New York City fans of punk rock and experimental theater will be led to think deeply about every word in the Lord’s Prayer when a rocker administrator from General Theological Seminary fulfills a long-term dream in Spring 2014.
With a team of musicians and actors, director of admissions William C. Webster will debut Bold Enough to Say, a performance described as part concert, part theater, part film. Episcopal parishes in Brooklyn are expected to host the first performances of a show that Webster hopes will have long life.
“I hope the piece will go on the road, be performed by other groups of artists in different settings throughout the world,” Webster said. “In other words, the work could become evangelism that reaches out both to the rock community and beyond.”
Webster, 40, is drawing creatively on his background as a rock & roller with a seminary degree. At 19 he packed up his rhythm guitar, drums, and microphones and moved with his band from rural Pennsylvania to New York City. Soon they were playing CBGB and other New York clubs, first as the glam rock band SourPuss, later as Liquid Bliss. Their tunes struck a chord and led to gigs at colleges up and down the East Coast.
Along the way, Webster earned degrees from Hunter College and Princeton Theological Seminary, but he never lost his love for writing songs or performing live.
Bold Enough to Say grows out of his 12-week spiritual practice of meditation, with each week devoted to a single line in what Webster regards as “the perfect prayer.”
“‘Our Father’ became a meditation on the implications of using gendered language for God,” Webster said. “‘Who Art In Heaven’ explores the concept of universal salvation and the insider/outsider dynamics found in many religious communities.”
Two albums will accompany the show. The first, to be released in December, will deliver a collection of the songs in Bold Enough to Say. The second will come out after the initial performances and will give listeners a taste of the live version, much like The Who’s rock opera, Tommy, did in 1969.
Webster hopes diverse audiences will turn out and be “equally inspired and challenged” by what they see and hear.
“For 16 years (since I was a first-year student at Princeton Seminary), I’ve carried this vision of uniting my two worlds, the punk/rock scene I come out of and the church community,” Webster said. “My dream is to look out at an audience next year and see both groups, integrated and brought together by this show.”
G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Photo of William Webster by Andrew Ashley, courtesy of General Theological Seminary