[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]APPLETON — Bob and Peggy Noll’s family has seen their share of stage time at St. Francis Xavier High School. Their daughter and two older sons were part of the Christmas Stars cast with Bob for about 11 years. In recent years, Bob’s been involved in The Northeast Wisconsin Passion Play.
Last year, the couple’s youngest child, Matt, 23, who has Down syndrome, joined Bob on stage for the first time as a fellow actor in the Passion Play. Bob was looking for something he and his son could do together, since the older kids were out of the household. He also wanted to help Matt become a part of a larger community.
“My reason for getting him involved was similar as my other children and that is to provide opportunities to build confidence in front of a group, be part of a Christian family environment and do things outside of your comfort zone,” said Bob, a member of St. Bernard Parish.
He had a few concerns going in.
“My biggest concern was how Matt would react on stage. Matt struggles with his vocabulary and memorization and can’t read music so I knew singing would be a challenge,” Bob said. However, Matt has always taken direction fairly well.
“One of his biggest gifts is he is a good imitator so he was more than eager to sit and listen to the practice music with me and on his own,” said Bob. “I wasn’t concerned about Matt’s limited stage presence as he’s always been willing to try new things. He loves belonging, watching musicals, and dancing so I was hoping his interests would help him overcome any concerns.”
For Matt, his biggest worry was being a part of the crucifixion scene, so the original plan was for him to work backstage in the second act of the show. However, at the last minute things changed and Matt was selected to be a guard in that scene. “Matt was overjoyed with his guard’s outfit and I was caught up in the moment,” recalled Bob.
Later that night, Matt told Bob that he was uncomfortable with the role.
“I told him, ‘You know how you tell me the all-star wrestling you watch on the Internet is fake when Dad expresses concerns? Well, even though this is based on a true story, we are acting or pretending, similar to all-star wrestlers. Do you think we can try this once or twice and see how it goes?’” Bob said.
By the next rehearsal, “he was engaging with the high school boys, who he enjoys being around, and one in particular took Matt under his wing.”
Matt explained in his own words why he had misgivings about the crucifixion scene.
“I’m not comfortable; it was too close to me. It’s kind of hard for me. I feel it inside my stomach and heart. I was the one killing Jesus. It’s hard seeing Jesus on the cross and the guards whip Jesus and I feel bad,” he said.
He was able to reconcile things to himself and went on to have a positive experience. “Matt’s reaction after each show was, ‘Dad, I did it!’ He was just so proud of himself and so was I,” said Bob.
Matt was also added to other scenes. He carried stones during the Mary Magdalene stoning scene and walked up the aisle with wares to sell in another. “He had to sing and do hand motion sequences during at least one of these scenes, which he seemed to enjoy and even tutored his dad.”
The support for Matt from the crew and other cast members, who Bob says are some of the most wonderful people he’s ever met, was heartwarming. “I teetered at first whether to pull the plug (on this), but a close cast and church member, Mary Howard, wrote me a beautiful email about how she worked with special needs children and would be happy to take work with him,’ said Bob. “I remember being at peace after Mary’s letter.”
He added that play director, Jim Romenesko, always finds time to talk to Matt despite his hectic schedule. “This speaks volumes to who Jim is and the soft spot he has in his heart for the Matts of the world,” said Bob, adding that production coordinator Sue Hahn “attempts to find a comfortable fit for all involved. Her words were very instrumental in attempting this production with Matt.”
Overall, it was a gratifying experience for not only Bob and Matt but audience members as well. “People who saw the show were so happy to see Matt on stage and mentioned how it speaks so well to the spirit of this production,” said Bob.
“We will take this a year at a time, but we’re back for season two,” he noted. As for Matt, he had fun last year and is looking forward to being in the Northeast Wisconsin Passion Play again this year. The best part for him last year was making new friends. He encourages everyone to see the play this year. “They’ll enjoy it.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_message color=”alert-info” style=”rounded”]NEW Passion Play
What: The Northeast Wisconsin Passion Play is a musical drama depicting the ministry and passion of Christ through an original script, contemporary Christian score and dance. This production is appropriate for all ages.
When: March 26, 27 and 28, 7 p.m.; March 28 and 29, 1 p.m.
Where: Xavier Fine Arts Theatre, 1600 W. Prospect Ave., Appleton. Fully accessible facility, wheelchair seating and hearing devices available.
Admission: Adults: $13; senior citizens (60 and above): $10; students (college age and younger): $7. Opening night discount March 26: adults and senior citizens, $9; students, $6. Tickets available online at www.newpassionplay.org or through the Xavier Fine Arts Theatre box office, (920) 733-8840.[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]