A family in the Civil War discusses the current times during another scene in “Liberty.” The added dimension of the Civil War family is unique to this year’s performance.
By ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times
For the past two years, audiences have been treated to the saga of the Johnston family in the Fellowship Baptist Church’s performances of its program “Liberty,” and this year’s performance will see the saga’s conclusion.
The saga began in 2012 and saw tensions facing the family as eldest brother Matthew deployed to Afghanistan and continued in 2013, which saw the continuation of the family’s journey while Matthew was re-deployed to Afghanistan.
This year will bring a resolution to the Johnston family’s saga as Matthew goes on a dangerous mission overseas and his younger siblings Alex and Jason head off to college. This year’s performance, however, will have a twist – there will also be an added dimension of a Kansas family facing its own struggles during the Civil War.
Musical director Tyler Prater and script writer Erin Rush say they couldn’t be more excited for the performances, saying they began writing the show practically immediately after the curtains came down at the end of last year’s final performance.
“That’s actually when it started in our minds and discussions, and as we would meet together the next couple weeks, we began to pound some things out and brainstorm some. So on our end, it started literally when last year’s ended,” Prater said. “It’s because of our dedicated group of volunteers that we’ve been able to put this together.”
Performances for “Liberty” will be at Fellowship Baptist Church on 310 W. Pancake June 30 and July 1 and will begin at 7:00. Admission is free.
Rush said one of his favorite things about preparing for the show has been working with Prater. Their friendship dates back to junior high school and though their paths separated for a short time, they reconnected and wrote the first part together in 2012.
“It’s a special privilege and a lot of fun to be able to do it with your best friend and just to add to that, it really is a unique opportunity in terms of writing to be able to know all of the people you’re casting,” Rush said. “In some ways I think their personalities come out in their characters and in some ways they don’t but it’s special to work with a great group of people you know and respect and appreciate.”
The show itself was adapted from the show “Liberty,” which debuted after the Statue of Liberty was refurbished. Rush said while it is easy to find shows relating to the Christmas and Easter holidays in regular literature, it is much harder to find a show regarding patriotism around the 4th of July season. After doing “Liberty” for more than 20 years, Rush said he and Prater took on the task of turning the show into a dramatic musical.
“We decided we wanted to take ‘Liberty’ from what it had been for 25 years and make it a full-fledged dramatic musical, we’d have to do it ourselves,” Rush said. “I could write it, and so Tyler and I ended up writing the first one in 2012 and the second one in 2013.”
With the success of the past years’ performances, however, the duo said they weren’t sure what they wanted to do next.
“After last year, after the second part, we both looked at each other and thought ‘what are we going to do next year – do we end it and give it a good resolution or move on to something completely different?’” Rush said. “Then people were saying ‘we’re really excited to see how you end it,’ and we weren’t sure we were going to end it but we came up with a really good ending and a really good resolution that really puts a good cap on the program”
Cast member Amy Knudsen, who plays Helen, the matriarch of the Civil War family, said she was inspired to be part of the show because she enjoys the involvement with the church, having participated in skits and other shows for the church in the past.
“This was really fun for me,” Knudsen said. “This was a little bit different role than I’m typically used to – I’m typically doing humorous stuff so this is more of a challenge but I’ve enjoyed it.”
Other members of the show’s cast say their favorite thing about the show is how their own personalities shine through their roles.
“I’m very sassy myself and that goes along great with my character,” cast member Yesenia Perez said of her character, younger sister Alex. “I really get to be me.”
“Yeah, we’ve all been doing this together for the last three years so we really are a little family,” added cast member Joyce Varnes, who plays the Johnston family matriarch.
Cast and crew agreed that in order to get a good seat for either performance, they must arrive early.
“We really are thankful for the 75-plus choir and supporting cast and...all the folks that make up Fellowship Baptist Church who are so committed, so dedicated to pull this program off at this level every year,” Prater said. “It’s because of them we’re able to do this thing.”