’s remarkable is that Bono Girl was so immersed in it, so blinded by her perceived failures that she didn’t see it until the play was over. She later told me that even during the last scene, our scene together, she was fuming with rage because she was sure that the audience was laughing at us. (There were some chuckles when I came onstage, and I’m sure that had to do with the fact that most people weren’t expecting a black Jesus with dreads to appear. I wasn’t fazed in the least though).

"Hello, my name is Elizabeth Meyers and I'm a precious child of God." The final tableau of Per Chance to Dream.

But after the play, as people came up to tell us how wonderful the play was, how touched they were by it, as we heard reports of hulking teenage boys teary-eyed, when one guy visiting from Vancouver approached me and asked where he could find the script for this play, we knew a miracle had taken place.

The evening ended in a glow of success and with the sense that God had been near to us in a very real way. That night when we gathered for our final worship together, it was clear that the team had bonded. The Asians were fully integrated to the team now. The Treasurer leaned casually against Bono Girl. Jeane, her limited English not withstanding joked with Special F/X and the Rock. We all felt the sense of unity and togetherness that the Diva gave voice to during her worship talk.

And the best thing about it was that this was not the end of a season. This was just the beginning.

It’s going to be a great year!

Oct 14, 2006

Rota Day 2: "Saturday Night Fiasco"

Saturday, October 7, 2006

A scene from our Fiesta performance Saturday night. A night filled with fiascos but also with miracles.

Sabbath morning dawned exhausted. I'd stayed up late the night before, first dealing with a team disciplinary issue that had arisen late Friday night, and then discussing religion and philosophy with my friend Gina Rankin.

Our first order of buisness was to convene a directorial tribunal--Grant, Bono Girl,the Diva, and Britni to deal with the disciplinary issue. For the first time in seven seasons an actor had broken one of the core rules of the team (he'd been caught smoking) and we had to decide what type of punishment would be meted out. I’d worried that we might not be able to find the balance between upholding the standards of the team and upholding his spirit as a person. I didn’t want to crush him, or make him feel that he was a “bad person” beyond redemption. After all, a big part of our “mission” as a team goes beyond the performances, to the members of the team itself. We want our team to be a place where the members can find grace and experience the love and power of God in their lives. At least half our ministry is in working with the teens on the team and I didn’t want to fail in that. Thankfully, I believe we were successful and I thank God for that.

Our meeting did make us late for church though. And we were responsible for the church service!

The SDA church on Rota is tiny. It’s actually held in the large living room of a private home so our being late wasn’t quite the disaster it might have been. Pastor Gidson Ondap was an enthusiastic booster for our team. He drove us to all of our shows on Friday (something we later found he had not planned to do, but by the time we left the airport we had five minutes to make the 25 minute drive to our first show and he realized we wouldn’t have time to drop him off at the church before taking the van to do our shows), and took tons of pictures for us. Most of the pictures on these blogs were taken by him. He was very patient and understanding of our perennial lateness. So while the team conducted the Sabbath School program, I drove over to the airport to pick up our last two team members, the Rock and the Gentleman.

The Man, all spruced up for church, reads the scripture during Sabbath morning church services.

CK Girl and Jeane sing special music

By the time we got back, the main church service (which our team also conducted) was in full swing. Of what I saw, it was good. Grant preached, and did an awesome job. Public speaking is like water is to a fish for it. He thrives on it, lives in it.

G-Rant preaching it to the people. His topic: How we can find certainity, acceptance, and value.

Sabbath afternoon we made the kids rest for an hour and a half (many of them had been dozing off in the morning, and a couple were getting cranky. Which made me cranky. If you’re going to stay up long after we tell you to go to bed then you better suck it up, dig deep for some energy, and most of all don’t get all sour-faced, and cranky and whine). I needed the sleep too and quickly nodded off on the hammock on the Rankin’s patio.

