The Rapture Family Transcription
Edited by Beverly B. Patterson
The camera pans over the closing moments of the filmed performance of the folk drama In the Rapture with the cast singing “Oh, Happy Day.” After the title, it cuts to Professor William H. “Bill” Wiggins, director of the film project, seated with a group of nine members of the production. He opens the interview by introducing the various participants seated there with him.
Joe Folsom, The Devil
Margerine Hatcher, Originator of In the Rapture
Herman Hudson, Professor Herman Hudson, Afro-American Arts Institute
Gwen Parish, The Narrator
William Hatcher, Set Designer
Willie Brown, The Sinner
Joe Duncan, Musician
Pamela Davis, Musician
Andy Crim, Everyman, The Sinner
BILL WIGGINS: All right, this is October 18, 1975, and we’ve just concluded the full rehearsal for In the Rapture. It’ll be presented tomorrow night at Second Baptist Church here in Bloomington. We’re sitting here talking. I have here to my right, Mr. Joe Folsom, who plays the devil, to my left Mrs. Margerine Hatcher, who is the originator and director of In the Rapture. Next to her is Dr. Herman Hudson, Afro-American Arts Institute, and then Mrs. Gwen Parish, who is the narrator of it, Mr. William Hatcher, who produces and makes all the sets, Mr. Willie Brown, who is a young man who is working his way up in the family of The Rapture. He has played on various occasions the Sinner. Next to him is the central and major musician, Mr. Joe Duncan, and next to him is his apprentice, a young lady who does very well at 14 years old, Miss Pam Davis. And on the end is Mr. Andy Crim, who plays Everyman and the Sinner.
We will be talking about In the Rapture. I want to begin by asking Mrs. Hatcher, How did this come to you?
MARGERINE HATCHER: Well it came to me as a—I don’t say it was a dream, but it came to me as a satirization. I had heard this song sung by Shirley Caesar on the radio. And you know every time you hear something you wonder is it true or what is it all about. And to me, in the Rapture was sorta like—it just means that he’s caught up. It means that he’s coming back again. And so I began to think a lot about a Christian’s life and the trials and tribulations that they had. And to me came the song and putting the words of the song into action and making the prayers—asking the prayers—to portray their part, putting their feeling in it. And make a song come alive, as Christians to do.
WILLIAM HATCHER: You know one night we’re sitting at home. I was watching TV and I was talking to her and she went off to sleep. And I wakened her up and she went upstairs and went to bed. So about an hour passed, I guess, and she came down. She says, “I had a dream, or I had something and they came over me and I want to write a play.” And said, “I got some parts in there and I want you to make different things for me.”
And I said, “What were they?”
“I dreamt about a heart being broke. And I dreamt about ‘em climbing a mountain. And the song,” she said, “the song in it was the song that Shirley Caesar sang today. I can’t think of it. I think it’s ‘In the Rapture.’”
And I said, “What kind of heart do you want me to make?”
And she said, ”I want you to make a heart that you can break it and put it back together again.”
So I thought on it and I said, “I don’t know how I can make a heart you can break it and put it back together again.” I thought about using paper. Then I thought about using different things and I came up with the idea of using plywood with nails in it where you cut it half in two and put it back after you break it. Then I made up some mountains and things out of plywood.
MARGERINE HATCHER: When we first started off, we were just the Church of the Living God . . . choir. And we went that way for two years. And other people wanted to join us, but they felt shut out because it was just a too particular choir. So the next time here, well I got to thinking and I said this is not right. If we can’t all sing together, how can we all, you know, pray together. And we kept—If anyone wants to come, let’ em come. So the next year I made it voluntary. After talking with Brother. Duncan and several other people, made it voluntary. Whosoever will, let ‘em come. And they come and meet and I think we have helped. A lot of them have just opened up our hearts. They say, “I can’t do this.” But we don’t use the word “can’t.” We “try.” And they would inspire everybody pushing them and supporting them. This is the way we come. We’ve come a mighty long ways just from putting our arms around each other. For instance Sister Pamela Davis, when we approached her about playing she couldn’t do it, “I can’t do it.”
I said, “Oh, yes you can. Try.”
And her mother used to say, “Well, Mrs. Hatcher—Sister Hatcher—you ask her because she won’t play for me.”
But she played. And when Brother Duncan . . . she came on to it. It’s a process. We never—it’s what we’re for, to help.
