Posts Tagged ‘As it is in Heaven’

Next Up: Shakers

March 5, 2010

Howard Shangraw had a dilemma. He had to cast his next Idyllwild Arts student production, but it had to have a large number of female roles. He thought about “The Heidi Chronicles,” an award-winning Wendy Wasserman play about feminism, but the dialog was a little too “racy” for high school students.

“I can get away with a lot, but not that much,” Howard said with a smile.

The theater students had their own opinions. (After each play, Howard waits until the last minute to announce the next one, building up interest and anticipation.)

“The next musical is going to be ‘The Odd Couple’ with an all-female cast. I’m sure of it,” several students said.

The next play is about, well, Shakers.

“’As it is in Heaven’ is about religious persecution and a psychological cross section of humanity that is shrouded in simple purity,” Howard said.

According to various web sites, Shakers were a religious group that came from England in 1747. They believed that people could find God within themselves and not through rituals or clergy. They worshipped in plain meetinghouses where they marched, danced, sang, twitched and shouted. Many who didn’t understand their practices, considered them “heretics.”

“As it is in Heaven,” written by Arlene Hutton in 2006, 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.” When three newcomers start to see visions, several of the older women, who haven’t seen any, begin to question their own devotions.

“You don’t know much about Shakers because they believed in strict celibacy. Since they didn’t procreate, they all died out,” Howard said.

Most people don’t know the difference between Quakers, Shakers, and Mennonites, Howard added. The play will showcase Shaker differences. For example, the men and women lived separately. “They ate and slept in different houses, and the only time they mingled was during service when they’d ‘shake’ away their lust,” he said.

He added that many of the songs in the play will be sung ‘acapella,” or without much music accompaniment. “They will be sung ‘like they were meant to be,’” he said.

For the music accompaniment, Howard asked several of the Idyllwild Arts music students to play in a small makeshift orchestra. Una Cheng, who plays percussion, was one of about 15 who played for the school’s musical last year.

“Howard gave us the music about a month before the musical began,” Una explained. As a percussionist, she didn’t have many solos, but had to pay attention to the play’s conductor. “It was fun, and Howard gave us pizza,” Una added.

Howard added that getting costumes for the musical would not be a problem because they plan to make most of them. “You’ve heard of the ‘Shaker’ bonnet, right?” he asked. Well, Shaker furniture, with its simple lines, has also come back into fashion with home decorators.

For more information about “As it is in Heaven,” the next Idyllwild Arts musical about Shakers, contact Howard at (951) 659-2171, ext. 2200, or visit

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