After the mandatory rest period, we took the kids to one of Rota’s many white sand beaches. Rota is called “Nature’s Treasure Island” and with good reason. Even with the gloomy skies and frequent rain squalls, the island is gorgeous. The drive from the church (were the boys stayed the rest of the weekend) in the village of Sinapalo, to the Rankins’s home in the village of Song Song is idyllic. On one side are verdant fields, tropical forests, and dramatic cliffs and on the other rows of tall, graceful coconut palms lining pristine white sand beaches. The water, even on a cloudy day, is crystalline, a bright aquamarine blue. Even the waves are bright blue, capped by frothing foam.

Oh, and about the waves. They were magnificent. The reef in Rota is very close to shore and as a result the waves break just yards away from the beach. The tropical depression bringing all the rain had also stirred up unusually high surf, and the waves were enormous, awe-inspiring, and reminiscent of the Oahu’s North Shore. If it hadn’t been for the reef right in front of the breaks, the curls would have been perfect for surfing. The waves were one of the most beautiful things I saw in Rota, and the irony is that while I will always associate Rota with massive waves rolling and crashing in magnificent slow motion, these waves were atypical and the locals were just as amazed by them as we were.

The power of the sea
Anyhow, the water at the beach itself was relatively calm since the waves broke on the reef and the kids enjoyed swimming and relaxing for a little while. As for me, I took a few photos and promptly fell asleep on the sand.

At the beach Sabbath afternoon, October 7, 2006

Around 4 we headed back to the Base Camp Rankin for another round of rehearsals before our Saturday night performance. We had so many performances and so much material to cover that the once a week rehearsals back in Saipan in the week leading up to the show had been insufficient. Granted we were doing mostly “old stuff”, last year/s material that most of the team members knew. But we had some new members and the old members were rusty. With so little time we were often rehearsing sketches for the first time this season only hours before we were to perform them. And in at least one case, we developed a brand new sketch Friday afternoon and planned to debut it that Saturday night. Acting stalwart, the Man, and Grant would perform it, so I wasn’t too worried. Both men were quick studies.

It goes without saying that the rehearsals were a little stressful but we got done what we needed to, and I felt reasonably confident that with the extra boost of the Holy Spirit’s power we’d be able to put on some great shows. So far we had. Our shows on Friday had all been excellent.

Our show was set for 6 P.M. and really, this was the centerpiece of the weekend, our reason for being there. Rota was having it’s annual Fiesta. A week of nightly Catholic masses followed by feasting and celebrations in honor of Rota’s patron saint, San Francisco De Borja. This is THE event an Rota and people come from all over the Marianas to be a part of it. On the bill with us for the night were island dancers from Guam, local bands,and other entertainment acts. It was the final night of the Fiesta and we would open the evening. (The fact that the Vice President’s grandfather is the Mayor of Rota certainly helped here. It was the VP’s mom’s idea for us to perform at the fiesta and her gramps made it happen).

So we showed up at the Fiesta grounds at 6:00 P.M. and the fiasco began.

We went to a large pavilion called the Roundhouse where we understood we would perform. No one was there. There were no chairs. No lights. No sound. Nothing but a few sullen teens lurking about and the whole place stinking of urine. There couldn’t be a worse place to perform. (Remember that. This place will make a reappearance this weekend).

After about 20 minutes of panicked and unsuccessful attempts to reach the VP’s various relatives on Rota including the mayor, someone discovered that we were actually supposed to be performing at a specially built stage about 100 yards across the Fiesta grounds. How we missed the glaring stage lights illuminating the grounds is beyond me.

We hustled over to the stage and found lights, a full sound system, and nothing else. No one was there either, except the guy at the makeshift sound booth who informed us that the performances were delayed because “the processional” was still going on. (I never saw the processional so I have no idea what that was). Until “the processional” was over no acts could begin performing. They couldn’t even play the warm-up music very loud.

So we waited. The seven o clock group scheduled to perform after us showed up, and still no go. We waited. The team wandered the fiesta grounds for awhile, inspecting the various food and drink and handicraft booths set up. We were told a rosary was now in progress and we would have to wait until that was finished. We waited. Little Sister was feeling dizzy and we decided to cut most of the sketches she was in. We knew there was no way we could do the hour-long show allotted us anyway with the other acts piling up behind us. We waited. We were instructed to have the team backstage and ready to go on the MINUTE they got the go ahead. We waited. And waited. And waited.