WILLIAM HATCHER: Also, I’d like to say that I think The Rapture’s went a long way ‘cause I didn’t have no idea in the world that we’d ever be finished. You know, if anybody’d told me, I’d a told you no, because I thought it’d be just a one-night stand. This thing’s been going nine years, and we could go every Sunday if necessary. I mean people just, I mean just call constantly. But I think God is—somebody’s talking good in it. I mean we have went to Michigan and get up there and the guy had a big coliseum, and man he didn’t have enough people in there to even start to fill this thing up. And when we get back home, I had to take my whole week’s paycheck getting The Rapture back home. We stuck together, though. We fought it out and things—looked like—things began opening up for us.
MARGERINE HATCHER: I must say this, if I may. One thing about my husband I can say that Rapture has helped him because, when you see this—so many times he’s been a very hot-tempered man in his life ‘cause he played ball—and you know how men—ball—used to play . . . And he got so discouraged sometimes when sometimes we didn’t have but fifteen people . . . . He’d say “Rine, I wouldn’t fool with it. I wouldn’t fool with it.”
I’d look at him.
He’d say “She’s not hearing me.”
I’d go right on. I’d say, “The Lord didn’t stop. He didn’t tell me to stop.”
Several people said, “Why don’t you stop The Rapture?”
I said, “Until God says stop. Uh uh.”
I’d keep right on going. Thank God for those like Brother Crim and Brother Folsom and Sister Parish and Reverend—I want to call him Reverend—he may be a minister one day. They’ve always been there to support me. Matter of fact, he gets so tired sometimes because he not only plays for The Rapture, he plays for our church and he has other things to do. He works and he goes to school. He says, “I don’t know,” and [I] look up and he’s right there!
BILL WIGGINS: Well we’ve got the author there. Mr. Hatcher maybe you could say something about how—the way Jesus is going to come out. What happens?
WILLIAM HATCHER: Well, last night when we was down here, we had him coming out of one place, we had him coming from where the altar is sitting there now. And someone brought up the idea they didn’t think that would work there. And I was sitting back there listening to them. And so I got up and went to the where the pool—supposed to be a pool there—looked in there. I said, “We’ll see if we can make him come out of there.” And so we—what we intend tomorrow—we gonna bring him through there if we can get that door open. We’re gonna bring him out that way, through that opening there, and let him come in instead of coming down this way.
HERMAN HUDSON: I might add they came down here several times and looked at it and that idea just came up.
WILLIAM HATCHER: We drew a diagram of how we wanted to set up everything and give it to the cameraman, and when he came down he was going by the diagram and I think we got him kinda—you know, changing things around. Sometimes, you know, you look at it one way and after you kinda go through it—you see how you can do a little better and get more out of it if you sit down and put your mind to it. Like today, I’ve been down at this church ever since ten o’clock this morning and, you know, trying to watch different things to see what I could do to try to kinda make it a little better. Make it easier on the kids—which we have got a whole lot of young kids in here. And you know, you kinda got to look out after them, take ‘em under your wing, you know, trying to make it easier all the way around for everyone.
BILL WIGGINS: Well now, what were some of the special things you had to do for this performance to come out tomorrow.
WILLIAM HATCHER: Oh, make new risers to get into the choir stand. We like to come straight down the aisle and right on into the choir stand just like you’re going up and then down. They say you go up in the Rapture—no down in the Rapture—one way or other. So I try to make them going up and down. I build the stairway so it will go—Now Sister was telling me tonight she thought it was too high. And so, I don’t know, we may change it tomorrow and get it a little lower. But I had to make new steps there, and we had to move the organ and change things around to get—you know it’s a kinda tight place to get ‘em in. I think we got about ninety up there tonight. I think the first set of wings I made was out of cardboard and was covered with paper. And we made feathers out of a lot of paper. And the next time we made it out of chicken wire and we covered that with paper mache. And so the girls said it was too heavy. And so we went into something else. And so now we’ve gone into making them out of wire, which I sat here tonight, made a little set for our little granddaughter. She’s one of the angels. I made these out of coat hangers while I was sitting back there in the back of the church. And so all our scenery was made on cardboard, paper, plywood or anything we could get over to beg, borrow. And I had a fellow—friend of mine—worked for me. He’s a pretty good artist. He had to draw a whole lot of the scenery you see.
BILL WIGGINS: Mr. Hatcher, I think you have, in addition to the sets, you’ve also acted and sung in the play.
