'Civil War Christmas' to be performed at First Baptist Church

DOWNEY - Lana Joy Wahlquist of Downey Arts Coalition directs "A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration" written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Paula Vogel as the annual Downey First Baptist Church Christmas Show. This play is neither a depiction of the actual war, there are no battle scenes, nor is it an overtly religious production, it wasn't written to be. It is a human drama that intercuts like a movie with historically accurate stories and characters, with many similarities to Spielberg's Lincoln.

Lana fell in love with the manuscript immediately and shared it with the church and David Stanton, musical director and Pastor of Worship and Arts, because of its strong themes of forgiveness, loving one's enemies, and unity, all tied by racial and social inequities that span historical periods. By sharing human stories from all sides of the war- people's daily and lifelong struggles and triumphs-Lana sees the message of unity as a perfect Christmas story.

In partnership with True Vine Missionary Baptist Church of Lynwood, the cast has members from both churches working together on stage. With 80 characters and a cast of 25, you will see quick costume changes, cross-cultural casting, and other deliberate choices that Lana made to highlight current themes of racial strife and need for equity and peace. With David Stanton's direction, the music is like another character. A live band will perform Christmas carols, hymns, and spirituals with Civil War era instruments.

Vogel's writing honors underrepresented African-American heroes of the Civil War by emphasizing stories of great achievements. One of the main characters is Elizabeth Keckley, a strong and determined former slave who bought her own freedom from the money she earned as a seamstress and carries a heavy burden- her only son from a rape by a white man was killed in battle and she feels his death is her punishment for teaching him the hate she harbored in her heart.

A founding member of Downey Arts Coalition, Lana Joy grew up in Norwalk, attended Downey First Baptist Church, earned her M.A. in Theatre from California State University, Northridge, and has dedicated her career to bring theatre to Downey. She says, "There is a big hole of culture in South East Los Angeles, but there is a legacy of the arts here. We have everything it takes to be a cultural center, but so much more dialogue has to happen. There is a craving for theatre in Downey and I want to be a part of bringing it here."

After working as an actor and then becoming a mother, directing became a better opportunity to pursue her love of theatre and community: "I love Downey and art, we have to make it happen ourselves."

"A Civil War Christmas" is part of the vision for theatre in Downey and Lana is happy that the church wanted to be a part of it. Lana and the Downey Arts Coalition have plans for more plays in 2013 and is working toward opening a theatre company in Downey.

A Civil War Christmas opens at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14, continues Saturday the 15th and Sunday the 16th at 7 p.m. All performances are held in the worship center of First Baptist Church of Downey at 8348 Third Street, behind the Embassy Suites and across from the Downey City Library.

Tickets are free, and are available at the church office. Call (562) 923-1261 to reserve your tickets. Visit Downeyarts.org for more information.

********** Published: December 6, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 34