And finally, close to two hours after we were scheduled to hit the stage we got the signal. Go. Now. I bounded on to the stage and greeted the crowd. Inexplicably the audience gathered in a great semicircle what seemed like a mile from the stage. They were well behind the sound booth and when I looked out through the glare of the lights all I could see was the tiny faceless silhouettes of our audience. The stage felt a lonely a place. Still, I gamely charged ahead and introduced our first piece, the pantomime “The Creation” performed to the gospel stylings of Yolanda Adam’s “The Things We Do.” The music began with a majestic keyboard swell, and a clip of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” as the Rock swept onstage in his white robe and began creating the world, his image projected on to the big screen, larger than life. The show was on.

The Rock depicting the creation. The six day literal creation is just so much more interesting than evolution, from a theatrical perspective!

We followed the pantomime with an old South American street theater improve called “Mine Games” where only one word is spoken: “Hey.” As Bono Girl and Harry communicated with their “heys” various tipsy hecklers chimed in with shouts of “hey” as well. As the two actors tried to fill the huge performing space, the sketch dragged on, long. The crowd grew restless.

The next sketch was “The Hospital.” This time we’d done this sketch with audience volunteers portraying the various sick patients (if you skipped over my lengthy explanation of our sketches two entries back, you may want to go back and read about this one so you understand how the sketch works) with our own actors portraying the healthy patient and the receptionist. It had worked well in the schools where there were eager volunteers. But on this night, with the crowd a million miles away, no one wanted to volunteer. Except for one little boy about six years old, and. . . the drunks. The first guy we got was still pretty much together. The second gentleman though was a different story. I first saw him when he stepped into the middle of the lighted area in front of the stage and shouted “You want a volunteer? I got one for you,” as he extended the middle finger in my direction. He then approached the foot of the stage and made a lewd invitation. “Don’t pick him,” my team hissed at me from the wings, “He’s drunk!”

Duh. No way am I picking him.

But HE was picking him. He staggered over to the side of the stage where we were explaining the gag to the volunteers while “The Fall” unfolded onstage. While the Man was tempting Photobug with a pantomimed apple, we were assuring our volunteer that we were all set. We had everyone we needed. But he wouldn’t be denied. He was GOING to volunteer and if there’s one thing I learned from dealing with many drunks when I lived in Chuuk (where drinking is a national pastime, and mean drunks are the norm) is that you don’t EVER disagree with the inebriated and you definitely don’t make them mad. So I clapped him on the shoulder, grinned a lot, agreed with every profanity-laced thing that came out of his mouth, and explained to him what he had to do.

“Hey, Mister, don’t we need a mike out there,” Bono Girl asked.

“No! No way do we want a mike out there. Who knows what this guy might say.” I hissed back.

Of course, someone put a mike out there.

The skit began, and our volunteer began to come around to my camaraderie, the hostility lessened and he became genuinely interested in his part, especially as he saw the other actors go out and get laughs from the audience. Finally, it was our guy’s turn. He shambled out into the lights, and I whispered one word to Grant: Pray.

And we did. And God answered. Our volunteer hammed it up, got loads of laughs, managed not to swear (in English anyway. I’m not sure what he may have said in Chamorro) and left stage on cue. Feeling very proud of himself, he confided to me that he was someone very important in the government of Rota. And indeed he was. I’m not going to say what position he holds, as I’m still a bit paranoid that he might somehow find out about this entry and be offended.

We breathed a sigh of relief. The worst was over. Except it wasn’t. During “The Hospital” the VP’s mom appeared backstage, frantic.

“What are you guys doing?” she demanded “Why are you here? You’re supposed to be at the V.I.P. Party. They’ve been waiting for you!”

WHAT?!? We were performing at the wrong venue? Impossible. I’d seen the schedule for the weekend. I knew about the V.I.P. Party and I knew we weren’t booked to perform there. We were supposed to be at the public event. But now here was the VP’s mom telling us that the mayor was waiting on us and we needed to leave NOW! I was mortified! How had we managed to miss this?

