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JaVon Butler energized by audience reaction

By Stephen Hemelt
L’Observateur

RESERVE — When River Region audience members are focused on the stage Sunday during two productions of “Lord, If I Can Help Somebody…,” playwright and director JaVon Ophelia Butler will be focused right back on them.

That’s how she judges if her message is connecting with the community.

“What I do is make sure, in whatever theater I’m in, I can have a view of the expressions on a lot of the audience members’ faces,” Butler said. “I sometimes see people crying; I see them laughing. That is the beautiful part about the production. You get a gumbo pot of different emotions.

“Some scenes make you laugh, some scenes make you cry and some scenes make you think about if you need to change to become a better human being. When I look out at the audience and I see these different expressions, it blesses me as a director and lets me know the writing is not just entertainment but life-changing, and that’s a blessing for me as a director and playwright.”

Butler and her production company, SeLah Productions Inc., are presenting the gospel stage play at 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday at St. John Theatre, 115 West 4th St. in Reserve.

Ticket prices are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

Butler said she wants the audience to stop and think about what they saw and apply what they learned, adding the show’s 10 varied scenes each have knowledge to impart to the audience.

The production company’s name, “SeLah,” means to pause or to think about in Hebrew, according to Butler, and can be found in the Book of Psalms.

“I’ve been inspired by God to write,” Butler said. “That is why I believe the productions have been so successful. We sold out the last time we were at the St. John Theatre for the 3 p.m. show and almost sold out the 7 p.m. show.

“I believe (the play) is a good tool to help the community become more loving to one another and to also remind people that you should always be willing to help others anytime we can. By doing it, we’re being an example of Jesus Christ.”

Proceeds from ticket sales will benefit the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, Butler said, adding the association’s mission is to improve the quality of health, life and services for individuals, families and communities impacted by sickle cell disease and related conditions.

For tickets, call 225-623-9449.

Butler said she wants to help those battling sickle cell disease after meeting a woman at her church whose son suffered from the ailment.

“She was telling me that her son has sickle cell, and the expenses for the disease are overwhelming,” Butler said. “I told her if I could ever give to (help fight the disease) through production, I would. I told her that two years ago, and she found me on Facebook and said, ‘I’m that lady and thank you keeping your word and helping my child.’”