Dress rehearsals started to be all the rage (I guess that’s how it normally is with plays right before they go live.) We guys never seemed to have time to carry our costumes down to the men’s room everyday and put them on. Surveying the sight of female angels trying to avoid seeing the guys next to them in boxers, I noted, “What a progressive church we are, with our co-ed dressing rooms.”
The excitement was high once performances began—hundreds of kids were packing the place! Around The Thorn, it’s normally a circus (there were even tigers this year in the main play), but The Crown certainly increased the carnival atmosphere. We Crown cast members who mingled in the foyer beforehand could heckle not only our fellow centurions (“one day we’ll be free from the Romans!”) and Pharisees (“the Messiah is among us, you must believe!”) – but also The Thorn’s Sadducees, Governor Pilate and soldiers as they walked by. As a disciple of John the Baptist, I assisted Jonathan as he “baptized” passers-by in the water fountain.
One aspect of performances we learned on-the-job was the post-show interaction with the kids. This was mostly run by the Security/usher/”kid control” team, who worked overtime to connect with the young audience, keep them focused and not lose anyone. We did autographs for awhile (John has been teased for signing “Jesus” on kids’ Bibles), but we quickly went to group games. Red Rover was outlawed – yes, actually crossed off the ushers’ recommended games list – after some roughhousing during the first weekend.
Without confirming or denying the role of any Furnace guys, it is known that the main boy star actually went to the hospital after an unnecessarily competitive round. He recovered and we all learned a lesson: “Red rover, Red rover, don’t let centurions come over.” Duck-Duck Goose and Simon Peter Says went much better.
The nine showings flew by—except perhaps for April 15’s three-in-a-day marathon, which went mostly without incident. However, in one bit that wasn’t staged, a young member of Satan’s forces got punched in the face. Now I’m sure all the angels and demons could tell you about a few bruises they got during their choreographed fights. When their sword and bowstaff skills were combined with the elegant costumes, and the strobe lighting illuminated the scene along with sound effects, music, and spotlights, it really looked cool.
At any rate… during the Pilate scene, many of us changed wardrobe and joined the mob. With clenched fists, we shouted, “Crucify Him!” as the Pharisees and (in the unseen realm) demons egged us on. I wasn’t watching closely and socked a young demon right on his cheek! It must’ve hurt, but he kept going like a trooper.
There are many small moments I’ll remember: Peter and I trying to impress the angels by doing some of their ballet moves, the Pharisees joking about the disciples’ “supper club,” hearing kids in the audience gasp as Jesus made the blind man see… and most of all, our prayer times backstage. Just after Jesus carried the cross, Pastor Bill would come up to explain what Christ’s death meant for each of us. Meanwhile, small groups would huddle up backstage and pray for the Holy Spirit to speak to each person in the audience.
“Lord, we ask that these seeds planted in the kids’ hearts would grow a thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold harvest,” we prayed quoting Matthew 13:23. The prayer focus was a little different each time—an intercession team from the church joined us a couple nights—and we really believed God was working. Pastor Bill confirmed this in a big way when he said that every time he walked out to give his talk, he strongly felt God’s presence and his words came without effort. He recounted seeing a dad in the audience, tears in his eyes, raise his hand to receive salvation.
Over 3,100 children and parents who saw The Crown made that life-changing decision. Even if it was 1 person, those nine weeks of make-up, scriptwriting, set-building, dancing, demon-battling, soldier-marching and hours of A/V work would be worth it. “Worship only the LORD,” says Exodus 34:14. “For he is a God who is passionate about his relationship with you.” His passion continues to fuel ours, and that makes all the difference.