So after “The Hospital” I raced onstage and hastily explained that due to the late start and another engagement we had to get to, we would wrap up our performance with “The Redemption” which we promptly did. The minute the Rock had finished rescuing humanity and defeating the devil, the team smoothly departed the stage and then RACED to the van, and we roared away, burning with embarrassment at having kept the V.I.P.s waiting.

We arrived at the Mayor’s office where the party was in full swing. Polynesian dancers were dancing on a small stage, and there were table laden with local delicacies: red rice, beef tips, fried chicken, kelaguen, taro, breadfruit bathed in coconut milk, coco, not one but two whole roast pigs. There was a dessert table with tapioca, custard and fruit pies and other sweets. A bar had been set up where free beer, soda, water, and juice flowed freely.

On meeting the mayor, I apologized profusely for our lateness and told him we were ready to perform.

“Why don’t you all eat first,” the mayor offered. I wasn’t going to argue with the mayor. So we loaded our plates and ate to our hearts content. I relaxed. We all did. Really, I’d begun to relax right about the time the VP’s mom showed up and the drunken gov. official tottered on stage back at the Fiesta. It was at that point—the point where I realized that I had absolutely no control over anything that I stopped worrying, stopped stressing, and just started enjoying the evening. I told God, “I have no idea what You’re doing, but whatever it is, I’ll just roll with it.”

So we ate and laughed and enjoyed ourselves.

As the time passed, we began to wonder when we were going to perform. I was mulling over my appreciation speech I’d give when we went took the stage, talking about the grace shown to us by the people of Rota, when it hit me. We weren’t going to perform. Perhaps the mayor never had intended for us to perform. I’ve since figured that the Vice President’s mom misunderstood him. I think he’d only intended for us to come and eat. We were correctly scheduled at the Fiesta grounds and I believe the expectation had been that we would go over to the V.I.P party for dinner after our performance. But because of the delay in starting the show, we ended up being really late to dinner. The mayor probably asked the VP’s mom where we were and she jumped to the conclusion that we were supposed to be performing there.

So we didn’t perform. We ate, drank (non-alcoholic-ly, of course), and danced under the stars and it was good.

Grant, Britni, and some of the kids cut a rug at the mayor's V.I.P. party, joining in the "electric slide."

The REAL Rota Tour: Day 1 "Anatomy of a Tour"

Friday, October 6, 2006

On the road with REAL. The drama team gathers for instructions during our record breaking four shows in four hours on the first day of our tour in Rota, Friday, October 6, 2006.

Herewith the first entry of several documenting REAL Christian Theater's tour to Rota last weekend.

First off, our team is deep in the red. We still owe like $1600 from last year and I think the travel agent overcharged us for our trip to Palau. I'm still workng on getting to the bottom of that. So, for this tour every member paid their own way plus contributed some money for food. This was a trip done on the cheap.

We've had about two solid weeks of overcast, rainy weather here in Saipan and during our entire time in Rota we never saw the sun. Still, it was a wonderful trip, full of beauty, miracles, and camraderie.

So, Day 1, Friday morning, October 6. My wife dropped myself, Grant aka Mr. Incredible (co-director of the team this year with me, replacing Monica from last year), and Britni (our sound, lights, and props manager, replacing John from last year) at the airport around 7:50 A.M. I was traveling light and feeling good. All my liquids, pastes, and gels were in my checked luggage, my carry ons were light and loose. I was ready!

There were some team members already there waiting and the rest arrived soon after. Most of the team members were returning actors from last season--Harry, Holly, the Vice President, CK Girl, The Man. Bono Girl and the Diva are now co-directors with Grant and I, so they are still with us. The Rock and the Gentleman would fly out to Rota the next day. We had five new members on the team though--the youngest is Bono Girl's little sister who is in the fifth grade. We will call her Little Sister. We've also added two more Chinese Korean girls to our team--both of limited English ability, which granted makes drama a bit of a challenge. But then that's how CK Girl came in and she's now one of our best actors. One of the girls is in my freshman class--she's the Treasurer who got left behind when we took the then-8th graders to Korea last March. The other girl is a sophomore at Southern High School and we'll calle her Jeane. Also new to the team is Photobug (because she took tons of pictures all weekend), a senior at Marianas High School. And finally, there's Special F/X, so named for his uncanny ability to mimic all kinds of sounds including gunshots, weedeaters, car engines, barking dogs etc. He's also a senior at Marianas High School.

