Clarence Jordan-inspired “Cotton Patch Gospel” to take stage outdoors; live streams available
In 1981, an off-Broadway show called “Cotton Patch Gospel” took the stage at Lamb’s Theatre in New York City. The play — written by Tom Key and Russell Treyz and featuring music and lyrics by Harry Chapin — is based on the writings of Christian theologian Clarence Jordan, who founded Koinonia Farm and was a mentor to Fuller Center for Housing founder Millard Fuller.
Like Jordan’s books, the musical is a retelling of the Gospel of Matthew — a Southern reinterpretation set in Georgia with Jesus sharing his message of love and peace through down-home language and familiar locations throughout the state of Georgia. While the story of Jesus is brought into the 20th century, the messages and moments stay true in spirit to the way they were shared in the Bible.
Beginning March 24, the musical begins a run at the historic Springer Opera House in Columbus, Ga., as part of its Outdoor Theatre Festival. However, there is a unique option for those who can’t enjoy the production in person: The Springer is offering live streams of the performances on March 31 and April 1-3. Tickets also are on sale for those wanting to see the production in person March 24, 25, 26, and April 2 at 8 p.m. and March 27, 28, and April 3 at 2:30 p.m.
“As someone who lived in Columbus for 15 years, I’ve seen multiple Springer productions, and they always are outstanding — just what you’d expect from the State Theater of Georgia,” said Chris Johnson, The Fuller Center for Housing’s Vice President of Communications. “But this show presents a unique opportunity not just for those who wish to see it in a safe, outdoor setting, but for those associated with The Fuller Center’s work around the country and around the world. Being able to live-stream this production is a great opportunity for Fuller Center partners to share this story. It can be a great awareness and networking event for them.”
“In this season of renewal, rebirth and hope, Cotton Patch Gospel is just what the world needs right now,” explained Springer producing artistic director Paul Pierce. “With music by the late, great Harry Chapin (Cat’s in the Cradle, Taxi) Cotton Patch Gospel is marked by a feeling of childlike belief, wonder and simple reverence.
“We all remember the Sunday school lesson where the teacher asked, ‘What if Jesus were born today? How would you react?’ This show takes that simple question and brings it to life,” Pierce added.
“Cotton Patch” author Clarence Jordan was a farmer who grew up in nearby Talbotton, Ga., and sought to improve the lives of sharecroppers through scientific farming techniques. He was ordained at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and obtained a PhD in Greek New Testament in 1938. In 1942, Jordan and his wife, Florence, founded Koinonia Farm, a 440-acre interracial farming community near Americus, Ga. As the Civil Rights Movement progressed, Koinonia Farm became the target of boycotts, violence and bombings.
In the 1960’s, Jordan turned his attention to writing and speaking. Through his expertise in New Testament Greek, Jordan translated the Synoptic Gospels using homespun language that his Southern audiences could relate to. Thus, Jerusalem became Atlanta, Pontius Pilate became the Governor of Georgia, and Bethlehem became Gainesville.
In 1965, Millard and Linda Fuller of Lanett, Alabama, became dissatisfied with their wealthy and privileged lifestyle and moved to Koinonia Farm to work with Jordan. The partnership resulted in the founding of Habitat for Humanity in 1976 and later, the Fuller Center for Housing.