On March 24 in Barrows Auditorium, a company of 12 students opened “Blessed is She,” a musical about the women in Jesus’ genealogy in the book of Matthew. The musical was written and directed by senior Christian Formation and Ministry major Sarah Spacek. The cast performed five shows in person over 4 days and streamed the final performance online. Approximately 30 people attended each performance and more than 350 viewed the livestream.
During Christmas break in 2019, Spacek took a short nap between festivities with her family. She woke up from what she called one of the most vivid dreams of her life, in which Eve and Mary sang together, surrounded by other women from the Bible.
“That’s what I need to do,” she thought at the time. “I need to tell the stories of the women in the Bible and talk about the abuse they went through and the trauma they experienced that led up to the beauty that is Christ.”
Spacek wanted to combine her Christian Formation and Ministry major with her love of theater. After the dream, she set to work on a musical featuring the women of the Bible, but the pandemic put her production plans on hold. She spent the extra time looking for a composer, studying the scriptures and casting performers. Over a year later, Spacek witnessed her dream come to life onstage.
“Blessed is She” tells the stories of Eve and the five women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew — Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. The hour-long show featured piano instrumentals and lyrics written by Indianapolis composer Sean Kisch, a friend of Spacek. The show also featured dancing and interpretive movement, but no dialogue. Spacek said this was to preserve each woman’s original story without adding contrived conversation.
Four male cast members portrayed Adam, Judah, Boaz and David. Junior political science major John Nicol said that when he received a text from Spacek asking him to play Adam he “wasn’t going to refuse.”
“It is a telling of stories that often go unnoticed,” Nicol said. “Sarah saw the line running from the mother of the living to the mother of Christ and put them together.”
The musical also utilized limited costuming and props. Most of the cast dressed in black. The primary prop used was a long red scarf which was passed from one woman to another in various forms, from the apple Eve bites to the cloth Mary wraps around baby Jesus.
“They’re not individual stories, they’re continuations,” Spacek said. “Having that [scarf] as a through line shows how the sin is being handed down. [The production team and I] liked that idea of starting with sin and then ending up around Christ coming to redeem us all.”
The musical was prepared as a devised theater, meaning the cast and crew collaborated on the script and score. Even the choreography was improvised in rehearsals with the entire team’s input.
“We all showed up to rehearsal, and we would turn on the music and do improvisational movement,” choreographer and junior communication major Melissa Schill said. “Then we’d piece together bits that we liked.”
Senior Lecturer of English Alison Gibson and Associate Lecturer of Christian Formation and Ministry Dan Haase offered creative advice during the rehearsals and ensured theological accuracy for each of the scenes.
“It was powerful to see so many women on stage, telling biblical stories with their bodies and voices,” said Gibson of the Wednesday night performance. “The show reminded me of God’s faithfulness to women and their important role in his grand narrative.”
The cast and crew also attended Bible studies focusing on these women every Wednesday night for three months. Each member read the passages ahead of time and often brought a personal item in response to the reading.
“I remember when we did Tamar’s story, I brought this piece of wrapping that I had gotten at a cafe,” said senior communication major Grace Pointner, who played Eve. “My coffee had spilled on it and someone had tried to throw it away and it made me think of Tamar as this thing people wanted to throw away. But the Lord says, ‘Wait, I can use that to bring my son into the world.’”
Producing a musical during the pandemic proved challenging for the team. Spacek said that rehearsal and performance spaces were difficult to reserve due to scheduling conflicts and other group events in the same areas. The cast rehearsed in four places — Barrows Auditorium in Billy Graham Hall, Pierce Chapel, the Armerding Center and Jenks Hall — but only performed in Barrows and Pierce. They also had to rehearse in Barrows with a broken screen in the middle of the stage, which was not fixed until the day of the show. Then, ten minutes before the first show began, the lights in Barrows Auditorium cut out. “Every step of the way was a challenge,” Spacek said. “It was pretty clear that Satan wanted to stop this work, [but] God always provides.”
The cast also had to adhere to COVID-safe protocols by masking and socially distancing onstage. However, some on the production team felt that the restrictions added to the message of the musical.
“The space between the actors often worked to convey the grief and loneliness that the characters were experiencing,” Gibson remarked. “At many points, I forgot the actors were wearing masks because their physical movements and voices enabled me to see the characters so clearly.”
According to Spacek, the cast and crew wanted the musical to encourage the audience to wonder about the stories of these six women and the other moments and people in the Bible that are often overlooked.
“As women reading the Bible, it is really hard to feel important,” said sophomore music and theater major Jessie Wright, who played Rahab. “But we are important. Women are integral to the story of the gospel, and women are integral to the story of God.”
Wheaton College, IL