By Ian Beabout, Online Editor
West Liberty’s theater season begins early this semester, with Ramayana – Past in Present. The musical, penned by student John Sherwood, opens Thursday, August 25th – the first week of school and runs through Sunday, August 28th.
Sherwood was inspired by his own faith and experiences to compose the piece’s story-line and music, which is based on an ancient poem, the Ramayana.
“At an early age I became interested in the Vedic philosophy found in the monotheistic traditions of India,” said Sherwood. “The concepts of reincarnation, vegetarianism, the eternal individual nature of the soul, and the idea that a personal expansion of God is eternally present within every living being as the super soul, resonated with me.”
Sherwood has studied the ancient texts his entire life, leading him to travel to India where he discovered the Ramayana. “The story captivated me, especially because I felt it mirrored events in my own life,” Sherwood said.
“Before it appeared in written form, the Ramayana (which means the journey of Ram) was passed down from generation to generation through an oral tradition,” Sherwood said. “The first singers of this musical epic were two twin brothers, named Kush and Lava. Up until the age of sixteen Kush and Lava thought the sage Valmiki was their father.”
“However, one day they found out that actually King Ram was their father. Valmiki instructed the boys to go to the palace of Ram and sing to him the story of his life, the Ramayana,” Sherwood said. “The adventure of how King Ram was exiled from his kingdom in his youth, and how after almost fourteen years in exile had to fight the most powerful demon in the universe to recover his kidnapped wife, is the subject of the musical.”
“In my own life up until the age of 15, I thought someone was my father. Shortly after my sixteenth birthday I was told that person is not my father,” Sherwood said. “This event altered the course of my life. I absorbed myself in the study and practice of Bhakti-yoga and the Vedas, which include the Ramayana and Bhagavad-Gita.”
“Two years ago I found out whom my father actually is through a DNA test and that he was still alive. I was reunited with him and we felt a similar joy King Ram and his sons must have felt many, many eons ago,” Sherwood said. “My father passed away a few weeks ago at the age of ninety-four. I was proud of him and he was proud of me.”
The production also features West Liberty students and staff in a variety of creative roles, including actors, musicians and stage crew.
“Most of the characters in the cast are played by WLU students,” Sherwood said. “They not only act and sing but are also building the sets and help in so many ways to bring this production to life. I feel truly honored and privileged to be able to work with such young talented artists who have volunteered their precious time to take part in this production.”
“My hope is that those who experience this production of Ramayana – Past in Present will experience the joy we humans can experience when we realize we are all actually related to each other in a very deep, meaningful and spiritual way,” Sherwood said.
Ramayana – Past in Present runs from August 25th through the 27th at 7:30 p.m., with a final Sunday performance at 3:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here and at the box office in Fine Arts.
Photo by Natasha Muhametzyanova