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Alfson pens ‘Soldiers of Faith’

By Staff | Dec 22, 2008

‘Nothing worth doing is ever easy’ could summarize the past two months of Mitch Alfson’s life.

A telephone call in September got Alfson motivated to write creatively again, something he had little time to do the past four years when he was a student at South Dakota State University in Brookings.

“I have discovered writing is a long, hard and often boring process,” says Alfson. “It takes a lot to motivate me to write,” he confesses.

But the long distance call from Kathy Renken, play director at River of Life Worship Center in Blue Earth, was all the motivation Alfson needed.

Renken, in the past, has asked Alfson to create skit ideas for the youth to perform, so he was not surprised by her call.

“She told me a group from River of Life Worship Center was considering a very unique small church Christmas play and wondered if I might be interested in writing the script,” recalls Alfson.

Renken had worked with Alfson while he was in high school. In 2003, she encouraged him to enter a short story in the Fine Arts Festival River of Life sponsors annually. His story made it all the way to Nationals in Washington, D.C.

In 2004, Alfson wrote ‘Into the World,’ a story about missionaries in Africa who are attacked by fire-breathing dinosaurs and the aftermath which they face.

“I never thought a small town kid from a little church would win, so I was working for Seneca when I learned I had won first place for this work at the Nationals,” recalls Alfson.

Knowing Alfson’s award-winning writing ability, it was only natural that Renken and others from the church offered him the opportunity to write their Christmas play.

“Kathy (Renken) briefly summarized the plot the group envisioned,” says Alfson.

“The story was to take place on Christmas Eve 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge at a church pageant. Three American soldiers seek shelter at the church and German soldiers pursue them,” summarizes Alfson.

A history major, World War II was right up his alley, so he began doing research concerning the Battle of the Bulge and the towns surrounding it.

“I began writing scenes in mid-September,” recalls Alfson. “I didn’t write chronologically. I wrote the big scenes first.”

Alfson wrote several drafts of the play, resulting in many of the scenes being totally eliminated.

“Part of the fun of writing the play,” says Alfson “is the fact I named a couple of the characters after my college roommates. It’s sort of a tribute to them,” he grins.

Even though he did some research on the Battle of the Bulge, he says his is a simple play, so he didn’t bog it down with a lot of facts and details. He mainly tried to create the historical setting to establish atmosphere instead of nit-picking about historical fact.

The initial idea was to have three American soldiers seeking refuge in the church, but Alfson used creative license and reduced the number to two.

“There are speaking parts for about 20 persons,” says Alfson. “I feel sorry for the kids because my dialogue is pretty tough,” says Alfson.

About nine or ten of the speaking parts involve children performing in the 1944 Christmas church pageant. Ten other characters comprise the other roles.

What is unique about the performance, explains Alfson, is the audience will serve as if they were part of the congregation watching the 1944 pageant.

Some period costumes and several of the props have been acquired by Gary Foster for the production. Lighting and special effects, including sounds of artillery fire, are also part of the performance.

“I hope we don’t frighten some of the young children attending because of the realistic sound effects,” says Alfson.

“At times writing this play was a very frustrating experience,” says Alfson. But it was also a labor of love.

“Writing ‘Soldiers of Faith’ has really been a learning process,” says Alfson. “I found what’s good on paper might not work on stage,” he says. “One must fulfill the actions with the dialog.”

Another bit of advice he has for new playwrights is to make sure they have a more finalized script before rehearsals begin.

“The read through really got me excited,” says Alfson. “I got to see how people interpreted and performed my words.”

Alfson also plays a significant acting role in his play.

The cast of 20 began rehearsals in mid-November and performances were December 13-14.

“I think ‘Soldiers of Faith’ will definitely be something people will talk about long after seeing it,” says Alfson.

“The church has given me a real honor by entrusting me to write this play,” says a humble Alfson. “It’s also been pretty fun.”

Alfson says it is a definite possibility he might submit ‘Soldiers of Faith’ for publication.

“I think it would be neat to have something of mine published,” he says.

Alfson says Renken has another project idea, but she wants to see his temperament after ‘Soldiers of Faith’ is performed before she approaches him about it.

The son of Chris and Jeff Alfson, Mitch is a 2004 graduate of Blue Earth Area High School and a 2008 graduate of South Dakota State University. He says his