FALL BRANCH, TN -- Expecting to volunteer in concessions, Scott Harper, a newcomer at LampLight Theatre, had no idea that he was about to be cast as Jesus in one of the largest Easter productions in the Tri-Cities region. In fact, He signed up to work as a volunteer. "I signed up to work concessions. The next thing I knew, I was taken from concessions and cast to play the role of Jesus," Harper said.
So what would it be like to actually portray Jesus, especially in a large Easter production? According to the actors at LampLight Theatre, it's perhaps the most rewarding, yet challenging roles ever created. Exclusive to LampLight Theatre, Once for All is an Easter musical of "The Passion of the Christ" which premiered March 30 and runs until April 19, 2007. With more than 100 actors and live animals, Once for All is the largest production of the year for LampLight Theatre.
After talking with the actors who play the role of Jesus, it's clear that much more goes into the role than you might expect. "You often wonder what Jesus was like and think about how He looked," said Kimberly Holbrook, LampLight's director of marketing and publicity. "However, there's more to consider as these actors speak the words that we read in the Bible today."
And if you have a particular image of Jesus in mind, you might be surprised to see the two actors selected to appear in Once for All.
Due to the number of performances and the complexity of the part, director Billy Wayne Arrington cast two people in the role of Jesus. What's interesting about these actors is how opposite they are in real life.
"They couldn't be more different," Holbrook said. "One is 5'7" and soft-spoken, and the other is 6'8 and outgoing." However, differences run deeper than physical appearance alone. "Everything about them is different but each brings something very unique to the stage," Holbrook said. While the role of Jesus stays the same, the actors add their own style, making it worth seeing both of them in action.
Arrington began working in January with both actors, getting them familiar with the rest of the cast.
"What makes this production a challenge is giving both lead actors equal time to rehearse with the cast," Arrington explained. "The cast has to make adjustments to each actor's mannerisms and style. Their roles are critical and must be accurate since their words are taken from the Bible."
As you might imagine, the role of Jesus, played by Jason Wilson and Scott Harper, brings forth many different challenges. According to Wilson, "It's hard to play this role because there's no way to realistically portray who Jesus really is. Right before I walk out, I'm thinking of what the Bible says about what Jesus was like with people -- through His compassion, tender heartedness, and longing to impart truth to people through a look or an action. but no one can adequately portray the true love of Jesus," Wilson said.
Both actors say that being in rehearsal is completely different than experiencing a live audience. "It's humbling to have a crowd because you know they see every little thing," Wilson said. "I realize that people know we do this as a ministry and outreach, and they will forgive mistakes, but I don't want to be caught in a 'Jason' moment and make a mistake playing such an important role," Wilson said.
The time and energy, as well as the physical conditioning, that it takes to play such a difficult role is also a consideration. In fact, the actor's reaction is just as critical as their action on stage. "There is a scene where stage combat is performed by the guards, which is not 'supposed' to hurt," said Wilson. "But if it's not timed and coordinated correctly on any given night, I'll know it...and feel it."
Not so with fellow lead actor Scott Harper. Standing 6'8" tall, Harper towers over the guards in the production. This required him to be positioned differently than his counterpart. "It's a big obligation to play this role but it's been rewarding," said Harper. "I feel it's probably the greatest thing I've done with my life so far."
Harper's first experience with LampLight was attending a Christmas production last December. "I had a tremendous experience and found myself laughing and crying the whole way home. There were some realizations that night about how foolish I had been in the way I spent the majority of my life. I realized that if I had followed Christ a long time ago, I wouldn't have gone through as many struggles as I've had in the past," Harper said.
After seeing each actor perform, both are hard to forget. However, due to Harper's size, he can be easily spotted around the area. In fact, you may see many familiar faces on stage if you can recognize them underneath the costumes and headdresses.
Set within the streets of old Jerusalem, Once for All portrays the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The story unfolds as it is told through the eyes of Joanna. Several characters' lives are intermingled throughout the drama and come together at the foot of the cross of Christ. It is a story portrayed unlike any other.
Performances begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday with matinee performances at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. A special evening will be hosted for youth on April 5. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for a one-night only concert. No performances will be offered on Mondays. The suggested donation is $8 for adults and $5 for students.
Reservations are recommended by calling the box office: 423-348-7610. For more information on this and other shows, visit www.lamplighttheatre.com.