Newton's Grace Community Church has its own resident playwright, so it seems, in Mary Ellen Tippin. Having previously adapted her children's book "The Christmas Birdie" for the stage the past two years, Tippin and fellow members of GCC are now helping bring another of her stories to life — that of "Cozy the Lamb."
"Cozy the Lamb" will be performed at GCC March 24 and 25, a departure from Tippin's previous play, which was put on during the Christmas season. This latest adaptation, Tippin said, fit with the season and was able to transition easily to the stage more so than some of her other works.
"I felt like it has a slight Easter theme, in that it's lambs and takes place in the spring, so it has a bit of an Easter idea to it. And the story, of the other stories, it lends itself to doing something like this," Tippin said. "It tells a beautiful story of love and care, how God loves us and cares for us in such a powerful way because of the sacrifices that he's willing to make for us. That very much has an Easter theme to it in that regard."
The story is one audiences will be familiar with, as it is a retelling of the parable of the lost sheep, and the play has a message that can resonate with anyone.
"It's based on the story of the 100 sheep and the one being lost; the Bible story, except that in my case the one that gets lost is really naughty," Tippin said. "It's the idea of the good shepherd taking care of his sheep, loving every one — the old ones, the young ones, the naughty ones, the good ones — his love that extends to going out and searching for the one lost sheep among the hundred."
With an interest in music, drama and writing, adapting her books has been an enjoyable experience for Tippin, aided all the more from the help and support she gets from the community. Marilyn Reimer is a frequent collaborator with Tippin, helping her arrange the music for her productions, while not one but two people are helping with the choreography for "Cozy the Lamb" —Dunri Palmer of Angel Feet Dance Studio in Moundridge and Sara Boehm, a dance major at Butler County Community College.
GCC members make up a good deal of the roughly 40-member cast, the majority being kids' roles, and rehearsals have been going on each Sunday since mid-January. While the material may be different, Tippin noted the structure of the play is similar to the other production she has helped put on at GCC — likened to performances like "The Nutcracker."
"This is all done with a narrator, so the story is acted out and danced out," Tippin said. "It's kind of a unique format."
Part of the inspiration for bringing her stories to the stage, Tippin said, is her love of music — which is why she enjoys working closely with Reimer. Together, the duo not only work songs into the play, but also integrate music into the narration itself. Tippin said she feels that touch makes the stories even more interesting as music is "something that touches people's hearts."
Dance numbers in the play contrast in styles somewhat, from the elegantly choreographed pieces to the awkward dancing of the sheep, but Tippin said there is something in the play for everyone — with the Big Bad Wolf's number a particular favorite (something she jokingly said she was afraid of) during rehearsals.
"There's been a lot of effort," Tippin said. "The sets are gonna be awesome. The music's gonna be awesome. The dancing will be beautiful, so it's very worthwhile."
Performances of "Cozy the Lamb" will be held at 7 p.m. March 24 and 2 p.m. March 25 at Grace Community Church (1600 S. Anderson Road, Newton). Tickets are $5 and available at GCC prior to the show or at the door, at Faith & Life Bookstore and online at www.tututix.com/client/cozythelamb. For more information, visit www.gcc-online.org.