Shaker Play Next Weekend

"As it is in Heaven" play poster at Idyllwild Arts


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“It’s a cross between ‘The Crucible’ and  ‘Agnes of God,’” quipped Howard Shangraw, head of the Theater Department at Idyllwild Arts, talking about the school’s play next weekend. “It’s not too religious.”

“As it is in Heaven,” a play written by Arlene Hutton, explores generational conflict through the eyes of nine women in a Shaker village in Kentucky. Set in 1838, the play celebrates the music and dance traditions of Shakers, the “Society of Believers.” They meet in plain meetinghouses where they march, dance, sing, twitch and shout. When newcomers start to see “visions,” however, others don’t and start to question their own devotion.

The all-female cast of characters includes: Brooke Herbert as Peggy; Ari Howell as Hannah; Becca Goldberg as Phebe; Jessie Scales as Betsy; Coral Cohen as Rachel; Christine Wood as Izzy; Cathy Velarde as Fanny; Jamie Cahill as Polly and Ana Brett as Jane.

According to information sent by the play’s director, Rendon Ramsey, “Shakers were led by Mother Ann Lee, their founding prophet, who was believed to be the second coming of God. The Shakers followed Mother Lee with total devotion, one that demanded celibacy and constant labor to glorify God.”

Following Mother Ann’s death in 1783, there was an intense period in the Shaker communities in which believers experienced “visions” and “trances.”

Cathy Velarde said that her character, Fanny, is a young character who sees “visions” of angels.

“My character develops into a full arc,” Velarde explained. “At first, she’s really shy and unsure of herself. But once she starts seeing these visions of angels, she gains confidence, and even power in the community.”

Shangraw said that they’re not going to use video to show visions onstage.

“We’re going to use flashing lights,” he said. The type and intensity of light will be left up to Todd Carpenter, the show’s lighting designer.

Ari Howell and Jamie Cahill, who play characters that don’t see visions, said that working on the play has been interesting.

“I’m not really a religious person,” Ari said. “People are entitled to their own beliefs, and I can respect that. But the Shakers were much more spiritual, like me.”

Cahill agreed. She said that the Shakers believed in working all the time, to be closer to God. “All of us are onstage all the time,” she explained. “So if we’re not talking, we’re working in the background. It took some getting used to.”

Both said they were exhausted after rehearsals. “All that working is for the birds,” Ari joked.

Becca Goldberg, who plays Phebe, gets to sing a few songs.“There’s no music accompaniment at all,” Goldberg said.

However, Goldberg has assistance from the play’s choral ensemble, which includes: Sasha Mercuri, Emily Brittain, Kaylee Spates, Madi Cox (who is also Choral Director), Gabby DiMarco, Ali Timmons and Andie Huebsch.

The challenge for those setting the stage, costumes and music for “As it is in Heaven,” is that everything must be created in a simple, humble, and unassuming way like the Shakers themselves.

Costume shop members worked closely with Minnie Christine Waters, the show’s designer, to ensure that the costumes that they selected matched the period. Members included: Riley Lynch, Madeline Otto, Jacob Gershel, Cooper Smith and Ruby Day.

Goldberg scoffed at the costumes, which include long, longsleeved dresses and bonnets with huge brims. “We can’t show any skin,” she said. “And even our hair is covered up!”

Scenic designer Cody Oyama was up to the challenge. His set that he created for “As it is in Heaven” is simple, yet slanted.

“The slant was intentional,” Velarde explained. “The show itself is a little off kilter, so having a slanted set was perfect. There’s also windows hanging from the ceiling.”

Since Oyama plans on majoring in set design in college next year, they gave him ‘carte blanche’ to do what he wanted, Velarde added.

“As it is in Heaven” will play three free shows next weekend, starting Friday, April 23 and Saturday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m., and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 25, at the Boman Theater, located on the Idyllwild Arts campus, at 52500 Temecula Blvd. (at the end of Tollgate) in Idyllwild. For more information, call Idyllwild Arts at (951) 659-2171, ext.2206.

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"As it is in Heaven" play poster at Idyllwild Arts
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