Bringing the Bible alive
News has reached us of a drama group in Ashton under Hill, Worcestershire, a village lying at the foot of local landmark Bredon Hill. The Grace Drama Group is composed of older women who are bringing Bible stories alive through their extempore acting. 'It’s been very exciting being a part of this venture and a privilege to see people inspired and encouraged by what we’ve been doing,' said group member, Rosemary Halliday.
Open the Book
'The idea of "Living the Bible" – presenting scenes based on the gospels – rose out of several discussions that took place nearly 18 months ago between members of a fellowship, meeting regularly for prayer and Bible study,' explained another group member, Sue McLeish.
'In discussion, the thought was aired that Open the Book was very successful in bringing the Bible to life for young people, but something similar was needed for the older generation – where for many, and in some cases even churchgoers, much of the Bible was a closed book.
It wasn’t long before an idea was shared, and gradually took shape, working on an improvised drama, based on the first two chapters of Mark’s gospel.'
'Since the group was comprised of ladies of senior age, the youngest being 60 and the oldest 88, very few of whom had had previous acting experience, it was thought that improvising would be preferable to attempting to memorise a script, and this proved to be the case. The scene, however, was carefully constructed and a clear sequence of all the action and conversations it contained was noted and followed.
'All members of the group entered into the necessary study of their characters and the events they were being asked to recall and relate. In a sense, as time went on, they felt they were acting out the oral tradition on which the gospels themselves were based.'
'The first audience was an invited one and the scene was presented in a farmhouse kitchen where rehearsals had taken place. Subsequent performances took place in chapel and church halls. Right from the start, the scenes evoked genuine interest and attention, the most frequent comment being “You have brought the Bible to life for me!” The positive feedback encouraged the company, known as the Grace Drama Group, to take the enterprise further. The second scene, entitled "Bright morning star" was performed during the season of Epiphany. It was set in the inn at Bethlehem and the cast recalled the amazing events surrounding the birth of Jesus, as recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
'By now, the group were growing in confidence and becoming a lot more adept at improvisation and in their ability to portray believable people living at that time. Once again, audience reaction was very encouraging – so much so that another scene was envisaged, to take place during Ascensiontide. There was just enough time to prepare and rehearse, since Easter’s date fell late in the spring of 2019. For this, the most demanding of all the scenes, and entitled ‘The 40th day’, members of the cast portrayed the women who are mentioned by name in one or more of all four gospels. Meeting at the home of Mary and Martha at Bethany, the crucifixion and the resurrection appearances of Jesus were described by the actual witnesses of these events.'
Expanding the concept?
'Several successful workshops based on the Living the Bible technique have taken place. It is envisioned that the whole concept could be expanded. It cannot be stressed enough how doable this is for other groups to undertake.
'Much can be gained from these short dramas both by the audiences and the performers. The Grace Drama Group found their own understanding of the Bible to be greatly increased, and they also experienced through the process of prayer and study and rehearsal (for that was always the pattern) a growing sense of concern, support and love for one another.
'Time is given at the end of each performance for questions and comments from the audience.'
Rosemary says: 'We are also working on putting together a slideshow and video to show to groups as we talk about what we've been able to do and how others could do a similar thing. As well as the workshops, we've had an invitation to speak to a group of people in a local retired clergy home, which we are hoping to do as soon as we are up and running with the video.
'We're so thrilled that Anna Chaplaincy is interested in all that we're doing. We're very keen to share it all and to inspire others.' Inspiring house groups
The dramas come together through workshops. The aim of an improvisational workshop is to inspire and equip church home or house groups with the confidence and ability to present incidents contained in the gospels, in a captivating and thought-provoking way, so as to encourage local audiences to discover or rediscover the Bible’s life-giving message.
Potential members are assured that no previous acting experience is necessary. 'There is no script to learn – just an easy, flexible sequence to follow. Clear guidance and detailed help is given during the workshop itself. Extra help and advice, if needed, via email or phone contact is also available after the workshop.'
‘Who is this man?’
'The first workshop is entitled ‘Who is this man?’ and is based on Mark 1:14—2:12. It is very helpful, though not essential, if these verses can be read and become familiar before the workshop takes place. It is possible to cover the necessary guidelines and setting of the scene, in one three-hour session, but two sessions on consecutive days would be preferable with short breaks.
'The workshops can take place in a church hall, but often just as well in a large space in a home. All that is needed by way of furniture is a table (approx. 6’ x 4’ – a church stacking table is ideal) and some upright chairs or stools. Eight to ten people is the ideal number to work on the scene, but more or fewer can be accommodated – all women or mixed groups,' said Sue.
Rosemary added: 'It’s been very much a team effort, but Sue has been the author of the scenes and encouraged us along.'
Feedback from the performances has affirmed that what the Grace Drama Group is doing is fulfilling an important need.
I can’t tell you how delightful the drama group was yesterday. Lovely atmosphere and what a crowd had come to watch! Well done all of you.
What a really lovely performance. It was so natural and everyone seemed to have their own thoughts and words, which resulted in their characters giving insights we would not have though before.
Each person was right for her part. There was a lovely change of atmosphere when the two neighbours arrived – a sense of awe from their stories.
The love you all have for each other came over very strongly.