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Theatre companies come together to present Reformation production

By Susan Shinn Turner

For the Salisbury Post

On both sides of the Atlantic, plans are coming together for the English-language premiere of “In God’s Own Country,” Oct. 12-15 and 18-21 at the Meroney Theater, 213 St. Main St.

The play is a collaboration between St. John’s Lutheran Church and Piedmont Players Theater, and a key part of Rowan County’s 500th celebration of the Reformation. Actors from Landesbuhnen Sachsen in Germany, a theater company managed by Salisbury native Jane Brown Taubert, will appear in the play, making it a truly a trans-Atlantic effort.

The play chronicles the beginning of Lutheranism in America — led by Henry Muhlenberg — but it’s much more than that, says Reid Leonard, PPT’s resident director. “It’s a story about the beginning of America, the establishment of religion and culture in a new country, in God’s own country. It’s not Catholics versus Protestants. It’s not anti-anything. This story even predates the American Revolution.”

Indeed, Muhlenberg came to America during the early and mid-1700s. He journeyed from Germany to Charleston, then on to Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas, establishing churches along the way.

Austin Young, a junior at Catawba College, spent six months in Germany with the theater company. He’ll serve as assistant director of the play here, his role in Germany.

“It’s an easily understandable play, and remarkably contemporary,” Young says. “It’s about the line between my brother, my family, and a stranger. It’s a very honest piece. It’s not trite or forced or preachy, which is funny since it’s a play about a pastor.”

Young calls his time in Germany “an experience that was so alien, but translated so seamlessly into something welcoming. I made friends there. I went not speaking any German, but now I can understand the conversations.”

Since his return, Young says he’s been asked a lot about “that German thing.”

“I’m always glad to answer questions,” he says. “This project will work best when there’s a community built around it. There’s so much to be done, from set building to cast to transportation of the German company members.”

The German cast will arrive in Salisbury in early October to begin rehearsals, Taubert says, along with stage director Damian Cruden from York, England. “Everybody on both sides is excited. The actors here are learning their roles in English. Some roles will be in German, to show the Old World and the New Word.”

While the actors are practicing, the St. John’s Chancel Choir — joined by other community singers — is learning five songs for the play. Two are in German, two are in English and the last is a mix between the two languages. Rob Durocher, St. John’s minister of music, serves as music director.

“They’ve got a lot of work to do,” Taubert says of the choir, “but they’re all gung-ho about it.”

Taubert says there will be six weeks of rehearsals for both the German ensemble and their counterparts at PPT. “Our actors have to relearn things in another language, so there’s a lot of groundwork.”

There will be seven actors from Germany, along with three staff members. Additionally, a quintet from Germany, the Ensemble Nobiles based in Leipzig, will be singing during the 11 a.m. worship service at St. John’s on Oct. 8, to help build excitement for opening night of “In God’s Own Country” on Oct. 12. Taubert says that plans are also under way to have Germany singers hold a workshop at Catawba College. “We want to try to find a way to interact with the students.”

The combination of the German and American actors and singers will create a large group on the Meroney stage — and the chance to interact with one another.

“It’s a chance for us to learn from each other,” Taubert says. “This project has a lot to do with building bridges between continents, and that’s really important right now.”

“What’s particularly special about this event is the rich collaboration among the arts and faith communities,” says the Rev. Rhodes Woolly, St. John’s senior pastor. “It’s hard to understand one without the other, and this play showcases both in a beautiful, inspiring way.”

Taubert plans to take the German group on a tour of the Old Stone House, and Old Salem. She notes that the founder of the Moravian church is from Germany, and is portrayed in the play. The group will also spend a relaxing evening at Cauble Creek Vineyard, owned by Taubert’s cousins.

The German actors and singers will then travel to Hickory for two performances at L-R University, then fly to Philadelphia for a series of four performances in the historic Augustus Lutheran Church in Trappe before returning home. Muhlenberg’s Old Trappe Church is the oldest Lutheran Church in America. Taubert notes, “On Reformation Day, we’ll be back in ‘The Holy Land,’ in Germany, which is a holiday for us.”

In addition to generous support and funding from partners in Salisbury, Hickory and Trappe, the international theater project “In God’s Own Country” is being sponsored by the State Chancellory of Saxony and the United States Consulate General in Leipzig, Germany.

To purchase tickets for “In God’s Own Country,” call Piedmont Players Theatre at 704-633-5471 or visit www.piedmontplayers.com.

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