The DVD “Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light” is an adaptation of the one-woman play by Linn Maxwell that’s been praised by New York Theater Review and The Times in London. Courtesy Linn Maxwell
When Linn Maxwell set out to write a one-woman play about the life of Hildegard of Bingen, she had no idea the Catholic Church would make Hildegard a saint or that she would become only the fourth woman in history and one of only 35 individuals to receive the prestigious title of Doctor of the Church.
But in May of this year, Pope Benedict XVI announced that Hildegard had been canonized, and in October, he announced she had been named a Doctor of the Church.
A timely coincidence for Maxwell, who premiered her one-woman show, “Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light,” in Grand Rapids in 2009 and released a DVD adaptation of the play last month.
“When I started writing this play four years ago, I had no clue that Hildegard would ever be canonized or made a saint in my lifetime,” Maxwell said.
For centuries, Hildegard was an admired and controversial figure both inside and outside the Catholic Church. She was a Benedictine nun, healer and prophet, as well as a prolific writer and composer. She wrote nine books and nearly 400 letters, which have been compiled into three volumes. This rich, documented history provided Maxwell a wealth of resources for developing the play.
Maxwell, who lives in Alto, has received numerous accolades for “Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light.” She has performed the play more than 75 times, both nationally and internationally.
John Hoglund said in the New York Theater Review: “Hildegard returns . . . through the artistry of Linn Maxwell in a commanding performance that is as scholarly as it is relevant today.” London’s The Times wrote: “Hildegard is reborn as mezzo Linn Maxwell,” with her “hypnotically beautiful song.”
As the play continued to receive praise and interest, Maxwell began to consider the possibility of making a film.
“Making a movie was a little beyond our means, so we decided to make a film of the play itself,” said Maxwell, who self-funded the project. “I funded it through a lifetime of performing, as a tribute to St. Hildegard,” she said. “I expect that DVD sales will help offset production costs.”
She worked with Grand Rapids companies Rasikas Films and Cynthia Kay and Co. on the project. The DVD adaptation required four days of filming, one day on Maxwell’s farm in Alto and three days on a soundstage.
Hildegard composed 75 songs during her lifetime in the 12th century, and Maxwell wanted to integrate her music into the film. As a member of the singing group The Hildegard Singers, Maxwell was able to utilize her group’s previous recordings for the soundtrack. The Hildegard Singers are comprised of Maxwell, Barbara McCarger, Diane Penning and Lisa Walhout, and the recording also included instrumentalists Timothy Steele and Calvin Stapert from Calvin College.
Maxwell said the music underscores the scenes and brings more life and a feeling of forward motion to the film.
The DVD contains more than three hours of additional content, including an annotated script and supplemental notes, a two-part seminar for church or academic group discussion, and a variety of recent topical interviews conducted by Maxwell with many of the world’s leading Hildegard scholars, including two from Kalamazoo’s International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Maxwell and her husband, Fred Keller, CEO of Cascade Engineering, hosted a DVD launch party for the film at the UICA, and the film is available at www.hildegardthemovie.com.
Maxwell will continue to perform her one-woman show and hopes that the DVD will continue to gain attention as Hildegard becomes more widely known through the new honors that have been bestowed on her. She has already developed a German translation for a subtitled version of the film, and Germany’s Hildegard Abbey, from which Maxwell requested photo permission during the development of the project, asked for two copies of the DVD following its completion. It is likely additional showings may follow.
“I hope they take away a sense of their openness to the living light,” Maxwell said of audiences of the film. “Hildegard comes back after 900 years to share with us her message, which is the living light is shining, and open up to it and let that light make the world a better place for yourself, your family. We need to look up and receive that message from God that comes by listening to Him.”