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Roxane B. Salonen, SheSays contributor, Published March 15 2013

Curtain calling: Fargo family members share Gospel through acting

IF YOU GO

What: “The Seal of Elyus” musical production.

When: 7 p.m. March 22 and 23; 3 p.m. March 24.

Where: Bethel Church of Fargo, 2702 30th Ave. S.

Cost: $10 reserved, $15 “artist circle,” available at Bethel office or online at www.bethelfc.com.

Online preview: www.bethelfc.com/seal.

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FARGO - It’s just days now before the big production, and things are hopping at the Berglund household.

Meals have gotten a little more harried, book-reading and TV-watching have become almost extinct, the typical order in general has been temporarily thrown topsy-turvy to accommodate a rehearsal schedule.

Yet, nothing seems out of the ordinary.

This fast-motion life that comes with being involved in theater is, in fact, the usual course for one local family that has been living and breathing theater for almost as long as they’ve been living and breathing.

“Some people do the hockey thing, and their lives revolve around that,” Kim Berglund said. “Ours happens to be musical theater, and you just have to drop everything for a while and concentrate on that.”

But according to Kim, every stolen moment on stage and performing makes it worthwhile.

“It’s rewarding when you see a full audience, but even more so when you hear the stories about how it’s affected people and caused them to think about God in a new way,” says Kim, who will perform as a choral member in the upcoming “Seal of Elyus” production at Bethel Church.

The musical, an allegory set in medieval times – think “Narnia” without animals – was written and produced by a team of local artists from Bethel and will be performed the weekend of March 22 to 24. It’s the latest in a string of faith-based musicals to originate and be presented at the local church.

Kim’s husband, Howard, and youngest of three daughters, Olivia, also will be involved as actors, making the production a family affair.

“This is something we like to do, plus we’re doing ministry together,” Howard said, “so the long hours are good because we spend them with each other.”

LOVE FOR PERFORMING

Howard’s love of theater started in high school. Though involved mainly then in athletics, he tapped into a hidden thespian vein when presented with some theatrical opportunities.

But then college came, and intense years studying and training for his future job as an orthopedic surgeon drew almost all his attention for years.

Eventually, the family found a church home at Bethel, and not long after, discovered with others there that musical drama can provide an effective, dynamic way to present the Gospel message. “When these opportunities came up, I said, ‘Let’s dive back in,’” he says.

Kim had been singing in choirs her whole life, including in the well-known and respected Concordia College choir, and saw it as a no-brainer.

“Music is a big part of our family, and it’s special to be able to do it together in a church setting,” she said.

Before this latest production, Olivia has acted in numerous plays and musicals at both South and Davies high schools, as well as the main-stage musical at Trollwood for three years.

But it was at Bethel at age 8 that she performed first, in the church’s first original musical, “The Halo Project.”

“That was my very first theater experience,” said Olivia, a Davies senior, now 17. “I didn’t really do much. I just got to carry a lamb across the stage and dance a little, but it was a natural thing for me.”

“Ever since she was about (age) 3 she’s been kind of a performer,” Howard said. “When the girls were really little, they’d put on their own little shows downstairs, like a lot of kids, and as parents we’d be invited to come see their productions.”

Back then, Olivia’s oldest sister, Jenna, would assume the role of director and order her and middle sister, Allegra, where to go and what to do.

Now, Olivia is quite capable of forging her own path. In fact, on opening night next weekend, she’ll play the lead as Thea, a princess who falls in love with Rowan, the seal-bearer from an opposing kingdom.

“Overall, it’s just a big allegory for the Easter story,” Olivia said. “It’s about two kingdoms that have been split apart, and it’s kind of a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the medieval ages.”

“The seal-bearer’s sole purpose in life is to protect the seal, which was left by the prince as a way to keep order in the kingdom,” Howard adds. “When the prince (Elyus) leaves, things begin to fall apart. The seal-bearer tries his best to hold things together … but things disintegrate until the end of the story, when salvation happens.”

While she’s found all her stage appearances fulfilling, Olivia said, the Bethel productions add a whole other dimension.

“It’s such a different experience than anything else I’ve done. As an actor, it’s humbling because it takes your eyes off of yourself,” she said. “There’s a deeper meaning. The sole purpose with these shows is to show others Christ and bring glory to God.”

FAITH THROUGH ART

The Rev. Matthew St. John, pastor at Bethel, said many people have asked why a church would go through this much trouble. After all, writing the story and entire musical score and pulling together a well-equipped team large enough to make it happen is no small deal.

And yet, he said, people are literally “spilling their blood for this thing,” noting that one of the set workers recently cut his hand on a saw while helping with some design work.

It all falls in line with Bethel’s tradition of looking for opportunities to “thrust our arms out and wash people’s feet.”

“We’re under the conviction that there’s a whole realm of men and women in our community that could easily get overlooked,” he said. “Similarly, we’ve got a robust arts community here in Fargo-Moorhead, and we want to celebrate that.”

At bottom is the belief that the greatest artist of all is the living God, he said.

The greats like C.S. Lewis, author of “The Chronicle of Narnia,” and J.R.R. Tolkien, author of “Lord of the Rings,” already have used “allegory to celebrate God’s creativity as a means to connect with the hearts and minds of people,” St. John said.

“We know some people might never walk into a church door or pick up a Bible on their own,” he adds, “but you give them a good story about love and sacrifice and sword-fighting and princesses and they’re all in, because everybody loves a great story.”

Howard said he’s been impressed by how collaborative the efforts tend to be, involving not just Bethel, but artists from the wider community, as well.

“I’m always kind of blown away by the creativity in this community. The stories that are brought forth and how it’s put together in a professional way just astounds me,” he said. “Then we come in and get the privilege of performing it.”

“The Seal of Elyus” incorporates action, a love story and “a lot of good music,” including songs that will have the audience laughing, he said. “It should keep people watching and anticipating. It’s a safe, family-friendly event with a deeper meaning.”

Kim says the arts can help bring a message alive to an audience in a way a strict Scripture reading might not.

“Scripture is wonderful, but sometimes in the raw acting out of it, people might see something different unfold that’s meaningful to them; an ‘aha!’ moment.

“Years ago, that’s where the arts began – in the church – and I think it’s good for the Christian church to reclaim that,” Howard said. “We want people to come out and have a great evening. And we’ll do the best we can to make that happen.”

To stay focused on what the cast hopes to accomplish through “The Seal of Elyus,” according to Olivia, writer/director Ginger Williams has borrowed words from the popular Christian artist Toby Mac’s song, “Steal My Show.”

“It’s kind of a prayer for God to come and steal our show,” she said. “It’s fun to put on a show to entertain, to dance, to sword-fight and act, but at the end of the day, what the cast wants is for God to steal our show and get us out of the way so (God) can be in the spotlight.”

This article was written exclusively for The Forum.

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email roxanebsalonen@gmail.com.