Friday, November 28, 2008
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Christmas in the Chapel at LCC

The people who keep the sell-out performances going

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[November 28, 2008]  Good seats are still available for an additional Sunday night performance that has been added this year to accommodate the sell-out performances of "Christmas in the Chapel" at Lincoln Christian College. The added performance is at 7 p.m. Dec. 7. Tickets should be reserved right away by calling 217-220-2253.

InsuranceJeff Colleen, co-director and writer for the annual Christmas in the Chapel event, was born in Danville but grew up in the small town of Catlin. He attended church in Catlin regularly throughout the years, which is where he became familiar with Lincoln Christian College. Jeff received a bachelor's degree in the LCC music program in 1978 and started working at the college that same year. He replaced a resigning music professor and taught music theory part time.

But the job also included working with Dayspring, a traveling music and drama outreach group that spread ministry and helped with recruitment for the college. He was there for the start of this summer series and stuck with the Dayspring project for 20 years, amassing many memories, as the pictures on his office wall attest to.

Colleen took on more and more responsibilities at LCC every year. He has now been living in Lincoln for 30 years and working with the Christmas performance for its entire history.

His musical background began with the piano. He was self-taught during grade school and then took lessons in junior high. He also played violin in the orchestra in junior high and high school. Soon he became the piano teacher and choir director at his church. Music started as a hobby for Jeff -- he enjoyed it. At the time, he was planning a career in pathology.

While his career was progressing at LCC, he decided to go after his master's degree in music, which he obtained from ISU in Bloomington in 1988.

1988 was also officially the year in which the college's Christmas in the Chapel performance began. Colleen began working with this event from its inception. At first he helped with sets, decoration, lighting effects and picking out the music. He then started scripting for the performance in the third year, and by 1991 he had taken on directing and writing the play.

The rest, as they say, is history, and Colleen has certainly made Christmas in the Chapel into a signature event at the college and in the community -- an event that brings in busloads of attendees from several states as well as a throng from the community.

Over the past few years, Colleen has taken on a partner in the writing and directing of the event -- former student and 2007 LCC graduate Adam Johnson. Johnson transferred here from Ball State and immediately became very engaged in the play and joined the choir for the program. He had also won awards for scriptwriting in high school, and these factors evolved into co-directing and co-writing the program with Colleen. Working with his new partner "worked well," Jeff said. "It was an easy fit. We clicked."

The play is famous for its humor and parody element -- components brought to the performance over the years by Colleen, who picked up elements of current culture and worked them into the script in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways. Another influence for the funny and witty side of the performance came as a result of a trip Colleen made up north many years ago. "I had visited a free evangelical church in Rockford in the late 1980s and was blown away by the excellence of the program," said Colleen, who then adapted this humorous style on a bigger level for the college.

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Over the years, everyone from Bill Clinton to Chief Illiniwek have been the targets of parody and humor in the presentations, but Colleen tells us there will be no election jokes this year. Instead, the 2008 performance is set in a barn on a farm, in a country setting. The main character is a writer of children's stories who uses animals to pass on the lessons of life. He finds himself in a crisis of life, questioning his beliefs. His animals come to life and begin to teach him as the story unfolds. Music this year will feature Broadway tunes with a touch of Michael Jackson and Queen. The overall message of all the programs, Colleen reminds us, though, is the Christmas Gospel story.

Other key people who work on this performance are Tom Sowers and Jennifer Boeke. Sowers has been with the play since Day 1 as a freshman performer and now works on the sets and runs sound -- someone Colleen describes as his "right-hand man." Local artist Jennifer Boeke has painted all the sets for the last six years.

As mentioned earlier, Adam Johnson is the new co-writer of the play, and he also directs the drama, while Colleen is now the director of the choir. Working with Jeff is "a joy -- it's wonderful," Johnson says. "He's the best boss you could ask for -- very trusting, very kind." Johnson is now the minister of technology and creative art at Broadway Christian Church in Mattoon. He basically writes for the play year-round, but the intense work comes from June through September. Clearly he enjoys working with Jeff Colleen. "We're good friends," he said. "We add to the humor -- it goes back and forth."

Don't miss this year's performance -- call 217-220-2253 today!




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