Prince Caspian Live
Editor’s Note: Too often, work in American politics lacks vision and doesn't value the creativity it would take to achieve that vision.
So how do we fix it? We can learn from other creators in other fields. Today’s weekly journal is an interview with Noah and Nicole Stratton at The Academy of Arts Ministries in Taylors, South Carolina. Noah is the Chief Executive Officer, and his wife Nicole is the Artistic Director. They are two of our sponsors: Nicole recorded the voice narration for the Liberatus intro video last spring.
In the months ahead, their work will continue to overlap with our vision of healing. As we explore The Chronicles of Narnia in our current series, Remember Your Fairy Tales, The Academy of Arts is preparing to perform “Prince Caspian” live on stage—for the first time ever.
What I hope our readers see today is that a deeper knowledge of freedom transcends work in American politics. Instead of power, significance, and ideologies, we can begin to crave goodness in our work culture, communication, and personal well-being.
-Caleb Paxton, Liberatus Founder
prince caspian live
Let's start with the question that immediately comes to mind: you guys are taking on performing “Prince Caspian” live on stage—for the first time ever. At what point did you know this was a project you had to do?
Probably when we decided to do "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" on the stage a few years ago. We knew when we did the first one that we would probably continue to do the other stories in The Chronicles of Narnia. Also, many people have done "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" on the stage, but no one has done "Prince Caspian" or any of the other Chronicles on the stage on a professional level. So being able to perform this at a professional level as the world premiere is very exciting. One more point, and the most important one, for the reason that we took on this project is that C.S. Lewis' stories brilliantly use creativity, drama, and good storytelling to get across hard-hitting truths through allegory. The purpose of our organization is to "make the Bible come alive" and so these stories powerfully and poignantly fulfill that purpose.
Whether it's a journal series on Narnia or an adaptation for theater, there is a sense of weightiness one feels to rise to the occasion. What have been some of the biggest challenges of bringing the story to life?
Money. The Lord has blessed us with a staff that I would put up against any production crew in the world with the talent, technical ability, performing skills, directing excellence, construction expertise, and the ability to build literally anything. The only problem we constantly face is having funds to match the huge vision. So until we find those donors, we pray, work hard, reformat and re-purpose formerly used materials, work hard, pray some more, acquire donations, literally build our own machines that can create the props/sets/special effects that we need, and pray and work some more to achieve excellence.
There's a parallel here to political work, if you believe (as I do) that all work should be a creative endeavor. You have the vision to bring “Prince Caspian” to the stage—how do you invest in your team to reach the level of creativity such a work requires?
Servant leadership. You give the team the vision then you work alongside them. They don't all have the same level of creativity as Nicole, our Director, but she and the other managers work alongside everyone else on the team. As we all work and pull together, incredibly creative things can occur. Also, there must be constant, detailed communication given to accomplish the creativity of the director.
And how have you been challenged to take creative risks in the process? (In politics, I think risk-taking is often avoided, and then workplaces lack creativity and become lifeless.)
"Prince Caspian" demands huge risks. The story has walking forests, a giant lion, a water god, talking animals and more. The "risks" are written in by the epic nature of the story itself. Our risk is trying to put that on the stage in an excellent and appealing way that promotes the overall message. Do it the wrong way, and people are laughing up their sleeve and miss the whole point of the production.
I want to get into some of the plot elements of “Prince Caspian,” but first I have a question for Nicole: you played the White Witch in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and I remember you mentioning after the play as we chatted back stage that when you portray a character that's fully evil, you don't internalize the character's thoughts, emotions, and spiritual makeup in the way you normally would when acting. Can you elaborate on that point and your mindset behind it?
When I am playing an "evil" character, I don't need to delve into what that person was thinking or feeling to be able to portray evil. As a follower of Jesus, I never stop being a Christian. Just because I step on a stage or film set does not mean that all morals can go out the window because I'm playing a different person. I'm still a follower of Jesus and always will be and the Bible never condones putting that "on hold" if you will for any time for any reason. So when I portrayed the White Witch, I'm thinking about how Jesus has triumphed over this evil and I'm trying to portray it as powerfully and realistically as possible so that Aslan will look even more heroic when the White Witch is destroyed. Portraying evil is much easier to do than portraying true goodness. Evil is selfish at its core and everything comes back to self. Pretty shallow when you think about the character. True goodness has many layers to portray which is much more difficult.
And do you see any parallels for politics, in that so often what we "internalize" in our work is a quest for power and significance which is ultimately rooted in an insecure or fake identity?
There are many parallels but I think you have hit the big one. What we internalize (think about, meditate on, fill our minds with) is what will eventually come out. This is the case many times when we see politicians "suddenly" get caught in some scandal. It actually wasn't "sudden" at all - it was a process of wrong thinking where they were internalizing selfish motives and ideas that eventually came out in their actions.
