Playwright/author Andrew Kooman is excited to see one of his latest plays, The Towering Cross, making its debut in Red Deer shortly before Easter.
Under the direction of Annette Bradley and Laura Geelen, The Towering Cross will be presented March 26th-28th at the Memorial Centre. The production also features music by Kimberly Messer. Curtain is 7 p.m. with a 2:30 p.m. show slated for March 28th as well.
The play will also serve as a fundraising event for the Central Alberta Pregnancy Care Centre’s special housing project.
The plot focuses on Anna who returns to the church she grew up for its annual Easter production after a 10-year absence.
“She comes to the Easter production, and in a way, she’s embarrassed too because she’s expecting this campy musical,” explained Kooman. “Ultimately, she wanted to be touched by the story but wasn’t.” When she meets Joshua after the performance, her view of the cross as a tired, old symbol is challenged not only by his invitation to imagine it differently, but her need for it to be something more.
“So really what Anna does is she takes the music and kind of re-imagines it and has this interesting experience. She not only wants the power of the story to be real, but she needs it to be real.” And the plot unfolds from there.
“To me, the Easter story is the greatest story ever told but I find some become so familiar with these great stories ,” he said, adding he wanted to write a contemporary piece that shines a fresh, new light on the telling of the story as well.
Kooman is originally from Red Deer, but now divides his time between here and London, Ontario where he lives with his wife, Petra. The couple married last summer.
He had written a series of monologues for a fundraising gala on behalf of the Central Alberta Pregnancy Care Centre last year, and they proved so successful the organization approached him about penning a play for an Easter production/fundraiser this year.
“It was another chance to collaborate with them, and I really respect their outlook because they are doing something really unique and creative by bringing people together in the community to have an event while leveraging it as a fundraiser to support their cause,” he said. Kooman took a collection of musical pieces and created an original drama that essentially is woven together with the music.
“The music is from a number of different artists, but Kimberly Messer compiled it,” he said. “The choir will also be kind of a character within the show – so there are really moving, dynamic pieces and the choir is involved – they are almost like the set. And there are also the six actors who take on the roles and tell the story, too.
“What’s amazing is now there are 60 voices in the choir, there are six actors and there are more than 23 churches coming together as the choir. So it’s an incredible community story – I think it’s pretty exciting to see all these different people coming together to put on the show.
“I would say for anyone who says they’ve heard the Easter story before – and feel ‘been there, done that’ – I think there is something really fresh and unique about (this production). For audiences, I think it’s going be a really great experience, especially for people who really like music. I know for a lot of people at Easter, they want to connect with the meaning of the season – and this will be a great way to connect with that story in a fresh way.”
Anne Waddell, executive director of the Pregnancy Care Centre, said Kooman’s prolific creativity is part of why the Centre pursued a collaboration.
“He did a lot of research on the monologues (last year) in understanding our clients from the male perspective, the female perspective and also from the post-abortive perspective,” she explained. “He gets it, and he does it in a very compassionate and graceful way. He’s a very creative person, so when I thought of doing a musical I thought of him and Annette Bradley – I’ve known Annette for more than 20 years and she’s done a lot of work in the community also.”
A play about Christ’s resurrection, and the meanings surrounding that which includes redemption and forgiveness, seemed like ideal material to build a fundraising production on, she said, adding the funds raised will go to support the Centre’s Single Pregnant Women Housing Project. “It’s really become a community production.”
As to the project, the goal is to establish a, “Transformative housing program to remove barriers for women to carry to term by creating a safe and healthy environment; equipping them with life and parenting skills.”
For 26 years, the Central Alberta Pregnancy Care Centre has offered support and education to individuals and families impacted by unplanned pregnancy. According to their web site, they provide education, counselling and practical assistance.
Programs and services include prenatal education, parenting programs, adoption support, male mentorship and programs to learn about healthy relationships.
Phase one of the Single Pregnant Women Housing Project includes second floor renovations of an existing building which will convert a 2,000 sq. ft. office space into a home-like space consisting of four bedrooms, a common kitchen area with a dining/teaching area and a small living/office space for one staff. A grand opening is planned for this fall.
Meanwhile, Kooman has brought many projects to the public over the past years, including his hugely successful play She Has A Name which landed tremendous acclaim and was extensively toured in 2012. Currently, the play is in pre-production for a feature film. The play, which is about the battle against human trafficking, provides poignant insight into the issue in South East Asia.
Meanwhile, he’s also gearing up for the debut of another play entitled We Are The Body, which opens May 5th in Red Deer with additional shows in Calgary and Saskatoon.
We Are The Body follows the stories of three prisoners of conscience who are in solitary confinement. They have no contact with the outside world, and don’t know if they will get out alive.
“It asks some big questions about faith and survival,” he said. “To me it was so fascinating to imagine people who stand up for what they believe even if they suffer. And how they still choose to believe. I think it will appeal to a lot of people, and I also think it’s very relevant to today.”
As for opening his plays in Red Deer, Kooman said it’s a natural choice.
“I’m so proud to be from here and I’ve been so blessed by audiences here who honestly engage with my material.”
There is no charge for tickets for The Towering Cross, but they still must be picked up to ensure seating is available for each performance. They are available at 53rd Street Music, Scotts Parable Christian Store, by visiting www.pregnancycare.ca or calling the Central Alberta Pregnancy Care Centre at 403-343-1611.
A free-will offering will be collected.