From the Page to the Stage

St. Ambrose drama ministry’s “Living Stations: Were You There?” is meaningful for both the audience and the actors.

From now through Good Friday, St. Ambrose of Woodbury Catholic Church will present “Living Stations: Were You There?” a re-enactment of Christ’s journey to the cross, composed of 20 monologues performed by members of the church’s drama ministry. This marks the seventh time since its debut in 2010 that director Steve Peterson and his faithful crew have mounted a stage adaptation of the compelling Bible story in honor of the Lenten season.

Mike Miller has been a core member of the drama ministry since its earliest days, performing in the role of Peter and also crafting props in his personal woodshop. Miller says he’s enjoyed seeing the production grow from year to year. “We tweak it each year, but I think we’ve got the formula down now,” he says. In recent years, the production has come to include sound effects and even period-authentic costumes. Nonetheless, the set remains “minimalist,” and according to Peterson, this is by design. “This is something I learned in college [at Minnesota State University, Mankato] and still believe: the best set designer is in the mind of the audience,” he says. “You just need a few things to suggest [the rest].”

The play—or prayer service, as those involved prefer to call it—is composed of monologues interspersed with music, prayer and choreographed scenes. Each monologue ends with a question to the audience, inviting them to reflect on what they might have done had they found themselves in the shoes of the various figures whose speech and thoughts are represented, from Mary Magdalene to Judas to Pontius Pilate to Caiaphas, and many more. Miller says this presentation style is effective because it “humanizes the experience. You experience Peter’s doubt, Mary’s loss. You witness and go through it with them.”

Patrice Moore agrees. An experienced stage performer, she’s been a member of the drama ministry since 2010, alternating between the roles of Mary Magdalene and Claudia. Moore says she is delighted by the overall simplicity of the production. “Compared to other Passion plays you might see, this one is less dramatic; the monologues really speak for themselves,” she says.

“It’s profoundly more impactful than just reading the stations,” says Norb Tennessen, whose roles have included Joseph of Arimathea and Pontius Pilate. "I imagine it’s very close to the real words, the ones that Peter said or the maid in the courtyard said.”

While Moore was already an experienced thespian, Tennessen and Miller were more unlikely candidates.  Tennessen says, “When they first asked me, I said, ‘No way.’ It was about the last thing in the world that I would have considered doing. But Steve said, ‘You can do it. Come to the audition,’ so I did, and by the grace of God, it worked out for me.”

There are five opportunities to catch the re-enactments this season, spanning from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. All services are free with an optional donation.