On a rainy Tuesday, nearly two months ago, theatre professor Jeff Barker passionately spoke in chapel about his journey with Dr. Tom Boogaart’s belief that the Bible is a collection of ancient play scripts. Many may remember Barker’s reenactment of kissing Tom’s feet, his story of his encounter with Japanese kabuki, and finally the performance of the play “The Bands of Syria.”
Barker’s journey continues. Supported by the Lilly Grant’s Vocare project, he now prepares for Northwestern’s spring show, “The Bands of Syria and other Ancient Israelite Dramas,” a collection of ten Old Testament plays.
As a part of his preparation, the theatre department has hired Ron Melrose, a Broadway composer, whose work includes “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” “Jekyll and Hyde,” “Cabaret,” and “Annie,” among others. When Barker heard Melrose’ work at the Christians in the Theatre Arts Conference, he was impressed.
“I was just blown away,” Barker explained. “It is fully artistic.” Melrose will be coming to campus Nov. 16-19 in order to work with Barker and Dr. Tim McGarvey, who is conducting the show.
This preparation also includes hiring a dramaturg, whose job will be to work throughout the process, doing research and helping to make the script replicable for others by detailing the play’s staging. Barker’s desire is to make this script easily feasible for other schools, churches and theatre companies to perform.
On Saturday, April 24 a symposium of scholars led by Barker is going to be held to allow for discussion and questions.
“The symposium is a way of broadening the conversation,” Barker said, in hopes that they will go home and continue to write and think about this idea. Old Testament, Jewish Bible, oral tradition, and theatre history scholars, plus pastors, worship leaders and interested students will be invited. Dr. Tom Boogaart and Dr. Tim Brown, both from Western Theological Seminary, and Dr. Dale Savidge, executive director of Christians in Theatre Arts, have already made plans to attend.
“The Bands of Syria” interfaces with Vocare in many ways, including the emphasis on worship and raising up leaders, bringing theatre artists to campus and artists discovering their calling. “In terms of young artists finding their place, it’s a cosmic shift,” Barker said. “If there are plays in the Bible, suddenly every theatre artist has affirmation from God himself to practice their craft.”