Jeff 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.
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
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!
[By GEOFF LADD]