Advent on stage: Play brings new perspectives to timeless story

“Hope and Fears: An Advent Reflection” writer and producer Paul Center plays the guitar during a rehearsal of the Advent play. “Hopes and Fears: An Advent Reflection” will play at Ste. Anne de Detroit Parish on Dec. 13-14. (Photos by Naomi Vrazo | Archdiocese of Detroit)

DETRTOIT — Are you ever too old to be in a Christmas play?

A group of young adults in the Detroit area have answered with an emphatic “no.”

Paul Center and a group of local Catholic young adults have written and produced an original Advent play entitled Hopes and Fears: An Advent Reflection.” The play is a unique look at the familiar Nativity story by delving into the perspectives of characters not described in the Gospels.

“I knew I wanted to better focus on Advent this year,” Center told the Detroit Catholic. “In previous years, it was too easy to get distracted with all the shopping, parties and cheesy holiday music. You realize you don’t have enough time to reflect on Christ’s birth during Advent.”

Center assembled a writing team with area young adults Danielle Center, James Wilson, Dylan Vrazo, Nichole Fricke, Juliana Carlini and Kelsey Kneebone. The team began writing the play in October – drawing on source material from the Nativity stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Creation story, passages from the Old Testament and Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.

A writer goes over the lyrics of “O Little town of Bethlehem” during a rehearsal. The play will feature song and spoken word.

“Hopes and Fears: An Advent Reflection,” will be performed in the Upper Room of the Ste. Anne de Detroit auxiliary hall, 1000 St Anne St., Detroit, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 13 and Friday, Dec. 14. Admission is free and the expected runtime is one hour. 

The play features song and spoken word, adding flavor to a story that is already familiar to the audience.

Auditions for the play were in early November and the cast has been rehearsing since that time.

“We’re been blown away with the amount of talent that showed up to auditions,” Center said. “We have so much vocal talent, we didn’t have enough songs to accommodate everyone.

“About one-third of the cast doesn’t have previous acting experience, but they are really talented,” Center added.

Center has theater and playwriting experience, and when a friend of his saw one of his performances in 2016, he told Center he would want to be in the play, despite never acting before.

“My good friend who challenged me really held up his end of the bargain and is in the play,” Center said. “We were blessed and humbled with the young adult talent that showed up. We have a cast of about 15 people, and they all have a similar desire to focus on Advent.”

Center said the play is not only meant to be entertaining, but is a “shallow-entry point” to introduce the Gospel message to someone who is not as familiar with the reason behind Advent and Christmas.

The cast reviews the line during a rehearsal. Center sees the play as an opportunity for Catholics to introduce people not familiar with the Christmas story to an Advent reflection.  

“Coming to this play is a great opportunity to ‘unleash the Gospel,’ as our archbishop is calling us to do,” Center said. “Artistic expression isn’t utilized enough to evangelize, and it really helps all of us grow in our faith. God is the greatest of all artist; we’re made in his image.”

Center adds the play features original compositions and will dive into theological themes not included in most Christmas plays.

“Not only will the play be heart-warming, funny and gripping,” Center said, “but could also be a stepping stone to a deeper conversation with those outside our faith.

“People familiar with the story will enjoy it,” Center continued. “It will pull them into remembering the whole story, even parts they didn’t focus on much when they were kids. For everyone involved in the faith, this is a great way to invite others who may not know the Gospel or have fallen away.”