A powerful and inspirational night bringing together communities from various walks on campus with real stories and live music.
Elon University seniors Jordan Frazier and Alyssa McAnany, along with Gabrielle Toledo, Lauren Richards, Affinity, Intervarsity’s Thursday Night Worship Team, and a group of eight students, created and presented N.E.W., a first-of-its-kind campus experience on May 8, 2015.
The event was held at Global Commons Media Room 103 and featured a night of personal stories and testimony, and uplifting music where the room was filled with students from various majors, social groups, sports and walks.
For years McAnany and Frazier had the desire in their hearts and knew they wanted to create a show like this. Then after each going through life changing events this year they knew the time to act was now.
A strong group of students opened a show. Senior music theatre majors McAnany and Frazier headed a production that combined personal testimonies and artistic expression in a collaboration that left the audience on their feet and singing together.
“We pass a lot of faces on campus- close friends, classmates, strangers- unconsciously make conclusions or assumptions about them based on what we know, or rather, what we think we know about them. But how often do we take the time to get to know the story behind the face?” asks McAnany. “Experience and perspective are powerful gifts that when shared truthfully can unite communities and reveal a greater purpose.”
N.E.W. featured a cast from a diverse assortment of campus life and focuses including, but not limited to, Environmental and Ecological Science, Strategic Communications, Management, Economics and Sales, BFA Acting, BA Arts Administration, BFA Music Theatre, Public Health Studies and International Studies, as well as Music Production & Recording Arts Alum.
The evening was a collaboration of young people with an audience of students and faculty that spanned the campus spectrum.
“Over my years here at Elon, I’ve always gotten feedback from friends and colleagues that people think that Christians are either closed minded and judgmental, naive, or just have never really gone through anything,” Frazier said. “There’s also this erroneous thought that we as Christians must have it all together, that we must not reveal our weaknesses. Well, like Paul said, I wanted us to ‘Boast in our weakness, so that the power for Christ would be revealed!’
“Most people don’t really know my story, and truly we go through life, not really knowing each other’s life stories either (testimonies). I wanted to have this night to change all of that.”
Daneilia Dwyer, the outgoing president of Affinity Bible Study on campus, had this to say about the formation of this specific event: “N.E.W. was inspired because Affinity does a bible study each spring called ‘I Don’t Look Like What I’ve Been Through’ where students share their personal stories. I approached Jordan Frazier and was telling her about my idea to invite Alyssa McAnany to come speak for this event. Affinity also had an All Night Praise that we were planning for the end of the year. I shared this with Jordan, and she amazingly, had a very similar idea called ‘Night of Elucidating Words’ (N.E.W.) where students would share testimonies and sing songs that exemplified what they had experienced. We realized that this was not a coincidence that our ideas and our vision were so overlapping and genuinely believed it was more than fate and so we both ran with the idea; Affinity sponsored and supported the vision!”
Frazier, McAnany and Dwyer quickly joined forces to shape N.E.W. (A Night of Elucidating Words): I Don’t Look Like What I’ve Been Through.
Junior BFA acting majors Toledo and Richards assisted with the process and production, as did Affinity’s new president, Donita Sharkey, who was integral behind the scenes for this event. Elon Intervarsity’s Thursday Night Worship team/band joined in the collaboration; including, Kyle Vines, Jessika Dorcas, Freddy Suppes, and Cole Hyman; plus Elon alum Sam Costello as the sound engineer.
Performers included (in show order): McAnany, Vines, Toledo, Keller Biswurm, Dwyer, Richards, Alex Lewis and Frazier.
After the production when Gabrielle was asked what the most moving part of N.E.W. was for her personally she said, “The freedom that was tangible in the room. It was like the walls DROPPED or disappeared for a couple hours and we were our true selves- and we got the chance to celebrate our scars that we always try to hide. It was an awe-inspiring experience- it was a glimpse of the freedom we will all feel in heaven. No fear, all trust, our true selves.”
Affinity Bible Study also sponsored the reception afterward, where music continued, a beautiful cake and refreshments were shared, as were stories of strength, weakness, bravery, and hope from all in the room.
“People really identified with the experiences and the stories shared and had a lot of questions about faith and how to practice faith and obedience in a Christian context,” Dwyer said.
“I loved how we affected every person in that room to the point where some were crying and some were coming up to us after to express their feelings. That was incredible for me,” said Richards.
Elon senior Cate LeSourd was in the audience on Friday.
“This experience was simply beautiful,” she said. “No one is perfect; every person has a story. We live in a world where we try to appear like everything is fine or perfect when in reality it is nowhere near that. My friends broke down walls and spoke about their stories, sharing vulnerable moments and parts of their lives to share with friends and strangers how they have been impacted and changed. I hope more events like this can happen, because when we step back from the boxes we put each other in we realize that we all have our own story but we are also never alone in them.”
Still, there is no divide between those involved in the creation of the event and those who saw it for the first time of Friday. Jessika, guitarist, spoke wise words when she shared to the cast afterward how she hoped everyone could connect to the stories that were told and never separate themselves from the audience. “We are all broken and redeemed,” she said. “What a beautiful reminder.”
The passion, vulnerability, and strength these student’s possess in their walks of faith was infectious and will not only remain a memory for many but a night where lives were forever changed.
Ultimately, McAnany and Frazier both expressed how humbled and blessed they feel to have this night live forever in their hearts and to exist as their final performance event of their collegic experiences.
“I never thought this night would make me SO happy! I was truly full from hearing everyone’s story. I will never forget this night,” Frazier said.
McAnany shared that this was the highlight of her undergrad experience. “I am so grateful to be in an environment where we can create, share, and rejoice in an event such as this,” she said. “As I prepare to leave Elon in a matter of days I depart with a refreshed confidence, sense of community, and strength that I know will carry and stay with me as my testimony develops.”
But would it set me free
If I dared to let you see
The truth behind the person
That you imagine me to be.
(Casting Crown’s “Stained Glass Masquerade;” An excerpt from the opening number of N.E.W.)
– Photography by Patterson Huggins