Noah, when we caught up at Starbucks earlier this year, we started talking about addressing problems in culture or just shaping it for good through art. Can you share some of the operating philosophy behind your work at the Academy of Arts and how you are working to shape the culture for good—to bring healing?
So much I could share here. Maybe I will write a book! We just went on a trip to Scotland where we took 24 high school students to perform at a festival which was in conjunction with the largest fine arts festival in the world. We took "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." People over there could not believe it and person after person that saw our production and our teens and staff in action had the same question: "Why do you have so much hope?" This was because all the other productions at the festival were dark, depressing, crude, shallow, cynical, and offered no answers. We had the chance to witness to hundreds of people because they first saw excellent art through a hope-filled, excellent production. They were so confused at first, but it gave us the chance to give answers and bring healing!
Secondly, our culture seems to have fewer and fewer diversified life skills. They train in one or maybe two areas but their understanding of how life in general works seems to be very limited and so their reactions to hardships and things they don't understand also show great immaturity. Through our productions the people involved learn incredible life skills: communication, sewing, construction, carpentry, welding, acting, proper and wholesome and uplifting interaction with others, selflessness, team work, hard work, focus, listening skills, application of knowledge received, and more! We are able to powerfully affect our culture positively by giving them effective life skills, all in a context of hope and joy in the Good News of what Christ has already done for us!
Early in the book, Miraz tells Caspian that "At your age you ought to be thinking of battles and adventures, not fairy tales." Our series title "Remember Your Fairy Tales" comes from a C.S. Lewis quote saying the same because perhaps in a spiritual sense we are living under a spell and we need a power greater than us to undo it. On that note, as I re-read “Prince Caspian” in August, I was struck most powerfully by Aslan's words to Lucy to follow him regardless of what all of the others would do. Can you give us any hints on how you work to bring such a powerful scene to life, and how the allegorical nature of the scene has challenged perspective on following Jesus, the ultimate King?
Nicole is directing the play so I won't give away too many secrets of how we will do this on stage. However, the biblical nature of "child-like faith" comes through so powerfully in this section of the story. Only Lucy sees Aslan at first because she has the most simple, trusting belief that he is real. The older kids take much longer to see him because they are older and "wiser." Then, after seeing Aslan, Lucy must then follow regardless of whether her siblings join her or not. What a great analogy to modern Christians! Have we lost sight of Christ because we've lost our child-like faith? Then, if he calls us to follow, will we obey even if no one joins us?
"To know what would have happened, child?" said Aslan. "No. Nobody is ever told that."
"Oh dear," said Lucy.
"But anyone can find out what will happen," said Aslan. "If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me—what will happen? There is only one way of finding out."
"Do you mean that is what you want me to do?" gasped Lucy.
"Yes, little one," said Aslan.
"Will the others see you too?" asked Lucy.
"Certainly not at first," said Aslan. "Later on, it depends."
"But they won't believe me!" said Lucy.
"It doesn't matter," said Aslan.
"Oh dear, oh dear," said Lucy. "And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you'd let me stay. And I thought you'd come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away—like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid."
"It is hard for you, little one," said Aslan. "But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now."
Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up.
"I'm sorry, Aslan," she said. "I'm ready now."
"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
—C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian
How do you see the theme of ruling justly and pursuing power—from Miraz's reign, to Nikabrik's plan to call up the White Witch to gain power, to Caspian's good feelings of inadequacy at being given Narnia to rule—challenging perspective with your own work at the Academy and in political engagement?
Christ is always the perfect balance, but there is a constant challenge for all of us to keep a proper balance in each area of our lives. In this area of ruling justly and having power, Lord Acton summed up the one extreme by saying "power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." While on the other extreme, we see a young King Saul hiding among the baggage when he was called to serve as the first king of Israel. We can either lust for power until it consumes us, or we can hide in fear from the opportunities to lead to the detriment of many. Whether working in a production company or in politics, "Prince Caspian" gives wonderful examples of the need to boldly, yet humbly seek positions of leadership for the purpose of serving others.
What does the road ahead look like? Should we expect to see the full Chronicles of Narnia series on stage over the next several years? What needs should be met to pull that off?
There are plans in place to eventually do the full series. However, because of our current limited financial backing, it is difficult to put dates on those events at this time. The needs to be met are primarily financial since we already have a wonderfully talented and dedicated team in place. Each production requires a minimum of anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 to mount the play in a professional manner. And that is nothing compared to other professional productions which spend millions on one play.
We are excited about doing these incredible allegories which involve the community, strengthen our students, and encourage both followers of Jesus and those who aren't yet! It's a joy to use and also teach the universal gift of communication (which everyone uses in every walk of life) in such a creative and impactful way.
WEEKLY ACTION ITEM:
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