It’s pageant season! Not as in The Miss America Pageant although it might be that season as well. I’m not sure. I quit paying attention to that in 1983 after I won a spot on the high school homecoming court, and wrote in my bio that my big life goal was “to win The Miss America Pageant,” which I thought was hilarious due to irony but that didn’t come through in the homecoming flyer distributed school-wide so basically I set myself up for a year’s worth of mockery and I think it’s understandable why I’ve worked since then to dissociate myself altogether from that kind of pageantry.
No, it’s church pageantry season we’re talking about, the type familiar to those who grew up in Protestant churches lucky enough to have a volunteer youth music director, some kids with decent singing voices, and a couple of moms who could craft.
By “craft” I mean they could take the blandest remnants of burlap, felt, yarn, trim, etc., and create wearable works of art evoking whatever it was our characters were supposed to evoke. A leader, a follower, a skeptic, a truth-teller, a mob. While the music and storytelling of Christmas and Easter pageants tended to be literal and easy to learn in a few rehearsals, costumery was high concept. More suggestive of the notion of “leper” than, like, actual face-latex representation of “leper.”
Like a whole lot of creative achievements, this arose from necessity. No church with a volunteer music director has a costume budget. You work with what you’ve got, you figure out how to evoke complex and epic states of being using only scrap and suggestion and hot glue. As the late music and fashion icon Prince said in his concept album about spirituality, sensuality, love and racism (The Rainbow Children, 2001) — “you do the work.”
Right now, In this same vein, about 20 Mankato-area music lovers are busy assembling costumes for the roles they’ll sing on Saturday, April 8, in the one-night-only free public performance of the world’s first Jesus Christ Superstar Pageant & Singalong.
The cast consists of local public officials, professionals, full-time parents, part-time students, radio hosts and others — myriad grownups, most of whom don’t perform publicly but have been belting out Jesus Christ Superstar alone in their cars or showers for years. They started showing up for rehearsals at the Arts Center of Saint Peter in September, and word spread and the band and cast formed, and now this. Allllll this…
And they’re approaching costume-planning with fitting gravitas. Expected to appear in the wardrobe tableau: White tunics posing to represent ray-of-light-ish-ness. Burlap for historical accuracy (historical as in church pageants of our youth, not New Testament). Blood-red scarves, wearable coin purses, cowhide. Leaves (plastic and palm, both). Cardboard, bathrobes, sandals.
Some of the choices come from cast members’ hopes of sparking reflection on the notions of service, sacrifice, leadership and followership — ideas first cracked open for them, personally, by way of this music. Some of the choices are inspired solely by a love of fringe or flared legs or other flamboyance that doesn’t get much wear in regular daily life.
My own style, that night, will reference the makeshift togas my choir friends wore to the last singalong party I hosted, which was in high school, not long after my “Miss America” screw-up. Choir was a sanctuary where self-expression met discipline met community. Choir friends got the joke and wore the togas.
Whether you’re a former choir geek or not, a fan of rock opera or not, a tunic-wearer or rainbow child or not, you’re invited to come out April 8 and wear your feelings on your sleeve. Or on your head or around your neck or whatever you’ve got. Make use of your personal style. Make use of your voice. Scour your closet and come flaunt, strut, share, get beeeautifully loud with us.
One more open rehearsal remains! Wednesday, March 30, setup 7-8 p.m., music 8-9:30 p.m. Lyrics provided. Talent absolutely not necessary. Free free free, and so is the main event:
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR PAGEANT & SINGALONG
Saturday, April 8, 8 p.m.
Patrick’s on Third, St. Peter
A co-production of KMSU Radio and the Arts Center of Saint Peter