If you grew up around the Bible at all, you probably heard the story of Jonah at least once. Or maybe you even watched the Veggietales movie adaption of the story. Now you have the chance to see it performed live tonight in the Black Box theater.
Directing this play is head of the theater department, Jeff Barker. Barker has directed many plays in and outside of Northwestern, teaches classes, as well as heads the campus group Drama Ministries Ensemble. For many years, Barker has made it a frequent hobby to adapt the “ancient plays of the Bible” into full-length dramas for the modern-day stage.
“A drama is meant to be taken from the page to the stage,” he said. “Since [the Bible] got turned into a book, we’ve treated it as a book. We’ve forgotten that it was meant to be heard felt, and seen. So I’m just trying to make these things be what they were intended to be.”
There are many biblical texts that have been turned into stage plays over the years, but Jonah’s account does not make the cut often. However, Barker is excited about the challenge from the start.
“People think this is a story about disobedience, when the dramatic meaning of the story is forgiveness,” he said. “Jonah disobeys because he knows God’s compassion.”
The ensemble is working off of a verbatim Hebrew-to-English translation of Jonah, done by Old Testament scholar Tom Boogart.
Barker isn’t the only one who is looking forward to opening night. Cast and crew alike are thrilled to be a part of it. Karisa Meier, stage manager for the play, expresses how excited she is for kids to “really see how a Bible story can be an adventure, with kind of a magical, mystical experience and just really love this Bible story.”
The rehearsal process has been filled with actor and director collaboration, as the translation does not hold the typical elements of a script. The ensemble cast brought many ideas to the table.
“Everybody’s commitment and love has been tremendous,” Barker said.
However, the process has not come without its challenges. Because the manuscript is just a translation, the ensemble has to be immensely creative. Cast member Sofia Schaeffer mentions how “the most challenging [part] was that only a few characters really knew exactly what they were saying.” There are no stage directions, no blocking, almost no specific lines. This play is dependent on its ensemble to make it the beautiful creation it has become.
But why go see the show? We go to a Christian college and have the Bible presented to us constantly, but there are several things that make this production important, according to students. “[This play] tells this story of God’s redemption, and witnessing that kind of mercy is something that everybody needs to see,” Meier said.
Cast member Marcus Dykstra said, “it’s not a normal show. It’s going to be more interactive, unlike when everything is written and cut-and-dry.”
Others pointed to its theatrical presentation as a strength.
“You should come for the showing of God’s word, not necessarily the telling,” said Rachel Wyborny.
Assistant stage manager Jeremiah Mitchell says, “This is going to be one of the only times you see scripture performed verbatim in a theatre company, using all the creative resources we have, with you living an experience of what Jonah would’ve lived in.”
According to Schaeffer, “it will just leave you with a really good, profound, close-to-God feeling.”