Sunday, September 09, 2007

Calling All Thespians

To anyone who wishes they had an outlet to to do more theater: I've got an idea for you. Form your own drama troupe with as few as 3-4 people, and use the Scriptures as your script!

Last night, I took the kids to see this original production. It was a 1.5 hour performance of the Gospel of John. The script was straight from the Bible translation, The Message--no other words were used. It was performed by four men and two women, who took turns playing various characters in the story. All played Christ as some point or other. They used no props or costumes, though they acted as if they were rowing a boat, carrying a bucket or wearing a headscarf.

They were accompanied mainly by a djembe and other percussion. The final events of Jesus' life were primarily portrayed through religious artwork projected onto a screen. They also used the screen to show the text a couple times while the actors performed silently. The actors didn't stay on the stage, but used the aisles and even the rear balcony. The Message contemporizes the Gospel so much that it brings out the humor in various stories, which kept things lively.

One of the performers (Dani, who is quoted in the article) has directed two shows for our children's theater group, and it was great fun to see her on stage for a change. We asked her about the writing process, and she explained that the troupe leader had selected and arranged the text, with rough ideas about character assignments and at what points they might switch, but she said much of the arrangement had evolved as they rehearsed. They had choreographed the first chapter, for example, with different actors singing and saying different lines simultaneously in a syncopated way, anchored by a djembe beat, and she said that all came out of improvising first; then they codified it after.

Doing the whole book was quite an ambitious project for even this seasoned troupe, though it was powerful to hear John's witness from beginning to end. But the ideas I've shared and those in the article could be used just as effectively with a suitable (story-telling) smaller passage of Scripture.

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