This past Monday night I bought tickets to see the production of Arlene Hutton’s As it is in Heaven, presented by the College of Charleston Department of Theatre and Dance. Located only a short distance from my house at the Emmet Robinson Theatre on campus, it was easy to convince myself to go. I’ve been to some great school productions here before, such as Spring Awakening and Love of the Nightingale, and was looking forward to seeing what the department had planned. I was not let down. Initially I had a difficult time relating to the struggles and lifestyle choices of the Shakers; they were completely foreign to me and their conservative customs were starkly incompatible with my own. This mindset quickly vanished as the acting, staging, and directorial choices quickly made what was once cloudy and confusing into a human, relatable experience. The old jargon of the 1800’s could not mask the unmistakable emotion and crisis of faith these women were going through.
The valuable sources of information for this production were of particular interest: more specifically the feedback from the audience. The demographic of the theatre the night I attended was a high contrast between those probably older than sixty years of age, and the rest being students. It made me wonder what percentage of the students were there for their own enjoyment, or to fulfill a requirement for one of their classes. Would this mandatory attendance affect their willingness to appreciate and respond to the play and its messages? In doing so would the company have a hard time gauging the needs of its audience if part of the audience did not come of their own volition? Despite this one questionable resource of information, surely the department must have a great grasp of their successes and failures from other sources due to their long-standing presence in the arts world of Charleston. Anyone would be guaranteed a great evening if they chose to see this show; I would highly recommend it. Whether or not you can understand the lifestyle choices of the Shakers themselves, you can easy relate to the day-to-day emotional struggles the characters go through.