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Hunger-relief efforts spur Lazarus show

The United Methodist Church prepares for Lazarus, a musical written by Joel Underwood for Bread for the World. Euge Isherwood, John Weihing and Dean Henderson begin stage construction. <i>Submitted photo</i>

Players from River Falls' United Methodist Church invite everyone to see their upcoming musical production of "Lazarus," and, by doing so, help alleviate hunger.

The Bible-based story of Lazarus and the rich man, says play director Jean Gfall, comes from the Gospel of Luke. It gives insight into what God invites his followers to do in ministry and life.

Characters include the rich man clad in expensive garments and eating sumptuous banquets, and Lazarus, a poor, starving man who would be happy to eat what drops from the rich man's table.

The rich man has a dream that reminds him how all people are brothers and sisters. Gfall said when the rich man awakes, he finds himself transformed.

"It's a story of the second chances God gives us continually," Gfall said.

She said the play began as a musical done by Bread for the World, a non-profit that focuses on alleviating hunger worldwide. It is allowing UMC to use the play without paying royalties -- as long as all the proceeds go to feed the hungry.

The play fit right into the church's yearlong focus on relieving hunger, so it began early this year to set a schedule, recruit players, build the set and learn lines.

Gfall, a friend of RF UMC's pastor, Janet Ellinger, said she also directed the play in Ellsworth.

Gfall has served churches in River Falls before. She works now as a home-care chaplain for the HealthEast system.

She's been directing a cast of 20 and a crew of about 30 people to prepare for six runs of the "Lazarus." See the related sidebar for times and ticket information.

She says three people -- herself, the music director and the pianist -- will be paid a small salary -- all others involved are volunteering.

Community pulls together

Gfall appreciates the way the community has come together for this effort that ultimately feeds the hungry.

Many players have never acted before yet volunteered quickly in the charitable context and have worked hard to polish their performance.

The actors committed to about 10 weeks of twice-weekly two-hour rehearsals, including the parent of child actors who must be there to practice. Local people with various trade and craft skills volunteered to build the set, stage and props.

Many others will contribute talents to handle sound, lights and other technical aspects of the production. Children in the congregation are making puppets that will be used in the play.

River City Disposal donated a dumpster for the debris. Three theater companies loaned costumes: River Falls Community Theatre; the New Richmond community theater and UW-River Falls theater department. Individual players have brought lots of needed items, too.

Asked where in the church the play will be presented, Gfall said in the sanctuary over the altar, "For three Sundays in a row the sanctuary will look like the set."

Gfall says some of the players have never been onstage before but seem to be having fun doing the production -- learning lines, dance steps and new techniques.

The director said participating in a production also teaches teamwork, since all the players rely on each other to spot lines, shine the light at the right times, turn on the microphone and hit their marks.

Gfall said it's neat to see all the different talents people bring to the production "table."

"It's a good way to use people's gifts," she said about the play.

The director emphasizes that the play isn't purely for entertainment, it is part of the church's ministry with which everyone can help.

The church started an effort about a year ago to closely examine how it could serve its neighbors. That led to a greater awareness of community needs, as well as a focus on welcoming new people and helping the local homeless shelter, Our Neighbors' Place.

RF UMC also started within the past year holding a community breakfast and convening a committee focused on feeding the hungry.

Gfall said she's doing the play because she enjoys it. She likes seeing people -- especially kids -- blossom and grow in their abilities.

The play also fits nicely into the church's social-justice theme, because she says, the congregation "feels strongly that everyone should be welcomed into God's arms and cared for."

The play has the potential to generate $5,000, says Gfall. She emphasizes that everything the church makes from the play will go toward feeding the hungry.

Bread for the World will decide which organization(s) receive the proceeds.

She said the play serves as a reminder that the stories in the Bible are still relevant today and call people to action.

"We hope that the community will join us to help feed the hungry."

Play dates, times

"Lazarus" the musical will be presented at the River Falls United Methodist Church, 127 S. Second St.

  • 7:30 p.m. April 27 and 28, May 4 and 5
  • 2 p.m. April 29 and May 6.

Tickets cost $5 per person at the door or in advance at the Dish and the Spoon Café, 208 N. Main St. The Saturday, April 28, performance includes an optional dinner for $5 beginning at 6 p.m., limited to 125 tickets.

All play proceeds go to feed the hungry. The production last about 90 minutes, not including an intermission.