WILLIAM HATCHER: Yes, I played Jesus one night. We was in Marion, Indiana, I think, Marion College, and we was in Marion, and the [actor] was late getting there. And we wanted to start. And the people was on pins and needles. And I said, “Well, I’ll take the part.” And I played Jesus. And I think the microphones and amps started acting up and I got up and went and fixed it. And the . . . said that’s the first Jesus I ever seen get up and go fix the microphones, amplifiers and everything else. And I think I played Jesus and—well I sung once or twice with ‘em. And you see me darting around here fixing things. But tonight I had it pretty easy with the guys setting up the mikes and things and I didn’t have to worry about it. That was a big load off my mind.
BILL WIGGINS: Well, your presentation of the devil, the way you present it is very different from the traditional image of the figure with the tail and the horns and so forth. In other words, the devil that would be in the . . . How did you develop that concept of the devil?
JOE FOLSOM: Well first of all I didn’t have no red suit. So I said, well if I want to play this part, I’ll just get me a high hat and cape, sunglasses. And I’ll look mysterious. Something like that. Tiptoe across the stage and try to pull people back, keep ‘em from going into heaven, and so forth.
WILLIAM HATCHER: Also one time at Northside, I think about the first—second—time we had it. Near the end, I think we sung “Oh Happy Day.” I happened to look up in the choir, standing, and the devil had took off his robe—was standing there in his tee shirt. He was in the choir singing. [laughter]
JOE FOLSOM: Well as it went on—it started off, we didn’t talk, but as it went on we sort of mumbled something to each other. Finally we just started talking out, trying to add something on to it as we went along.
WILLIE BROWN: When we first started, we more or less just had words in our head, but it didn’t seem to went over with me. I don’t know about Joe, but when we started talking to each other, and get more of a feeling out of it, and you can bring more action into it, you know, and portray the person that you’re trying to be.
MARGERINE HATCHER: They have gotten in their backyard and practiced what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. This has got to be real to them, you know, because Joe, when he first asked what should he wear and would this cape be all right. And I told him yes, because this is the way you have to approach people now. They have to see modernistic. Long time ago they fought with the devil. That’s all we had. That’s what we were taught—that the devil was an imp. But it could be you or I, or human beings. And so this is what they looked for. Joe was playing it just the way of modernistic times because this is the way you have to do.
GWIN PARISH: Originally, I wasn’t the narrator. I was supposed to sing in the choir. And the narrator was the radio announcer at that time. And when it was time for the pageant to start, he wasn’t there. And we waited for a while. And they said. “Well, hey, we’ve got to go ahead. Gwen can you do it?”
And I said, Okay, I’ll try.” And I said, “Okay, Lord, let’s go.”
They gave me a sheet of paper with a list of songs on it. And he came in a little after we had started. And he said he couldn’t do very well extemporaneous. So he asked me if I would help him that particular night. And after that he asked me if I would help him all the time. And he stayed with us for a good while and then he dropped out, and I took over completely.
WILLIAM HATCHER: She didn’t mention the radio announcer’s name. And Milton Nixon is his name. And he was a good announcer, I mean he could just make you, oh boy, when he get through announcing just look like the whole thing gonna fall apart, and he just. . . . He was a heck of an announcer.
MARGERINE HATCHER: Gwen—sometimes she says she never changes, but I’ve heard it change several times. She was even taking the words at a ball game to show—compare to the way of serving the Lord. Last Sunday she put it down to taking dope, but she brought it on out to say for the benefit of serving the Lord. And see all these things today, you can get closer to the youth of today when you bring it down to . . . And this is the way we’re doing it.
GWIN PARISH: Most of it I relate a lot from my personal experiences, which I feel are representative of man’s experiences period. And I have a very strong feeling that if I strive to do the things that’s right, that the Lord will just kind of be with me and guide me and give me what to say when the time comes.
BILL WIGGINS: But do you change it from time to time when The Rapture is being put on in different places? Or do you pretty much stick to the same words?
GWIN PARISH: I stick quite a bit to the same thing and then, at the same time, I make changes. It depends on what I’m going through personally. Different experiences I’ve had. And I may change every now and then and then go back. It just kind of depends on when I come into a church, the spirit that I pick up, the mood that I’m in, and what I feel at that particular time. So I just don’t ever know ahead of time, which way I’m going to go until I’m there. I’m not the type of person that can just make up stories. I have to relate something that’s real because if I can’t feel it or understand it, I just can’t do it. A lot of the songs, if I don’t have a full understanding of what that song is really saying, I go home and I ask the Lord—before I can explain or narrate that song to someone else—to give me an understanding of what it’s saying, and in every experience. I work around a lot of young people. I work at the swimming pool. I work at the Marion County Juvenile Center, and I’m around a lot of young people and their problems. And from the things that they encounter and things that I encounter myself, I just draw from these experiences and then relate to that. And I found that people are basically searching for something, and we’re using all different methods.
