From a solemn silence, the toll of a bell is heard. Slowly a sweet and somber melody begins to play, calling out to expectant hearts, preparing eager ears to journey to another place and time. A tender voice, full of fervent hope, begins to speak, setting the scene, building the mood, drawing the hearers into the story as the actors take over and carry the plot along to its powerful conclusion. The audience is held in a moment so profound that all else fades into the background. Deep emotions are stirred. Tears are shed. Hearts of stone are broken and replaced with hearts of flesh, open to the Spirit’s promptings. Joy overflows and cascades in a release of surrender and peace.
Such is the power of a Christian audio drama. As believers, we understand on a deep inner level how drama helps connect us to Christ, particularly in our worship. One could argue that the worship is, in fact, a beautifully blessed drama acted out on the stage of our hearts every time we gather to celebrate our Salvation. The delicate and deliberate movements of the celebrant and the ministers, the Holy Scriptures read with passion and precision, and the sacred music sung with power and depth of feeling help to carry the congregation along to the crowning moment of the worship when we receive Communion with joyful hearts. This inner appreciation for the artistic power of worship ties so well with what an audio drama is all about.
Producing a Passion Play
During my time in Christian radio, I witnessed the affect audio drama had on our listeners and on those who created it. Christian audio drama speaks with its own unique voice, stirring the imagination and whispering to the heart through the Holy Spirit. My most meaningful audio drama was a Passion Play called, “Greater Love.” It was told from the perspective of a believer moved to lower her earthen vessel into the well of the salvation story. Turning the individual components of the play into a grace-filled production gave me a deeper gratitude for the ways in which God draws us to Himself.
Even before the first words were written, I found that forming a prayerful bond with my Maker and surrendering to eternity helped to set the stage for the drama. It was truly an act of worship, a joyful submission to the whole process, knowing that the hearts that would be touched were already in the mind of the Almighty. I allowed the Holy Spirit to instruct me as I wrote, realizing it was all in God's hands. The vision that unfolded flowed naturally from the narrative of the Passion. Each step along the road to Calvary caused me to pause in wonder and look back upon the life of the Savior as His words and deeds found fulfillment in His journey to the cross.
I drew from all four Gospels to write the play, mingling these beautiful perspectives on the life of Christ into a sacred story that offered its own portrait of the Savior. I was inspired by the Passion narratives I had heard at Good Friday services over the years. As I drew from those memories, I found that the tone of the drama established itself and played out naturally through the dialogue and the descriptions of what was taking place. My portrait of Jesus was commanding yet sad and somber, a majestic Man of Sorrows, moving through the pain of His last hours with joy and surrender. This was a loving Messiah, always in control, powerfully relational, and determined to go to the cross in love for His children. And so, having established the vision, I cast the characters around the Lord: men and women who were deeply moved by His words and deeds.
The Players and the Spirit They Brought
Once the play was written, I sought out actors for the drama from a local church. Though I had my own vision for the actors, I was amazed to see just how much their individual personalities came to shape the drama once recording got underway. I was especially pleased when I met a woman in a bible study group who turned out to be a professional stage actress. I was drawn to her beautiful speaking voice and felt it would be perfect for the role of narrator. It was soft-spoken yet strong. But to my amazement, I found that once she got behind the microphone, she poured herself into the role, breathing a life into the words that I had not expected. Her passion and the power of her emotions spilled out into each scene, bringing an intensity of love and sorrow that truly transformed the entire play.
Because it was a small radio station, I had only one microphone to use for recording, so I had each actor read all the roles for his or her gender. I gave the actors very little instruction but told them to choose freely how to play each character. I listened to each recording and decided who should play which character based on what I heard, and then placed the audio files I needed into the computer. I had chosen to be the voice of Christ, perhaps out of vanity, but perhaps more so out of my vision of how I wanted Him to be portrayed. In an interesting twist, I found that no one had quite captured what I was looking for in the character of Pilate, and so I ended up voicing him as well. This made for some amusing moments as I found myself talking with myself in several scenes.
Production and Worship
Combining all the audio files in the computer was like placing little mosaic tiles on a tray and lining them up just so, adjusting them here, tweaking them there, until the whole thing created a beautiful picture that painted the salvation story in sound. I added a musical background using a collection of instrumental recordings from a variety of composers. There was a delightful sense of joy in taking these diverse pieces of dialogue, music and sound effects and blending them in a way that wove a seamless garment that portrayed the Passion of Christ as a single work of art, inspired by the Spirit who had given me the words to say, the actors to say them and the insight to put it all together.
One of the most memorable parts of the whole process came on the Tuesday before Good Friday, just three days before the drama was set to air. Because of the way the storage on the computer was partitioned, there was not enough room in the audio program to save the file. No matter what I tried, the computer would not cooperate. I knew that once the computer was shut down, the work I had done would be lost forever. After some reflection I came up with an idea. I took a blank CD, put it into a recording device, and fed the audio from the computer into it. And so, at 2:00 in the morning, I sat in that tiny recording room, exhausted and emotionally spent, letting the Passion Play unfold and recording it “live” to the CD. It was perhaps one of the most profound moments in the whole process as I listened to all the tiny pieces of audio coalescing into a beautiful symphony of sound as it became, “Greater Love!” It was a moment of worship so beautiful that I was brought to tears – not because of my artistic skill, but because God had taken me through the process and allowed me to sit in the Liturgy of the recording booth to be drawn into the Word and nourished with the Savior's sweet sacrifice on behalf of the world!
The Divine Drama of Salvation
The response to the play when it aired that Good Friday was very positive, and I was pleased that it had moved hearts to a deeper appreciation of the Passion of Christ. But the greatest work it had done was to help me discover just how much the Savior of the World loved us. From the eternal realms He set in motion a divine Pasion Play, complete with a cast of characters and a soundtrack of the Spirit, and let it unfold on the stage of creation. Like the Liturgy, it carried us into the heavenlies, sharing the great mysteries of God's love and Christ's sacrifice on the cross. That this profound truth could in some small way be acted out in a moment of time through an audio drama spoke to the power and presence of God – the incarnational God – who lives and moves in His Church and in each individual heart open to hear the sweet words of salvation!
I have continued to write and have produced other dramas, but “Greater Love” will ever hold a special place in my heart. It has taught me that worship is more than just a performance; it is a holy drama that unfolds in the hearts of the People of God, a sacred Passion Play that moves us ever onward toward the end of the salvation story. I pray that sharing this story will help you to listen for the Savior in your worship, the world around you, and the openness of your heart.