Well trouble started early. The Treasurer checked in after me or tried to, and lo and behold, she couldn't check in. Again! I was horrified! No this can't be happening! Not again! I had the sickening, sinking feeling that we were about to relive the class trip all over again, with the Treasurer being turned away at the counter unable to go on a trip she planned on for a long time. The issue this time wasn't a visa--after all we weren't leaving the CNMI. No, this time, the problem was that she had no picture ID. She turned in every piece of identification she owned--her passport, her entry permit, birth certificate--to some travel agent or immigration person (I couldn't tell for sure what with her broken English). Without some form of photo ID she wasn't going anywhere. Why on earth her parents would decided to strip her of all ID right before she traveled was beyond me.

After a tense and tear filled hour or two which included my wife finding a photocopy of her passport in the school files, the Treasurer's mom was able to get the passport back from whoever had it, and disaster was averted.

Unfortunately, she was't the only one--both Jeane and Little Sister showed up at the airport without ID and had to frantically track some down.

Honestly, it's like some of these people have never traveled before!

Anyway, everyone managed to get everything together and, after a brief worship led by Grant, we boarded the plane for the short flight to Rota.

The Man and Holly on the flight to Rota

Photobug reviews her lines from the sketch "Guardian Angel" on the flight to Rota.

Rota is only about 35 minutes away by 30-passenger prop plane. It's one of the three major inhabited islands (the other two are Saipan and Tinian) which together with 11 more mostly uninhabited islands to the north of Saipan make up the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI). Rota is the southern most island of the CNMI, closer to Guam than Saipan, but still very close by. Yet for all it's closeness, Rota feels like it is a million miles from Saipan. It is so drastically different from Saipan. Rota is quiet, rural, pristine. By comparison Saipan is loud, crowded, blighted by garment factories, garish, poorly maintained businesses, and litter. Chamorro culture is said to be strongest and purest on Rota. The people there still speak the language and take care to preserve the traditions of the past. Being on Rota reminded me a lot of the less developed, more ethinicaly homogenous islands of other parts of the Micronesian Pacific--Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Yap. Especially Yap. Being there gave a me a nostalgic, warm feeling for those islands where I first lived in the Pacific more than 12 years ago.

The people are reknowned for their friendliness, and indeed when you drive on the roads in Rota, the driver of every single car you pass will wave at you. It is a well-known and engrained part of the island culture. They wave! The first time driving on Rota I casually, self-consciously raised my hand in salutation, and to my delight the other driver waved back. All the drivers did, whether I waved or not, they waved at me. Often no more than a few fingers lifted from the steering wheel, but a wave nonetheless. Everytime I drove during the weekend, I ended up in an American-style tizzy, always worried that someone might not wave back and then I'd feel like a fool. But of course they always waved back. I tried to gauge when to wave. Wave too soon and I'd be so far away they wouldn't see the wave. Wait too long, and I might wave as I was passing them by. In either case, I worried I would look like the rude and heartless American. And of course, occasionally, I'd forget to wave all together, and then feel horrible, certain I looked like the rudest person on the road.

We arrived in Rota at about 10:45 and hit the ground running. We went straight to our first show, at the local Catholic school. We proceeded to hurtle through four shows in four hours. Despite the hectic pace, the shows were excellent. The kids were at the top of their game and the audiences were enthusiastic. Friday was easily our best day, performance wise. Sadly Grant missed all of the performances as he was off helping unload all our stuff at the home of the Rankins (old friends of ours who used to live in Saipan.)

So perhaps you're wondering, what exactly it is we do in theses shows. What follows is the anatomy of a REAL Christian Theater show in words & pictures.

The Diva, one of our student directors this year chose the material and directed our school and church shows for the tour to Rota. Here she gives last minute instructions to the team before we begin our show at Rota High School. She's so creative, and such a great leader and did an excellent job! I'm so proud of her!

