You know it’s That Time of Year again when odd structures start to appear in the large hall here at the Riga 1 corps/church. At Christmas it was a plywood shape which eventually metamorphosed into a very cleverly constructed collapsible stable. A few weeks ago it was large bits of white cloth which appeared as did bits of white tubing shaped to look like an exhibit which would be at home in a modern art gallery.
It is all a sign that things are hotting up for the production of the latest musical here in The Salvation Army in Latvia. The white cloth turned out to be the sail of the boat in which the Biblical character Jonah tries to escape from God, and the modern art exhibit became the skeleton of a life-size whale which does, quite literally, spew Jonah out onto dry land in the stage production.
Since February around 50-60 children and young people have come together from all over Latvia to spend time rehearsing for the musical, ‘Jonah’. They are split into groups and take acting, singing and dancing classes in rotation and also get involved in craft activities. In the half-term holiday they came together for a mini-camp when they not only concentrated on the rehearsals, but also had a lot of fun too. Sermon outlines were prepared so that the adults could explore the story of ‘Jonah’, and the relevance of the story to the children’s own lives was highlighted.
The funding for this three year project come from a legacy bequeathed to The Salvation Army from an Australian Latvian lady who wanted to remember the children in the place of her ancestry. It helps to fund the Project Coordinator, Darta, a gifted musician with a particular gift for being able to translate the songs and scripts of the musicals from English to Latvian. She is joined by a whole team of committed adults who do everything from teaching the children to dance, to making up packed lunches for them and seeing they don’t go hungry.
At the beginning of May the musical was staged first of all here in Riga to a full hall of admiring family and friends. We all loved the Spanish dancers and especially the pirates who helped to give the traditional story a rather more modern twist. Good amplification meant we could hear the word-perfect actors when they spoke and with the help of costumes and props the story really came to life. There was only one adult actor, who played the part of Jonah. Hats off to Arturs for being such a good sport and providing a reliable anchorman (if you’ll excuse the pun) for the production.
I know you shouldn’t have favourites when it comes to children, but I have to confess that I did have one favourite. There was a talking crab who befriended Jonah and who showed considerable dexterity in his ability to walk sideways throughout the entire production!
Rather ambitiously, I thought, the second production was held in Liepaja which is a 3-4 hour journey from Riga. I was on the bus when we collected 50 weary people to start the long journey to Liepaja early in the morning after the Riga production. I couldn’t believe how well-behaved they all were, but maybe that had something to do with the fact that they were all too worn out to make much noise!
Once again, a group of family and friends came to witness this second production, each receiving a programme for the event ingeniously folded origami-style into the shape of a whale.
Darta will already have started thinking about her next production, I’ve no doubt, but for now, there is time to reflect on a job well done – children who have been able to make music, make new friends, engage with good Christian role models and learn more about the discovery Jonah made of the gracious and forgiving character of God.