Musical Drama Mixes N.Y. Actors, Colorado Evangelicals

A musical production that is being featured in the internationally renowned Humana Festival has brought together a rather unusual scenario – members of a New York City acting company performing a play about Evangelical Christians.

"This documentary-style drama explores a city, Colorado Springs, the unofficial home of the American Evangelical movement, where questions of religion, public vs. private life and the shifting lines between church, state and society are brought to the surface in a range of subtle and dramatic ways," states a public announcement released nearly a week after the Mar. 7 opening of "This Beautiful City."

The production – a result of hundreds of interviews around the Colorado Springs area – is part of what Director Steven Cosson describes as an effort to represent and better understand the differences between Evangelical and non-Evangelical Christians on issues of faith, religion, and separation between church and state.

"It felt important to go have a face-to-face experience with them to understand them on a human level," Cosson says in the Mar. 12 press release.

"My question for this play is: How is it possible that Evangelical and non-Evangelical America exist in totally different worlds? How are we even all Americans? One of our goals is to find a fundamental root, not where we all agree, but where we at least know the common questions we're seeking answers for," he adds.

To create the musical drama, actors part of the New York theatre company The Civilians conducted extensive interviews in the Colorado Springs area both with evangelicals and with those dismayed by their rising influence.

Many actors who took part in the production described the residents of Colorado Springs as welcoming, and their cooperation in the play's production helpful.

For Emily Ackerman, a featured actress in the production, issues involving church and state were less black and white than she had previously imagined.

"New York City is such a liberal, liberal, liberal community. A lot of what we hear in New York City is, 'These people are hateful, these people are this.' And to go out there and see a totally different thing than we expected – I certainly did see a fair amount of very hateful, hurtful sermons and moments at church, but at the same time we saw an amazing community, too, that was very, very loving, very welcoming. So those two things exist together," she said, according to The Courier-Journal.

"This Beautiful City" depicts the rise of a small city in the shadow of Pikes Peak into a national powerhouse of evangelical Christianity, leading to explosive controversies over church and state. Topics including the rise of evangelical Christianity, conflicts with church and state, and scandals like those involving Ted Haggard – the disgraced former mega church pastor whose involvement in a gay sex scandal became public in 2006 – are all featured in the play's production.

The play will continue to run until the end of March as part of the 32nd Humana Festival of New American Plays. The annual festival, produced in Louisville, Ky., by Actors Theatre of Louisville, showcases new theatrical works and draws producers, critics, playwrights and theatre lovers from around the world.

"This Beautiful City" will host its premier at Washington D.C.'s Studio Theatre in June.

On the web: thecivilians.org/coloradosprings.html