Written by Preston Thiemann, Holy Week Drama Participant
I have never been particularly interested in drama. I love seeing live theater, but I never felt any desire to participate. I certainly didn’t see myself as an actor. So, last year when Diane asked me if I would play a disciple in the Holy Week drama, I was less than excited at the prospect.
I was always impressed with the dramas in previous years, but I assumed that being part of it would take away some of the significance. Practicing the same
parts of the Lenten story over and over seemed like it would dull the impact. The number of practices concerned me, too. Like most people, I stay pretty busy and I knew that practices would take away some of my free time. I eventually agreed, but very reluctantly.
Once practices began, I still wasn’t sold on the idea, but I had to admit that rehearsal was fun. Everybody involved was welcoming, funny, and just pleasant to spend time with. We were all reverent to the serious nature of the story we were telling, but we had a lot of fun creating new friendships and strengthening old ones as we practiced together. I found myself surprised when I started looking forward to practices, rather than seeing them as obligations that took away free time.
Practices remained fun, but as the pieces of the story began to come together, I realized that my involvement in the drama wasn’t lessening the impact. Seeing the individual scenes was certainly meaningful, but once we began running the story from beginning to end, the emotions really hit me. “If I’ve bonded this quickly with my fellow actors,” I thought, “how close must Jesus, his disciples, and the women have been after traveling together for so long and experiencing so much together?” Acting in scenes with the other disciples made me think about how the followers of Jesus we read about in the Bible were real people with real emotions. They worked, laughed, and cried together. They were friends and brothers. In the drama, even those of us without any lines found ourselves getting into character. When we greeted one another in the upper room, for example, we weren’t just acting like friends. We had genuinely come to look forward to seeing each other.
This, of course, impacted the way we viewed the crucifixion as well. Whether or not they understood the necessity of Jesus’s sacrifice, seeing him suffer and die like that would have been almost unbearable for his friends and family. Jesus wasn’t just their teacher and leader. He was their brother and friend. He was family. Obviously in the drama, we know they aren’t actually harming Mike (although he’s about as convincing as someone could be without actually being whipped and crucified). But while you’re acting it out, it’s impossible not to think about how it might feel to experience the sudden, humiliating, and absolutely brutal torture and death of somebody you love so much. It’s painful just to put yourself in that mindset and think about it. Having a bond with the person who is acting it out and the other people who are reacting to it makes it all the more powerful and emotional. If you attended last year and saw tears on my face, they weren’t fake. Trust me—I’m not that good of an actor.
Being part of the drama did increase the pain and sadness of the story of Jesus’s death, but it also intensified the hopeful, joyful, and life affirming feeling of Easter Sunday. I felt such a personal connection to Jesus and what he did for me. I always appreciated the sacrifice and understood how important it was, but this Easter I was joyful. I was excited. I felt genuine relief. It felt so real and present and personal. No exaggeration—Easter is now my favorite holiday after last year. That’s how much it meant to me.
I still don’t consider myself an actor. While I enjoyed the atmosphere of putting together a production like that, I still have no real interest in participating in drama outside of church. Being in the drama last year (and again this year) didn’t impact the way I view theater. But it did impact the way I view the Easter story and what it meant for everybody—from those who were there to witness it to me living my life today. I grew in faith and strengthened the bonds with my faith community.