And then I find that the things people are using in the world, the things that we call sin, they’re doing the same thing that we’re doing. They’re trying to find an answer and trying to find a way. And I relate the things that cause them problems as they try to find the answer—to the fact that Jesus is the answer. As she was thinking about the dope incident—a young man offered me some marijuana. And he told me everything that it did for him. And as I listened to him tell everything it did for him, I realized that what it did for him on a temporary basis is what the love of God is doing in my life day to day and step by step. Not perfectly, because I’m not perfect, but progressively. And these are just some things that I relate, everyday experiences that I come in contact with.
BILL WIGGINS: I see. Well now, a major part of this production not only is the spoken word, not only is do your best improvisation and talk, but music. Very definitely. And Brother Duncan here, what about the songs? How are they selected?
JOE DUNCAN: She will more or less dictate what song that she wanted to use, and in the beginning, they used several songs. And those that had good . . . are the ones that she more or less kept. And there are maybe three or four numbers that we alternate several times, depending on who we have present.
MARGERINE HATCHER: Well, it’s according to who—you can talk to Joe and ask him, because he is the one that knows the soloists. If it’s someone that he thinks can’t do it, I leave that up to him. And I always go to him and get his—I respect him in his job and to give his concern about anything along the music line.
BILL WIGGINS: You said something about that paper. How many pieces of paper do they need to have in The Rapture. Tell them what you think about that.
MARGERINE HATCHER: Usually people don’t just have that made up until I get to church.
They say, “Can’t you make the list out?”
I say, “Uh uh. I haven’t got it yet.”
And then I walk in the door say, “Have you got the list made out?”
You have to make five—one for Brother Duncan, one for Pam, one for Sister Gwendolyn Parish, and one—I usually carry one myself. I get it in my head. And you always let the devil have one because they can know. . . . So sometimes they get it just before they go in, and this is it.
And I tell [name] if it changes, we’ll let you know. It varies sometimes. And according to how the church is set up. Sometimes every time you walk in a place you wonder how everybody’s going to accept it. And after we march in we know. And then it goes on usually like it did tonight. If it seems like something ‘s wrong, it’ll hit either Sister Parish or it hits me. Sometimes Brother Duncan will just start playing a song and the choir will just come in with it. It’s just whatever is in the mood.
BILL WIGGINS: When was the last time [the gospel song] “In the Rapture” has been included in the performance?
JOE DUNCAN: About three or four Sundays ago. On occasion we put it back in there. And it’s just a song that we would like to keep in there, but due to circumstances sometimes it’s just unable to render all the numbers that should be in there. Sister Hatcher’s daughter sings that. Unfortunately a lot of times she gets sick and certain ailments. And we just haven’t had, really, someone who can get into the number like it should be sung, like she did. And consequently, we just leave it out.
BILL WIGGINS: Let me ask—didn’t you share with us—didn’t you talk with Shirley Caesar?
MARGERINE HATCHER: Oh, yes. I talked with Miss Caesar, Shirley Caesar, about the first year that we had it and we were giving a presentation for the Nurses Guild of our church. . . . And she came in town, and we were trying to get her to come back and be on that program because we were expecting a large crowd. Which at the time she said that she was on a tour, that if she could arrange her tour, that she would fly in to be with us that night. But the cost—she said she could hardly do it. Because as I said, we are not money making. We just do it for the glorification of God. A lot of times we don’t get anything. We have a service and that’s all that matters. And we just wanted her to come to kind of do “In the Rapture” for us. And we just couldn’t, you know, at that time.
BILL WIGGINS: You have this alternating of singers, one facing this way, one facing the other way, and then the rocking motion, and the pulling, of course, when they get up here. I haven’t seen that before. And could I ask Duncan, have you seen any choir do that before? Or how did that all start with the musicians?
JOE DUNCAN: You know, I think it’s just Sister Hatcher got this from when Jesus reached out his hand to sinking Peter to pull him up. I think that’s where she got the rocking from.
