“I think many of our people, they would love it, because it is so much about us. I thought the merge of Sophocles with African-American gospel music was brilliant because they fit so well together. Absolutely works, said Fred Steele member of The Steeles singing group, who also plays a captain fighting for the eldest son of Oedipus. He believes the greatest message in the production is redemption and it is a direct connection to the make-up of Black church congregations. “Our Black churches work like that. God doesn’t care what you have done in your past. All you have to do is confess your sins and ask for forgiveness and God will forgive you and that is redemption. God can change the heart of even the most cruel person.”
Steele has been a part of The Gospel at Colonus in different productions, nationally and internationally, since 1983 during its first run at the Walker Art Center. “It is amazing that the show would even run that long. There are a lot of shows that will run for a little while and then they are done. This show has done Broadway, Carnegie Hall, and it’s traveled worldwide. Steele recalls the memorable experience of doing the show at Greece where Sophocles presented the first production. “Greece at the Acropolis where Sophocles actually performed the play himself was absolutely an incredible experience as well because it was an outdoor amphitheater under the moon and the stars and the theater lights up and that was our 25th anniversary of the show.” Whether the production is done nationally or internationally, Steele has witnessed the audience responding in similar ways. There is something that seems to transcend spoken language and resonates with the human experience.
Steele said, “It is a spiritual thing, it really is. You can’t see the show without having somewhat of a spiritual experience, because of the music. The music automatically takes you there. It’s just amazing. Music is the universal language, and music is so exciting that people, even though they can’t get past the language part of it, they love the music part of it worldwide. And we get the same response almost everywhere we have gone Austria, France, I mean you name it. The experience has been very similar as far as how the audience reacts to the music and the performance.”
In using the universal language of music as a tool to tell a story, several messages are transpired to make the audience reflect on the complete spectrum of life. Steele has identified many over the years. “There are some very special messages in the show that people will certainly get a hold to right away and enjoy it. Live where you can be as happy as you can. Think about that. Does that not speak to [African-Americans] plight. Another great message in the show is there is redemption in death. Some of the stuff we don’t think about until we are confronted with it. This is an opportunity to see what’s going on and understand what it all means before you are confronted with it. It certainly will give you a different perspective.”
Steele speaks from firsthand experience. In being a part of the production he received clarity in dealing with a very personal issue. “One of the things it did for me was help me deal with the death of my father, which was something I hadn’t dealt with really. That happened in 1973. In 1983 when I got involved with this show and I started to see this whole thing about redemption and death, it just shed a different light on the death of my father. So that helped me. It certainly helped me. I am person that believes in faith. There are so many messages from the play that helped me in my life.”
The cast is aware of audience members experiencing a spiritual connection, and they don’t take that lightly. Beyond the performer’s exemplary skills and talents, they see themselves as stewards of the messages they relay from the script and through the heart. They make sure to perform on one accord spiritually. Steele said, “We pray because we don’t want people to get the wrong impression about what we are doing. What get’s lost by some traditional church goers is that this is entertainment. This is a theatrical production and we are trying to get a point across. Let’s look at the effect that this has on people, because this can change people’s lives, especially when you get these very special messages out of the show. That happens to us all the time. We come into situations where we identify things from the show and you can apply it to your life.”
Steele agrees the production is intense in message and spirit but he believes it should be seen by the young and old. “Yeah there are a few layers here but they all tie in together. I recommend anybody come and see this and also young people.”
For more information on The Gospel at Colonus visit www.ordway.org or call 651-224.4222.