Collegiate ministry dinner theatre serves dual purpose of entertainment, ministry

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The cast of “Into the Woods” works out their choreography for one of the final songs during rehearsal for this year’s BCM at UGA Dinner Theatre production. “Into the Woods” is just the latest production in a SendMeNow fundraising program that has been running for 38 years. ADAM WYNN/Special

By Adam Wynn

ATHENS — Mary Crosby and Mary Ray hardly need any supplies for their upcoming journey “Into the Woods” – just about 20 dancers, actors, and singers; a stage full of quickly changeable props and settings; and an army of volunteers to serve in the kitchen or as wait staff.

Ray and Crosby may not actually be heading off on a trek into the forest, but they are the assistant director and director respectively for the Baptist Collegiate Ministries at the University of Georgia’s upcoming Dinner Theatre production of “Into the Woods.”

From left to right, assistant director Mary Ray, director Mary Crosby and stage manager Rachel Whitsel, the production staff for the 2019 UGA Dinner Theatre production of “Into the Woods,” watch rehearsal closely. ADAM WYNN/Special

The BCM at UGA has been putting on a musical theatre production every spring for the last 38 years as a fundraiser for SendMeNow Summer Missions, and the production is always one of their most effective. This year’s goal is $10,000 that will go towards helping college students spread the Gospel across the world.

“We constantly raise money throughout the year, but this is our big spring fundraiser,” Dinner Theatre Director Mary Crosby explains.

Raising money for missions is an exemplary goal and one that both of these extraordinarily talented young women take seriously.

“I think it’s awesome, too, that it’s been around for so long. It’s been so lasting and our community loves it,” Assistant Director Mary Ray adds.

However, as important as fundraising is, neither of these women wants to wait for money to come in before they share the Gospel. After all, sharing the Gospel is free and is something that both Crosby and Ray plan to do with the cast and crew of “Into the Woods.”

Not just another show

Dinner Theatre, as the program is annually referred to, is a unique program in that most of the people involved are not actually members of BCM. Rather, these are students who are involved in the arts and want the chance to perform in a quality production every year.

Actors, from left to right, Rachel Evans, Morgan Watkins, Ethan Norfleet, and Julia Koslowsky point to the audience during rehearsal for the BCM at UGA’s Dinner Theatre production of “Into the Woods.” ADAM WYNN/Special

“A lot of [the performers] come into this show and think it’s just another show to put on their resume,” Crosby says. “For me, I try to make this a place where they feel comfortable … and making the BCM a comfortable environment.”

In that regard, Dinner Theatre is both an excellent fundraiser and a wonderful outreach.

“It’s a big outreach for students on campus because it targets a very interesting group of students, especially the theatre students. It targets people in the music and crew and fashion,” Crosby continues. “It’s a great way to get a lot of students on campus connected, but it’s also an outreach for the community.”

“For a lot of students, their idea of Christianity is bigotry … or judging and hypocritical,” Ray adds. “For me, when these students come in here who don’t necessarily believe the same way that we do, it’s important to show them the love of Jesus and the love that God has for us.”

A real response

When students like Crosby and Ray enter into Dinner Theatre with the goal of loving students, they see a very real response.

“It’s so practical. That opens up questions, and people ask, ‘Why are you so nice?’ or ‘Why do you do this?’ and we get to say that it’s because Jesus loves you,” Ray explains. “We started out this experience this year with Mary [Crosby] getting up and saying, ‘This is what I believe, that Jesus Christ loves you and He died on the cross for your sins.’”

In fact, Crosby knows first-hand just how effective an outreach Dinner Theatre can be.

It was her connection to Ray and to Dinner Theatre that ultimately brought her to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

“Dinner Theatre is really important to me because it was my gateway into the BCM,” Crosby says. “It gave me an environment where I could grow in my faith.

“I walked in and Mary Ray was the first person I saw at BCM,” Crosby explains further, saying she first met her now assistant director at a BCM open house at the Dinner Theatre information table. “If I go now, I’ll have at least one person I know, and so I’ll be okay.”

A few months after being exposed to the Gospel in BCM and Dinner Theatre, Crosby gave her life to Jesus Christ.

“I joined a small group here and that was tremendously helpful, just to be able to talk to girls my own age and to see their views on the Bible and what it all means,” Crosby says. “Dinner Theatre and my faith go hand-in-hand.”

Becoming family

Now that she knows just how powerful exposure to the Gospel can be, Crosby wants nothing more than to share her newfound, burgeoning faith with others like her former self: artists who need something more.

From the time auditions begin in early November to the time the final curtain drops in early March, Dinner Theatre cast and crew will spend hundreds of hours together preparing and rehearsing.

All that time together gives Crosby and Ray a phenomenal opportunity to share the love of Christ with their Dinner Theatre family in a real and powerful way.

And a family is what they are.

“My biggest goal is to cultivate the family, because that’s what it was for me,” Ray elaborates. “As a freshman, I was out of church and I was burnt out. Here is where I met a lot of people who loved Jesus … and that’s always been my favorite thing about Dinner Theatre.”

Mary Crosby, left, is the director for this year’s Dinner Theatre show, but she is also an example of how Dinner Theatre can be an outreach. Her assistant director, Mary Ray, right, helped get her connected to BCM which led to Crosby’s salvation. ADAM WYNN/Special

Ray directed last year’s show, “Mary Poppins,” and is excited about helping her friend as the assistant director, a job she initially refused.

“We joke a lot about how I have four hats,” Ray laughs, explaining that she is the assistant director, the former director, the choreographer, and the BCM’s PR intern. With so many tasks already on her plate, Ray had initially wanted to step back.

“It wasn’t an audible voice, but one day I felt God say, ‘Offer to be Mary’s assistant director.’ I said no, but then I heard it again: ‘Offer to be Mary’s assistant director,’” Ray admits. “It took a lot of conversations between the two of us because I was worried about…overstepping her, and she was worried about that, too. But for me, I really like being able to specifically support Mary. Not just as someone who has done it before, but as a friend.

“I think that’s the most valuable thing for an assistant director to do,” Ray emphasizes. “That’s been really important for me.”

Leadup to opening night

According to Crosby, though, Ray’s presence has been nothing short of necessary in the build-up to opening night.

“It’s the best situation I could have hoped for,” Crosby says of having Ray available as an assistant director. “She’s always there so I can ask, ‘What did y’all do last year?’ or as an emotional support. When I’m really invested in something, she’ll peak over and tell me a little joke, I’ll giggle for a few good seconds, but then in my soul I really appreciate having the distraction.

“And it really helps to have someone who shares my outreach goals and someone I can pray with,” Crosby adds.

Their relationship goes even deeper, though, than director and assistant director. Crosby and Ray are also prayer partners.

“So, we can add that hat, too,” Ray jokes.

Those interested in seeing the show can reserve tickets by contacting the BCM at UGA. You can also buy tickets online here.

Thursday, Feb. 28 and Monday, March 4 are the student shows, where tickets are just $10 and do not come with a meal. Friday evening and Saturday evening March 1 and 2 will feature full menus with coffee and dessert, while there will be dessert-only shows on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

Dinner shows on Friday and Saturday cost $26 per person and dessert shows cost $16. 

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