"I have never had the courage to believe in nothing," says Miguel de Cervantes in MAN OF LA MANCHA. Likewise, Cervantes' fictionAl Knight Don Quixote believes he sees monsters where there are only windmills.
Strong beliefs are not a challenge at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas. Serving nearly 5,000 families, it is the largest parish in the diocese. Spiritual needs are met through worship, education and outreach programs that serve a diverse population.
The church's youth ministry is one of the most active programs. "Between seventh and twelfth grade, we have about 250 kids participating on a weekly to monthly basis with 150 of that number being very active," said Robert Tessier, All Saints director of youth ministry.
Tessier also produces the Upper Room Theatre Ministry, an outgrowth of the youth program. Now in the eleventh season, the mission of the Upper Room is to present professional quality productions at affordable prices. Past seasons have produced JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, and ANNIE.
The true mission of the Upper Room goes deeper than the sound of applause. "We seek to bring gospel messages to life that are contained within popular shows. We want to inspire members of the production and those who witness them," Tessier said.
"We put God at the center of a theatrical process and look to serve one another with the gifts God has given us." Putting that belief into practice, profits from productions go to do work in the community.
MAN OF LA MANCHA, opening this week, provides the latest opportunity for the Upper Room's
mission. Beginning July 18 and continuing through Sunday, the production is the work of nearly 150 young people and adults. The All Saints School gymnasium has been transformed into a Spanish prison that reaches nearly to the ceiling.
Tessier said the set proved to be the biggest obstacle to the production, with seven secret entrances and a movable staircase. "It is massive, but my team of builders and designers love a challenge. They embraced it and we will have a very proud product come opening night."
On a recent evening, the cast went through the show on the set without stopping, which is no small feat with more than thirty performers in the production. The actors explored the trapdoors and got used to their entrances and exits. Costume pieces worked for some cast members, while others required further adjustments.
Through the scenes, musical director Cathy Drummond kept a keen eye on the singers, while the accompanist played the Flamenco-flavored score on the piano. By opening night, a pit orchestra will be added to give a full sound to the score.
The performers, including principals Joey Clem, Sean Bartnick, and Kara Hollis sang through their musical numbers, their voices filling up the gymnasium space.
Near the beginning of the show, Clem takes the stage to set the scene. As he puts on his gleaming conquistador helmet, his voice rings out, "I am, I, Don Quixote, the Lord of La Mancha, my destiny calls, and I go!" He also sings the iconic song "The Quest," known popularly as "The Impossible Dream."
Clem is Cervantes, the 17th century poet, thrown in jail for upsetting the Spanish Inquisition. He implores the other inmates to join him in acting out his latest story. For the prison entertainment, Cervantes becomes the elderly squire Alonso Quijana. Quijana, in turn, believes he is the noble knight Don Quixote.
Each performer plays multiple roles. Bartnick, as servant to Cervantes, provides comic support as Quixote's squire Sancho. Hollis is a prisoner who takes the role of Aldonza, an illiterate serving girl. But to the dreamer Quijana, she is the ideal high-born lady, Dulcinea.
"From a performance point of view, this production offers challenges because it is a play within a play, but with significant focus on character exploration, the actors have truly risen to the challenge," said Tessier.
For the volunteers of the Upper Room Theatre Ministry, there is a strong belief in the power of MAN OF LA MANCHA. Tessier believes the performance will succeed. "Every moment they are on stage is an opportunity to bring the audience deeper into what is certain to be a riveting story."
As the performers, musicians and crew put the finishing touches on the production, their quest for an entertaining and enriching experience on both sides of the footlights is not an impossible dream.