Backstage at a Bible Drama
THE music faded, and an appreciative audience responded with applause. Backstage, faces cloaked in unfamiliar makeup and beards turned to one another and smiled. The drama “The Tested Quality of Our Faith—A Cause for Praise and Honor” had just concluded in Laurel, Maryland.
Thousands went home that evening with a finer appreciation of the life of the apostle Paul. But about 150 Jehovah’s Witnesses from local congregations returned home with much more than that—they had had the unique experience of participating in a drama that portrayed events recorded in the Bible.
An Effective Means of Instruction
Since 1966 Bible dramas have been a program highlight of the annual district assemblies of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For example, at the four-day “Joyful Workers” assembly being held this summer in over a hundred cities, two such dramas are featured.a One is based on the experiences of Judean King Hezekiah during the days when Jerusalem was besieged by the Assyrians, and the other on events during the time of Israelite Governor Nehemiah and the prophet Malachi.—Isa. chaps. 36 to 39; Mal. 1:12-14; 3:10.
In past years the dramas have been based on Bible accounts of Jephthah and his daughter, Esther and Mordecai, Ruth and Naomi, Joseph and his brothers, David and Bath-sheba, the fall of Jericho, the flood in Noah’s day, Naaman and the unnamed Israelite girl, youthful Samuel, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, to mention just a few.
At times these dramas are televised. In Liberia, West Africa, an hour-long performance revolving around events dealing with Joshua and the Israelites was masterfully presented. The British program director was highly pleased and commended the Witnesses for their poise and discipline. Many impressed viewers asked when more such dramas would be presented.
The dramas, although often entertaining, are not put on for mere amusement. Their chief purpose is to instruct. First, they teach viewers in a colorful, dramatic way Bible events that can make a lasting impression on the mind. Also, the scripts are designed to drive home an important point of instruction. For example, the drama about the apostle Paul, as noted in the opening paragraph, emphasized the importance of faith. This summer’s Hezekiah drama stresses the value of prayer.
For the performers in the Paul drama, work started in mid-April, two months before presentation at the assembly. Tapes and scripts for the drama were received by the one in charge of production. Recorded on the tapes are the music, sound effects and all the spoken words. Tryouts for parts were held at a local Kingdom Hall, where later rehearsals took place.
The two-hour Paul drama encompassed three acts, a total of eighteen scenes. The cast included some seventy-five speaking parts and forty extras. To compensate for a lack of available actors, many took two parts. Extras were worked in to fill out sparse crowd scenes. By the end of April most parts were assigned.
Early rehearsals emphasized scene arrangement and the learning of lines. Yes, it is necessary for performers actually to say their lines as the tape plays. This assures proper synchronization of words with gestures, and it also helps the performer to remain “in character.”
Up to the end of May rehearsals remained separated into four parts. In this way it was easier for the director to work with individual scenes for timing, entrances and exits, gestures and movements on stage.
By this time, all cast members had been measured for costumes, and the women on the sewing committee were working very hard to clothe a cast of over a hundred. While most appreciate the beauty of drama costumes, few realize how much research goes into making them authentic-looking. Yards of bright materials, plaids, stripes, leather-look vinyl, and trim were either purchased or donated. Jewelry, hair pieces and pins for togas were loaned by the cast and other Witnesses.
It was interesting to learn how to drape a toga for the Greek and Roman costumes. The togas measured approximately four feet (1.2 meters) wide and sixteen feet (5 meters) long. But with three safety pins anchoring it to the shoulder and one decorative pin on top, the job was done. Priests’ hats were made by covering plastic flowerpots with white or gray silk. Some authentic stage helmets were obtained, and these served as models for making helmets for the Roman soldiers. A hard hat, gold construction paper, bristles from a broom, and a little ingenuity combined to create acceptable duplicates.
Final Rehearsals and the Performances
Starting June 1, nearly all of Saturday and Sunday were spent rehearsing. The group began playing the drama in its entirety, stopping to concentrate on trouble spots, and then proceeding. During the break for lunch, many cast members would gather in groups under the trees and play music and sing.
There were ‘two assemblies at Laurel, Maryland, that year, and the same cast put on the drama for both of them. A dress rehearsal was scheduled for one week before the first performance. Cast members invited their families and friends, and there were about 250 for the dress rehearsal.
Cast members were called in for makeup and beards about four hours before the start of the drama. The first step was to get base makeup applied. Then came the highlight makeup. Some just received “straight” makeup—not changing the features—only making them stand out at a distance. Others received special makeup. Many had to be aged to fit their part, some as much as forty years. Members of the Sanhedrin were given dark eye makeup to add a sinister look. Greek women wore generous eye shadow and rouge.
Most of the men then had beards applied. These were made from theatrical crepe hair, and were realistic-looking. They were applied with spirit gum. Then they were sprayed to match the actor’s hair in color. Later, brief rehearsals were held on the assembly stage so the performers could get familiar with the setting there.
The day for the first performance, June 21, was extremely hot; the following week there was a downpour. But both performances came off well. As each scene unfolded one could actually feel the involvement of the audience. Time and again they responded with their applause. They became righteously angry when Stephen was condemned to death by the Sanhedrin. They felt the strength that Paul displayed when he was stoned. They sensed the power of God’s holy spirit as Paul cast the demon from the girl and made the lame man walk. They were caught up with the realism of the earthquake that released Paul and Silas from their bonds. They felt the sadness as Paul said farewell words to his good friends Luke, Timothy and Mark.
The cast, too, felt the same emotions. They had spent many hours and extended themselves to the limit, but they had the satisfaction of a job well done. They had learned cooperation, patience, humility and other Christian qualities by working as one large family, and it was indeed encouraging to know that the drama was faith-strengthening and helpful to so many.
Why not take advantage of the opportunity to view one of these Bible dramas? As already mentioned, they will be a feature of each district assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses this summer. Attend an assembly near you at any location listed on the back page of this magazine.
a See page 32 for dates and places of assemblies in sixty-six cities of the United States.
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Repeated rehearsals contribute to dramatic, realistic presentations, as shown in this scene when Jehovah’s prophet Nathan reproves King David for his sin with Bath-sheba
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Preparing cast members with makeup and beards adds realism to a Bible drama