WILLIAM HATCHER: I think it’s like Brother Duncan said, it came from the song, and I came up with the idea at—I think it was at the Church of the Living God—the one faith, one turned their back, every other one turned the opposite way and make a chain—something like a chain. Sometimes they’d get to rocking too much and, like tonight, I’d tell them we don’t want to be rocking too much. We want to make it look like, you know, ‘cause I’d heard people in church. Now you hear a lot of things in church when you have the play. I heard a lady one time in church say, “What they gonna do, dance?” And you know it’s a little thing and then you go back and try to improve on it. You say well maybe somebody’s rocking too much. So try to cut it down a little bit, you know. And not intentionally. They’re not trying to do it. It just gets into the song and they let go, that’s all.
MARGERINE HATCHER: It’s just like the song said, “Don’t be afraid.” The person is making it in, and the person he’s reaching back for is pulling back. He’s afraid to cross over the water. And this is why they help them. And you can see the angel. This first one has gotten his strength from the angel and then he wants to pass it on to his brother. And the reason they turned that way is to see that they’re opposite. I’m on my way and they get up where they turn, that’s where the strength comes in. And this is the idea—just what the song says, “Don’t be afraid.” And this is when Jesus was talking to Peter when he was out on the water.
BILL WIGGINS: Have you always come in like that? Is that the way you’ve always been introduced coming in at the last line here?
ANDY CRIM: The last one, yes.
BILL WIGGINS: And you’ve always been in the center here?
VOICE: Why you holding back?
HERMAN HUDSON: Mrs. Hatcher, she [Gwen Parish] was saying something about the spirit that moves her when she is carrying on the narrative parts between the songs. I noticed that tonight, even though it was a rehearsal, many of the performers felt the spirit, even got happy. Is that really the way the In the Rapture group performs? It’s not really a performance is it? It’s more like, would you say, a religious service?
MARGERINE HATCHER: Uh huh. This is the way it is. We pray. We have our devotions. We ask God to use us. We can turn ourselves completely to song that they sang now. Jesus will work it out. And this is what we depend on, Jesus is doing it. We can have our devotions. And every one, as I say, I can’t tell them what to do. We can give the song. Sister Gwen does her narration. But everyone puts their whole body and soul in it with the Lord’s help. And I thank God that I can say along with Brother Duncan, he has to, oh several times to . . . Gwen Parish’s brother, he’s not able to be with us, but Brother Duncan filled in for him, he filled in for the . . . in the mountains, he filled in for everything and everybody’s not there. This is why I say we don’t let not one person—whatever God so lets them do, whatever they feel like doing, this is what happens. We just let God step in and take over. We’re not ashamed. We’re telling a story, and we believe in the story we’re telling.
It’s a everyday Christian life and we try to fulfill it. We know that . . . because we’re looking forward to that day of being caught up with Jesus in the Rapture. It’s just all of them. I just wish I could express my feelings like I want to. I say I’m not making a talker. But nevertheless this is how we work—through the Holy Spirit—and once it has won, it rubs off on all the others.
MARGERINE HATCHER: You know I don’t like for anyone to say “the children” or this one or that one. I always say, “Who you talking about, The Rapture family?” Because we are a family. We share each other’s problems. With one—we had an incident that came up about three weeks ago. One of our singers had a little problem. And he just was not satisfied until the Rapture family went to work, and we got him together. He’s doing all right. Each one of them has a certain place in my heart and whatever we can do, and whatever they’re at, don’t care, they’re still ours. We never let ’em, I don’t care what incident they have gotten into, we don’t care how they have fallen. We put our arms around them and let them know that we love ‘em. And we keep ‘em on.
You know like in some churches you can’t do this because you did [that]. And in some churches you can’t sing in the choir on account of it. Our choir is not like this. For the person that has a problem, this is when you should be closer together, and we try to show our Rapture family that this is why. I don’t like to hear anyone say the Rapture—I always say the Rapture family.
Film credits and additional footage of choir singing “O Happy Day.”
Members of The Rapture Family appearing in this Film:
The National Endowment for the Arts
and The Indiana Committee on the Humanities
Ernest D. Butler
and the Second Baptist Church, Bloomington, Indiana
The University of Indiana Afro-American Arts Institute
Dr. Herman Hudson, Director
Dr. William H. Wiggins, Project Director
Filmed by: The Indiana University Audio-Visual Center
Copyright: 1976, Indiana University
Edited by: Philip Stockton
Sound by: Don Scales
Cameras: Vladimir Bakatesh, Ron Boehm, Walter Niekamp, Dan Setterberg