JMTR undertakes the unbeaten path

Pfender, Joe

Super-senior music theory/composition and theatre arts major Jonathon M.T. Roberts’ senior theater project, “Project Paul,” is an ambitious attempt to combine video, music, theater, and spirituality – Christian spirituality, specifically. With the bulk of the production’s text taken either from the writings of St. Paul or from those about Paul from the biblical book of Acts, Roberts is attempting to fill what he sees as a gap in contemporary art forms.
One of Roberts’ interests is in combining different contemporary art forms. From his perspective, “current Christian music – Christian rock, etc. -is not really digging into the contemporary ideas” that interest him. This mix of Christian spirituality and postmodern aesthetics in musical, theatrical, and video formats is what gives “Project Paul” its power and uniqueness.
The mix could not have been realized without the assistance and collaboration of Roberts’ siblings. His sister, who wrote the script from both original material and Scripture, and his brother, who created the video element of the presentation, have both worked closely with Roberts since the project’s conception in November of 2003. It has been nice, Roberts says, because he has gotten to see the artistic bent in his siblings that they have not had an opportunity to show in the past. For Roberts, the collaborative experience has been very rewarding, albeit challenging for him since “it is always hard to work with a new artist. I usually don’t interact with them as artists rather than siblings.”
Another interesting problem that Roberts has found, in the creation of the 70 minutes of music, is the need for a coherent line from beginning to end. Because the text came from all over the writings of Paul, the need to maintain flow and incorporate the text effectively became an obstacle, but not an insurmountable one.
Although the majority of his visible role during the performance will be concerned with the presentation of the text, Roberts is first and foremost a composer of music. He experiments with theater, but in the context of collaboration with music rather than as a separate endeavor. This project is certainly a theatrical event, but the music comes first.
Roberts anticipates some reluctance on the part of the audiences for which he will be performing. “Some people maybe won’t like the music [in its religious context], and disagree with it because of that.” He went on to talk about other peers of his who, approaching the production from a strictly musical mindset, might disagree with his choice of content. In all, he’s not worried about offending anyone. Although, said Roberts, “I do shake my booty in one scene.”
In addition to his own prerecorded compositional work, there are several Lawrence cameos, including Jill Beck, Terry Rew-Gottfried, Fred Sturm, and many others familiar to the Lawrence student body. The Lawrence Wind Ensemble and Women’s Choir, in addition to individual conservatory students, are also a part of the prerecorded audio. Roberts hopes that this will help the work resonate among his Lawrence audience.
Roberts, who will graduate this June, plans to take his show on the road over the next year. He has planned out bits and pieces already, including a month and a half in California starting late July, and a cross-country jaunt from October to November. The Lawrence campus will get three chances to see the show, which runs the nights of May 24-26.