Arts and Entertainment

‘Church’ takes a stroll down memory lane

Cast members of the Church of Great Rain will revive some of their early material in the show’s next installment.  - Jeff Dunnicliff
Cast members of the Church of Great Rain will revive some of their early material in the show’s next installment.
— image credit: Jeff Dunnicliff

Writers and ensemble members of The Church of Great Rain have gone deep catalog, reaching back in time to revive some of the funniest material from their first two seasons.

The variety show, which some have called Vashon’s own version of “Prairie Home Companion,” is now in its fourth year, packing the house these days at the cavernous Open Space for Arts & Community. It will close its spring season at 4 p.m. Sunday at Open Space.

Regular audience members and newcomers can expect a show that revisits some of the early comedy skits that helped turn the show into such an Island phenomenon.

“It’s a look back to our beginnings,” said Jeff Hoyt, who along with his wife Cindy, writes some of the show’s material. Both also perform as members of the show’s comedy ensemble, dubbed the Holly Roller Radio Players.

Hoyt has watched the audience for the show grow exponentially over the years — from the 40 or 50 people who showed up for the first shows at the Red Bicycle Bistro to the standing-room-only mob of around 600 that now turns out for near-monthly shows in the Open Space.

What’s the secret of the show’s success? To Hoyt, it’s all about community.

“It’s kind of like we have captured lightening in a bottle,” Hoyt said. “It’s a unique amalgam of community on three different levels. First, there is the community of people who work on the show, and we’re like an instant family. The second thing is that the audience is made up of small groups of people hanging out and talking, and making plans to go out to dinner afterwards. It’s a little like an actual church in that regard. And then there is the mythology we create around the material — it’s really all about Vashon.”

Amy Gilman, a fan of the show since its inception four years ago, echoed Hoyt’s rationale, saying she enjoys the show because it helps her connect with fellow Islanders both onstage and off.

“There is definitely the communal element of seeing your friends perform,” she said. “And it brings people together and is very church-like, in that it has all the desired effects minus the dogma.”

Gilman said she has also watched the show grow much more polished over the years.

“I’ve noticed that the writing is more refined,” she said. “And everybody who is up there loves to perform.”

Sunday’s show will feature several guest stars.

Steffon Moody, a local performer who appeared in early church shows, will be back on stage, and another local actor, Paul Shapiro, will reprise his fondly remembered turn as a dying slug in a comedy sketch.

As usual, there will also be lots of music in the show, played by both the Church House Band, led by show co-founder Greg Parrott, and special guests Luc and the Lovingtons.

Luc Reynaud, frontman for the Seattle band, created the group as a social project in 2007, while doing relief work in New Orleans.  Working with a group of displaced kids, Reynaud collaborated to create the anthem, “The Freedom Song,” which was later recorded by two-time Grammy-winner Jason Mraz.

The band, which now includes Felipe Cañete, a Chilean artist living in Seattle, keyboardist Jake Shaw and drummer Loren Boley, recently garnered an international following with a tour through South America.

With its community emphasis and the word “love” embedded in its name, the band seems a perfect fit for the church’s look back at its storied rise as an Island cultural institution.

And with the Holy Roller Players on stage, there is also sure to be plenty of comedy, leading to those quasi-spiritual moments that audiences have come to treasure, for all kinds of different reasons.

“I would say (the show) helps us laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves so seriously,” said Gilman.


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