Justin Poole (left), professor of theater, and musician Jim Clemens perform "The Gospel Project," a work commissioned as part of Asbury United Methodist Church's Sacred Arts Series. Free performances are Friday, Jan. 29, and Saturday, Jan. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. (Courtesy photo)

Commissioned theatrical work with live music retells the Gospels in ‘challenging’ and ‘surprising’ ways

Justin Poole, assistant professor of theater at Eastern Mennonite University, and professional composer and musician Jim Clemens present “The Gospel Project: A Theatrical Journey through the Life of Jesus Christ.” The performances will be Friday, Jan. 29, and Saturday, Jan. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Asbury United Methodist Church in Harrisonburg. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

The work is “a kinetic and reverent retelling of the Gospels that takes as its inspiration the Baroque art of Rembrandt and Caravaggio,” according to Poole.

It was commissioned by Asbury’s Sacred Arts Series and will be performed in the church’s recently renovated Slaven Hall, utilizing for the first time its new state-of-the-art theatrical lighting system.

In addition to Poole and Clemens, the creative team includes adjunct faculty members Holly Labbe, costume designer and movement coach, and David Vogel, lighting designer, and student Ezrionna Prioleau, stage manager.

“The Gospels still have the potential to challenge and surprise,” says Poole. “Showcasing these stories through a blend of sculptural poses, atmospheric lighting, and mood-setting music allows audiences to experience the life of Jesus with fresh eyes.”

Poole says the performance will appeal to “believers and doubters, church goers and non-churchgoers, theater enthusiasts and non-theater enthusiasts … I think what really comes through in this production is the humanity of Christ.”

In the process of translating the Gospels into a two-person theater piece, Clemens has composed music spontaneously. He’ll perform on a variety of instruments during the production.  The process “has allowed me to experiment,” Clemens says. “When I respond to something he’s doing or saying, it often triggers a response from him, so that the piece grows organically. We’re free to tell each other ‘More of that’ or ‘That doesn’t work, try this.’”

Snow dates and times: Friday, Feb. 5 and Saturday, Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m.