‘Heaven Can Wait’ at Hill-Murray — but the play’s director — can’t!

| Kathryn Elliott for The Catholic Spirit | October 18, 2011 | 0 Comments

Hill-Murray logoActor and Hill-Murray Theater Director Ben Ballentine said he’s the only guy in the dressing room who loves fantasy football and listens primarily to sports talk radio.

Ballentine, whose stage name is Ben Bakken, spends his days at Hill-Murray Catholic High School in Maplewood, teaching theater classes and directing school productions like “Heaven Can Wait,” which opened Oct. 7.

Six nights a week, though, Ballentine slicks back his hair and dons a turquoise suit for his opening scene as Link Larkin in “Hairspray” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.

It’s a crazy schedule, but he calls it a “transition time.”

For the past five years, Ballentine and his wife Maureen have been professional, full-time actors. Several years ago, they began choreographing shows at local high schools, including Hill-Murray. They loved teaching and Ben began to feel God nudging him toward a new vocation.

Then the theater director position opened at Hill-Murray and Ben was hired.  He says he’s ready to bring his acting experience and professional resources to Hill-Murray and “pass them on.”

A few bumps on way

As a first-time director, Ballentine said certain details have escaped him; he forgot to put ticket prices on the “Heaven Can Wait” posters, for example (prices can be found on the department web site, http://www.hill-murray.org/theatreschedule.aspx).

He’s nailed other aspects of production, though. During the week before “Heaven Can Wait” opened, Hill-Murray sophomore and cast member Nina Ricci said Ballentine brought in local actors and a photographer to give the students feedback.

Not only that, Ricci said, but he’s approachable and brings new insights about how to connect with the audience from the Hill-Murray stage.  He’s also made changes like adding a cross to the Hill-Murray Theater department logo.

Ballentine’s outlook rests on a conversion experience he had a few years ago that changed how he lived and performed. Although he was raised Lutheran, Ballentine wasn’t interested in God until he and his then-girlfriend, now wife, hit rock bottom in their relationship and personal lives. They both became Christians.

Now, they sing on the worship team at their church, Hosanna, in Lakeville. Ballentine said he used to get nervous before going on stage, but after his conversion he realized his talent was a gift from God, to be used for God’s glory. His nerves disappeared.

Blessing continue

Ballentine’s acting career has included a number of faith-related productions. At Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in 2008, he debuted in “Altar Boyz,” a musical comedy about five altar servers who decided to use their talent for singing and love of God to form a pop boy band.

Kris Howland, public relations director for Chanhassen, said Ballentine is not only a “rock star” performer, but he goes out of his way to educate people about the message and intention behind his work.

Last spring, before playing Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Ballentine came to Howland’s office and offered to visit youth groups — not just to publicize the show, but to hopefully “plant a seed” by sharing the story of Jesus, Howland said.

“The people who work here at the theater know who Ben is as a human being. And he lives his life out backstage as a believer. He has his Bible on his dressing table,” Howland said.

Ballentine teaches his students to “bless people” with their talent. “Heaven Can Wait,” the story of an athlete’s trip to heaven and back, promises to bring more than laughs to audience members.

Tags: , ,

Category: Arts and Culture