First off, for a traveling performance like this costumes and props are kept to a minimum. We wear team T-shirts (we generally get new ones each season, each with it’s own unique design, though this season due to our budget crunch only the new members got T-shirts. The rest of us used the same ones as last season) usually along a similar color scheme. This season our shirts are either “sand” or light blue. We may have a box of hand props but that’s it. Sets are usually a couple folding chairs and maybe a folding table.

Not a great photo, but a fairly good picture of the team t-shirt we're using this season. Those of you that know me (which is pretty much all of you, have probably seen me wearing my various REAL t-shirts from the different seasons).

What we generally have is a collection of about a dozen sketches that we mix and match based on our audience. For performances at public schools we stick to material that is non-religious in nature but promoting positive, life-affirming values that we believe are found in Christianity but can be appreciated by all regardless of beliefs. The show we toured the schools with last season and that we took to Rota was called “Shine” and all the sketches revolved around being yourself and being your best. For parochial schools or church groups we will do some of the same material but also add in specifically spiritually oriented material. For our show at the Catholic school in Rota and at the Seventh-day Adventist Church Friday night we used more “Jesus-oriented” material.

At the Catholic school. Our first show in Rota.

If our audience is older we do material geared towards teen audiences dealing with issues like drug use, suicide, etc.

For the High Schoolers: Holly and I perform "The Job Applicant", a sketch about a teen-age girl that applies to be an adult.

Rota Junior High School audience. This was our final school show in Rota.

If we’re performing in front an elementary school crowd we’ll go with kid-oriented sketches that deal with being friendly, saying kind words etc.

Sinapalo Elementary School kids in Rota. Aren't they cute?

We start off our shows with something energetic and lively, and when we can something that involves the audience. One of our long time favorites is a sketch called Life 101 which we did at all four schools we performed at on Rota. In the sketch a “college professor” (played by me) introduces four “experts” in the important life topic of “How To Get People to Like You.”

The four "popularity experts" in the sketch "Life 101" await their introduction, backs to the audience. They are Harry, the Vice President, Special F/X & Bono Girl.

Each of the actors try to get the audience to do silly things to get people to like them, like chanting “I am the greatest”, putting your shoes on your hands, and sniffing your shoes to get “high.”

Here, we are trying to increase our popularity by getting in to shape while Bono Girl exhorts the crowd to chant "I am the greatest!"

The sketch builds in craziness and general loudness as each expert chimes in to get the audience doing “their” thing. It ends when I interrupt to question the “experts” authenticity and to suggest that just being yourself is a much better way to get people to like you. This sketch is always a crowd pleaser, and we’ve used it successfully for year.

I interrupt the dubious experts at the end of "Life 101."

Following our opener we’ll do a couple of “message” sketches, the number depending on the amount of time we have at the venue. Most sketches are short, usually funny, with some kind of a moral or thought involved.

In this sketch called "Looks Like a Dog, Acts Like a Dog, Must Be a Dog" Special F/X plays the son of the Vice President and the Man, who are raising him as a dog.

I usually act as emcee and introduce each sketch as well as follow up with some additional commentary or explanation to bridge from one sketch to another and tie them all to the theme (since we find these sketches from many different sources—usually Christian drama skit books that I buy when I’m in the states every summer--they’re not “naturally” designed to go together. Sometimes I’ve had to stretch to make a particular sketch fit our theme!)

Me working the crowd between sketches at Rota High School

About half way through the program we’ll break for some totally hilarious and pointless skits that we call “Just For Fun.” They have no point or message and are just to make the kids laugh. These are always fun to do, and are usually very short. One classic we did a few years ago was the old Abbott & Costello routine “Who’s on First.” Another favorite that we’ve done many times, including our Rota shows, is called “The Hospital” in which a perfectly healthy patient goes to the hospital for a check up but ends up catching the sneezes, itches, and twitches of the various patients that come in and join him in the waiting room. The punchline is when a “pregnant” woman walks in and the patient runs out of the waiting room screaming in horror, certain that he’ll “catch” that too!

The hospital patient, played by the Man, has his horrifying encounter with the "pregnant" lady played by Bono Girl.

