Burning Heart presents a Lauralee Farrer production

Marcia Whitehead

Using the ancient practice of fixed hour prayer observed by the Abrahamic faith traditions, Praying the Hours personifies each hour into a character to tell a story of a 24-hour day. In the feature film, Traveling Man visits with each of eight friends on the day of his accidental death, and—as he crosses over from this life into the next—sees life anew from the perspective of eternity. In the eight short films that expand the project, the story of each hour is told in more detail.

Here, Director Lauralee Farrer comments on the casting of Marcia Whitehead as the hour called Compline in “The Story of the Reluctant Teacher.”  Compline is the name of the hour of prayer just before bedtime in the Benedictine tradition. 

Marcia Whitehead is, first and foremost, a singer. Having known her for many years as a friend and neighbor, I came to learn of her lifelong commitment to singing opera. Born with a rare spinto-soprano voice, she marshaled her expendable income, her energies, and her considerable passion over decades of time into the training of her voice to sing the most stentorian repertoire in all of opera. My first film, Laundry and Tosca, started out to document her pursuit of voice lessons with one of the then top vocal coaches in New York. It ended being a story of one woman who learned that “sometimes just following a dream is enough,” which is to say she learned that being led by love and passion makes a better life than playing it safe, no matter what the outcome.

Marcia, as that coach Franco Iglesias once said, was born with a unique gift, a “treasure”—a gift from God. But in my view, the simplest of her gifts is as a singer. Marcia is a fully-embodied romantic, a believer in the existence of God and her capacity to know Him, a risk-taker, a generous friend, and a woman with operatic sensibilities in more than just music. In the years since the completion of that film, a combination of its screening, her singing, and my speaking has taken us to many unpredictable places, and I have witnessed over and over the power of her story to galvanize people to follow their dreams, no matter what those dreams might be.

A natural in front of the camera, this time Marcia will lend herself to a narrative story not unlike her own. Marcia embodies the character of Compline as someone who has looked mortality in the eye and chooses to life more fully rather than shrink in fear. It is not easy for anyone to face the possibility of not living fully the brief life one has been given. It’s even harder to begin to feel one’s own frailties with age and still risk all for beauty and faith and, above all, love. Marcia understands the nexus of the Compline character perfectly, I think, and can intercede uniquely, in this hour, for all those who imagine their own ends with the question of “am I loved for who I am?”

still photographs by Jordan McMahon