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St. Mark's, Teaneck moves annual variety show online

Saturday Night Semi-Live
Christian Paolino

The red carpet was out on Saturday, May 16th, but it was more likely trod by bunny slippers than platform heels as choir members and friends of St. Mark’s Church in Teaneck staged a “virtual variety show” called Saturday Night, Semi-Live.

The program, with a live audience of about 100 “devices,” was streamed simultaneously on Facebook Live and in a Zoom “watch party,” where more people gathered afterwards for a brief reception. The show exceeded 1,000 views a week later.

The brainchild of St. Mark’s Director of Music George Wesner, the show featured parishioners singing, dancing, reading poetry, and even decorating a cake, mostly from their homes.

While some offered straight send-ups of popular classics, others re-worked familiar lyrics to expose the humorous side of life in quarantine. It began and ended with Wesner “at home” in front of the church’s organ accompanied by JACK the puppet, and parishioner Ted Mather served as the narrator who wove the vignettes together.

Wesner said the event was an opportunity for the choir, most of whom haven’t seen one another since early March, to fulfill their ministry, if not together as a group. Teaneck, in Bergen County, was hard-hit early by the COVID-19 pandemic, and St. Mark’s was among the first congregations in the diocese to cease holding worship in person.

The choir typically stages at least one special program a year to help raise money for various projects (previous efforts included Singing for the Drain in response to a plumbing problem, and Too Darn Hot, which spurred contributions to air-condition the parish hall). This event, however, was strictly a “fun-raiser” to help raise the spirits of a community weary of isolation. With one of the highest per-capita case counts in the nation, Teaneck has been under veritable lockdown, with high-risk residents confined to their homes for over two months.

A featured presence was Dr. James “Doc” Pruden, a parishioner who made regional headlines as one of New Jersey’s most celebrated COVID-19 recoveries. The emergency services director at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson, Dr. Pruden was among the first cases in the state and endured two stints on a ventilator before being released to a rehab facility on April 8th.

In a moving scene, Pruden recalled telling his physical therapist he wanted to be able to dance with his fiancée, Jane “Liz” Clements. “[making the video] was a great opportunity to reach inside and find something that was authentic,” he described. “The love that Liz and I have for dancing, combined with the love we have for each other and the prayers that surrounded us made it easy to share that story of how those things came together.”

In a brief keynote, St. Mark’s Rector, the Rev. Joan F. Conley, referenced Dr. Pruden’s recovery, as well as the loss of parishioner Inez Saley and numerous friends and relatives of the congregation.

Recalling her reaction to the event, she invoked the hymn contributed by parishioner Dick Michele and enthused, “‘A sweet, sweet spirit,’ indeed! Thank you to George, (producer/editor) Christian Paolino, (livestream projectionist) Jeffrey Kist and the members of St. Mark’s choir and friends for all of the amazing creativity, heart, and spirit that they poured into this beautiful witness to the power of Faith, Hope, and Love. My family and I were truly moved and uplifted at the same time. A true gift for these times. Thank you!”

The show can be viewed anytime at