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This Lutheran drama critic also writes dramas

Chris Bergman played the prophet Elijah in a play put on at Diamond Lake Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

Chris Bergman played the prophet Elijah in a play put on at Diamond Lake Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

Graydon Royce writes for the Star Tribune, but also for his own pleasure.

When Graydon Royce, theatre critic at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, became dissatisfied with the religious dramas available for production by youth at Diamond Lake Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Minneapolis, he set to work creating his own.
In the process, he found he was able to combine his interests in writing, theatre and the church. In addition, he’s called upon to use some musical skills — and for that he thanks his mother. She’s the one who encouraged him to practice the piano as a child. Royce’s musical sense helps him when conceiving the music and the lyrics, he explained.
Something else that motivates Graydon Royce in this activity is a personal interest in the Bible — the fascinating stories and the messages they convey. In a way, these projects fulfill a fantasy he’s nurtured from his youth, growing up in the Lake Minnetonka area. He and his good friend, the son of a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod pastor, talked about the possibility of being together in ministry one day.
The joint ministry idea didn’t play out. However, today Royce is a busy husband and father of four children and is heavily invested in the annual spring musical dramas presented at Diamond Lake Lutheran Church.
The dramas are big events in the life of Diamond Lake and its youth. They’re presented on a Friday and Saturday in February, with a dinner served in conjunction with the Saturday dramatic presentations. The party for the cast, after the final performance, is “a fun time and creates memories.” Royce says he has seen cast members “blossom personally” through the experience. Lives of shy young people are sometimes changed by their performances.
In addition, Royce firmly believes the messages of the dramas can stay with a person for a lifetime, and perhaps the message will resonate years later.
Currently, a repeat performance of his drama “Elijah and the Prophets” (see photo) is scheduled for February, 2004. In the interim, Royce is fine-tuning one scene from his next drama in anticipation of production in 2005. The new drama is a “contemporizing” of the life of Jesus. Royce says he created the role of a newspaper reporter who follows Jesus because of the “buzz he’s creating in the countryside and how it threatens the political structure of the day.”
The dramas at Diamond Lake have involved up to 28 cast members plus musicians, as well as adult participants. Paul Batz serves as music director for the shows, using chords Royce has written down as well as a tape of how he conceives the music evolving. Beginning with these, Batz assembles the musical pieces. Frank Anderson assists in directing, and Kathy Gustafson makes the sets that Royce says “bring the drama to life.”
Right now, Royce says the dramas “are not transportable” since the musical scores have not been put down in printed form. That’s a challenge he might undertake if there’s interest from other congregations.
Royce, a Star Tribune employee since 1980, has been a theatre critic for the past three and a half years. He was a journalism major at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. A member of Diamond Lake for 17 years, he’s been writing plays since the early 1990s. The first was a one-man production in 1993, staged at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage. Royce played the role of David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidian sect.
A later drama, on the life of Mohammed Ali, ran in 1998. It was also produced in New York and London. In the spring of 1997 Royce began doing the spring musical dramas for Dia-mond Lake Lutheran.
The “Elijah” drama re-sulted from his desire to do something with a character he describes as “grand, romantic and wild.” He said, “I wanted to make Elijah a ‘rock prophet’ and give him a reason to sing.”
His next drama utilized the biblical character of Esther. He describes it as “a soap opera, with villains and lots of twists and turns in the plot.”
In the early 2003 drama titled “Is This Paradise?” a group of people sat in a club, convinced they could find paradise (it has some affinity to the well-known play, “Waiting for Godot”). Though the characters really believed they could find paradise, in the final scene they were still sitting around in the same club, discussing the possibility.
Royce’s earliest dramas primarily used junior and senior high actors in the cast. Now, he attempts to include younger kids who show an interest. Two of his own children have been in the productions.
To obtain more information about Graydon Royce’s religious dramas, write to him at groyce@startribune.com.