The history of the Living Stations at Malvern
Ed Liga, Director of the Liturgical Music Group, and Dr. Jim Fry, Director of Student Life, started the Living Stations of the Cross - also known as The Way of the Cross - when both were teachers at Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School (Drexel Hill, Pa.) in 1998.
Dr. Fry joined Liga at Malvern in 2002. It would be another four years before the Living Stations, as it is currently performed, would come to fruition.
When the performance was first performed, 10th and 12th-grade Theology teacher, Larry Legner was helping Dr. Fry with the directing, but as Jim’s responsibilities have grown over the years, he stepped out of the Living Stations and Larry has taken over the direction of the performance.
Living Stations of the Cross was first hosted in the Chapel in 2006, however, when the Duffy Arts Center opened in 2008, the decision was made to move the performance there.
The selection process
The selection process for Living Stations is quite different from that of a normal show or musical. Neither Mr. Legner nor Mr. Liga hold auditions.
Mr. Legner approaches each student individually and asks if they would like to participate in the Living Stations performance. “I try to select seniors who are not already ‘outfront’ - meaning, they might not be the star of the football team or the lead in the musical. I want to give other students the opportunity to shine,” said Legner.
Mr. Liga tries to feature students that might not have had other opportunities to be a lead. “It is important to spread the wealth and give each student the opportunity to do a solo if he would like that opportunity,” said Liga. “A student may even approach me and express interest in having a solo. If that happens I try to place them in a song where they are the best fit.”
While it may seem daunting to hand select students, neither Mr. Legner nor Mr. Liga finds it difficult. “Discovering new talent that I might not have otherwise thought of is one of my favorite parts of the process,” said Liga. This year, Jordan Wright ’19 will be starring as Jesus. “Jordan is the first student of color to have the role of Jesus. I had to convince him and Mr. Liga to let him leave the chorus to be Jesus. I suggested since he has a great singing voice that we let him sing as Jesus. They both liked the idea,” Legner shares.
For Mr. Legner, he sees the value in a student's participation in the Living Stations. “It gives them a huge amount of responsibility and leadership. This is a wonderful learning experience for these students to be able to know what it’s like to go from nothing to a standing ovation,” said Legner.
“When Mr. Legner asked me if I’d like to play Jesus, at first I was hesitant and nervous, however after giving it some thought, I realized how much of a fun opportunity it could be so I accepted,” Jordan recalls. “I have really enjoyed learning the music for this show and getting to know the other cast members.”
Twenty boys and girls from Malvern Prep, Notre Dame Academy and Villa Maria Academy will be participating in this year’s performance.
The art of the performance
Malvern’s Living Stations of the Cross performance is a testament to how engaging the story of the Passion of Jesus is when historical events are juxtaposed with modern music. The performers take the audience on a prayerful, reflective adventure that enables them to connect what happened 2,000 years ago to today.
“I am hoping that the audience leaves the presentation with a more human understanding of the crucifixion. Jesus was not only the son of God, but he was a human and he suffered and died for us. I also hope that on Easter Sunday the audience leaves grateful for this wonderful gift of forgiveness,” said Legner. “Showcasing the Living Stations at Malvern gives the students an opportunity to see what we, as a Catholic institution, are founded on. Easter is the greatest holiday in the Liturgical Calendar. It proves that Jesus is God. Seeing it makes it real.”
“Living stations is a way to remind me of what Jesus has done for us and that Jesus loves us,“ Jordan says.
There is always a moment in a performance that stands out greater than the rest. For Mr. Legner, it is when the Apostles remove Jesus from the cross and lay him in Mary’s lap. “That is such a moving experience. As a parent you think, ‘what would this be like? Having your child and holding him?’ The apostles then carry Jesus through the auditorium. Everyone gets the opportunity to get close to him, it is so moving,” Legner continues.
Mr. Liga also noted that the Living Stations is bigger than the sum of its parts. While the two groups (Liturgical Music and the actors) rehearse apart, they are working to build a sacred performance for the audience. “When the music is combined with the live-action on stage it takes on a life of its own,” said Liga.
Don’t miss the chance to see this year’s performances of Living Stations of the Cross on Palm Sunday, April 14 at 3:00 p.m. There will be a presentation for our student body only on Wednesday, April 17.