After this we do a couple more “message” sketches, often ending on a more serious note with a more dramatic sketch.

At max our shows can run up to an hour. The average length for most of our school shows is 30-40 minutes and the shortest we’ve ever done was 10 minutes at the Sinapalo Elementary School in Rota because we arrived late and they only had a few minutes before school let out.

For our Friday night show, which was a church vespers program we did comedic sketches with a spiritual point—parables if you will. These included “the Sin Chair” which illustrates the Christian concept of the enslaving power of sin and our inability to free ourselves on our own. This was illustrated by the “sin chair” which various actors get “stuck” to when they touch it.

The Man and friends stuck to the "sin chair" are reproached by CK Girl who warned them not to touch it.

Another example of this type of sketch was “Molding Jesus”, in which an actor representing the crucified Christ stands motionless with arms outstretched in the “cross” posture. Various actors enter doing various things (a fashion shoot, talking on the phone, boxing, doing a “Mr. Robot” dance).

Grant plays the role of Jesus, as CK Girl, the cell phone talker approaches.

Each discovers Jesus and molds him to match what they are doing. But when they leave Jesus always snaps back to the cross posture.

CK Girl attempts to mold Jesus into a cell phone talker just like herself.

The last actor comes out and sees Jesus, understands what He has done and molds herself to match him. At that point Jesus smiles, hugs her and they walk off stage together.

Holly and Jesus at the end of "Molding Jesus"

These sketches we learned from a traveling Youth With A Mission group that we worked with last season. Other sketches are longer and more story oriented, like “Guardian Angel” about two girls who are running away from home and meet a mysterious stranger on the way.

Another part of our performances that will often appear in religious or general community shows, is the pantomime set to music. We’ve had a long a history of doing these. They’re generally dramatic and nature and often some of the strongest audience responses have been to this emotional combination of music and story. On this tour we did a trilogy called “The Creation”, “The Fall” and “The Redemption.” (the topics of the pantomimes are self-explanatory, I think). “The Redemption” in particular is one of my all-time favorites. I created it about five years ago and it’s still gives me goose bumps every time I see it. There are so many little symbolic details in it—for example, in one part of the pantomime, Jesus raises a little a girl to life and he uses the same pantomime motions that he used in “The Creation” to give life to Adam and Eve.

On an off island tour like the one we took to Rota we’ll usually do a full weekend of performances: shows at the schools on Friday, at churches Friday night, (and at the Seventh-day Adventist Church) Saturday morning, and ending the tour with a full-length fully costumed play complete with lights, sound, and a life-size set more typical of the type of thing you might normally see a theater club produce. These plays are generally also religious in nature, but we’ve had a tradition of really pushing the envelope with these plays to reach our target audience of teens and young adults which has sometimes led to some controversy with the more conservative church people who often see the plays as well.

So that’s the shape of a typical tour for us. It’s pretty much the pattern we followed in Rota as you’ll see.

So we ended our last school show around 3:00 P.M. on Friday afternoon. The Vice-President’s family is from Rota, and so her dad took us to a local restaurant and treated us to a late lunch. At this point in the tour, the team had yet to really bond, and so the group divided along clique lines. Most of the “local” kids sitting at one table together, while the Asians sat another table with Grant, Britni, and myself. I wondered how the new Asian girls would fit in, especially with their limited English. This tour had replaced our annual beginning-of-the-season retreat (normally we don’t take an off-island tour like this until the end of the season) usually the team manages to bond by the end of the retreat, but I wondered if it would really happen this time.

Me, Britni, CK Girl, and Grant at lunch after our four shows in four hours.

After lunch we headed over to the place where we would be staying. Some good friends of ours, Ricardo and Gina Rankin and their two little girls, who used to live on Saipan, had generously opened up their home for us to stay in (they were the ones who first suggested we come to Rota) and so for the next three days they had 17 people, most of the teenagers in their home. They really are candidates for sainthood! We rehearsed in their living room for the rest of the afternoon before heading over to the SDA church for our evening performance. After that show, we came back to the Rankins, ate a late supper and relaxed a bit before bed.