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From left to right are Kevin Peterson of the town of Clifton, Johnny Manche of the town of Troy and Dan Vesta of the town of River Falls. The three men, through their interest in theater and religious faith have joined forces to develop a Christian community theater called The WayWord Company Players.

Religious theater offers enlightening stories, Christian messages

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The group's mission statement defines itself through drama: "The WayWord Company Players exist to communicate -- through the medium of live theater -- the reality of God and the message of His love for the world by the presentation of original dramas and comedies, that God and His message would be seen as both relevant and crucial to the world in which we live."

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The WayWord Company Players is a newly formed local theater group which is set to offer its first-ever presentation, "The Power of the Word," next month.

Rehearsals are underway at the First Covenant Church on North Main Street. Performances are scheduled at Meyer Middle School.

Three driving forces

Dan Vesta, town of River Falls resident, is one of three driving forces behind WayWord.

He, along with Johnny Manche, town of Troy, and Kevin Peterson, town of Clifton, are the theater group's developers.

Vesta explained that he had an idea about a Christian community theater floating around in his mind for some time. But it wasn't until his daughter Amy Vesta shared an experience she had with the River Falls Community Theatre that he decided to make that idea a reality.

Dan said Amy was in the RFCT's production of "Fiddler on the Roof," "...and she told me about brief prayer gatherings prior to those performances."

Peterson was also part of "Fiddler" and of the prayer gathering, as was Manche, who also attended the same church as Dan.

"I have always had an idea about Christian community theater, so I contacted Johnny (Manche), he contacted Kevin (Peterson), and we decided to give it a go," said Vesta.

Vesta also summed up part of why WayWord's founding concepts are important to the men.

"Christianity is most often presented to the world as 'religion,'" Vesta began. "We believe that the essence of Christianity is 'relationship' to God through his son, Jesus Christ. We believe there is a need to tell 'Jesus stories' to the world to communicate the relevance of Christ in the real world, that he is as valid and necessary a part of life as any other facet of our existence.

"Jesus Christ is not just about Sundays or holy days, but about every day. He is as basic as food and water and air, and even longer lasting."

To reach out to those who will listen, WayWord will focus on those Jesus stories Vesta spoke of. He said they will be, "...stories that communicate (Jesus) against the backdrop of everyday life. But our stories will have drama and comedy both.

"The goal is to entertain; to cause people to laugh, to smile, to pause, and to think."

Peterson offered his thoughts about forming WayWord.

"I guess the main reason I wanted to help start this acting group is to give kids more opportunities to have a good and fulfilling time building relationships with both students and adults," he said. "Also, to work with them in presenting a message of hope for a world that sometimes is frayed and torn apart."

Manche shared a part of his first acting experience here in River Falls.

"My very first experience in acting was when I participated in 'Fiddler on the Roof,'" said Manche. "What I enjoyed the most out of that experience was working with all the talented young kids we have here in River Falls and the enthusiasm they have for drama.

"There were a bunch of us who prayed before every performance and after that I wondered, 'Why don't we have a Christian drama program where acts could be delivered that revealed the message from the Bible to the community?'"

Cast members

For WayWord's first-ever performance, there are 14 high school boys and girls ranging in ages 14 through 17, plus the three men, who make up the cast.

They include: Stephanie Peterson, Drew Tonsager, Kaili Clark, Katherine Stark, Mac Gill, Emily Gjerde, Sarah Manche, Samantha Derks, Nicole Marg, Maddie Perry, Brian Erdrich, Amy Vesta, Kait Graven, Johnny Manche and Dan Vesta. Christine Bjornstal is the stage manager and Kevin Peterson serves as the group's property manager.

The actors were asked why it is important for them to be part of the new theater company.

Maddie Perry said she's been having a lot of fun with the other cast members. Coming together in this way gives them all a chance to show others what they can do.

Emily Gjerde said she enjoys entertaining people. She wants to prove that, "...theater and drama is an art; not just a form of entertainment," she said.

Katherine Stark hopes people will relate to the strong character she portrays, who delivers a meaningful message.

Stephanie Peterson said, "I really believe in the message (this production) is sending."

She also wants to share her belief that, "...Jesus is wonderful," she said.

Nicole Marg and Sam Derks agree that spending this time with friends is fun, and like being around people with a common interest.

First performance

"The Power of the Word" will premiere at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16, in Meyer Middle School's auditorium. More performances will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, and 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18. The public is invited.

Tickets are available at the door and are $5 each. Children five years old and younger are free.

Vesta shared a summary of the play.

"('The Power of the Word') centers on a high school honors English class," he began. "They have a rather eccentric long-term sub -- a retired English teacher -- who gives them as their first assignment a report to turn in on the topic, 'What I Did On My Summer Vacation.'

"For Taylor, one of the students in the class, the assignment is a great challenge. She had a great family experience this past summer. She also had a life changing spiritual experience this summer.

Both experiences are true, but which report is the right one to share, and then give to the class as a speech at the end of the term?

"Taylor's dilemma and how she arrives at her decision form the core of the story."

Kevin Peterson talked about his hopes for WayWord's future.

"As students build on (a message of hope), we are encouraged that it will grow and spread to those who have the opportunity to see them acting, and will want to be involved in future plays," he said. "We hope this is just the beginning of a long run of plays that bring changes in the way we view our world and those around us."

For more information about the WayWord Company Players, send an e-mail to Vesta at dkvesta@sbcglobal.net.

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