Waxahachie’s Old-Fashioned Singing Project opens its ninth season with performances of its acclaimed staged musical Heaven’s Front Porch on Friday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 3 at 3 p.m. at the historic Chautauqua Auditorium in Getzendaner Park.
As always, the Heaven’s Front Porch shows are based around hymns and gospel songs commonly sung in white-framed churches, tent revivals and brush-arbor meetings in the first half of the 20th Century. In keeping with the project’s mission statement, most of the songs included in the shows were written prior to 1950.
The Old-Fashioned Singing Project began nine years ago as the brain-child of its director R. G. Huff, whose love for and interest in the great hymns and gospel songs of the church crossed paths with his love for and interest in the Chautauqua Auditorium.
“When my wife and I moved back to Waxahachie almost ten years ago, I was driving through Getzendaner Park one afternoon with my car windows down, humming some old gospel song I had grown up on in East Tennessee at the foot of the Smoky Mountains,” Huff recalled, “and my dream for what has become Waxahachie’s Old-Fashioned Singing was born.
“I’ve always loved that building. When I lived here in the late 1970s and early 80s, I was fascinated by the architecture and the history of the structure. I also knew that part of its history included religious gatherings and church singing. So why not create a show here that combined the history of the building with the kind of music that might well have been sung there over a hundred years ago — certainly 50 or 75 years ago.”
Singers were enlisted, a fine accompanist Melinda Boyd was engaged, rehearsals started, some publicity was distributed, and what has become a very real local tradition that draws people into town from all over the state was set into motion — a tradition which continues to flourish into its ninth season.
“That first year we rented a tent and had dinner on the grounds – brought Babe’s down from Cedar Hill and served piping hot fried chicken dinners. It was a wonderful atmosphere. But we lost our shirts financially,” Huff continued.“We pared it back to a show only, and it seemed to work – and has basically paid for itself. We’re a non-profit. Nobody you see on stage is paid. We have to pay for the sound and lighting stuff, some rental fees, insurances and things like that – but generally, it’s a volunteer-run organization. Our biggest expense by far is advertising – getting the word out to try to fill the place up three weekends a year.”
The stage set for this production includes three full-size sections implying the front of a bucolic home complete with windows and of course, a screen door. The porch banisters, a picket fence and a suspended porch swing complete the basic illusion that the audience is looking in on a front porch filled with rocking chairs and a table set with an iced tea pitcher and glasses.
“Growing up in the small town — at the time — of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, I have a definite set of memories of what it was like to gather with my extended family on my grandparent’s front porch after Sunday lunch,“ Huff concluded. “So much of the set design and the atmosphere for the show is based on that memory. Part of what we’re creating is the family gathering – almost reunion – idea.”
More information about the project and the shows can be found at www.WaxaOFS.com.
The Project presents three weekend events each year. This year’s dates are Nov. 2-3, March 22-23, 2019, and May 17-18, 2019 with performances on Friday evenings at 7:00 pm and Saturday afternoons at 3:00 pm; the shows are identical throughout each season.
Waxahachie’s Old Fashioned Singing Project is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) supported by contributions from individuals and organizations who share their passion for continuing this art form.