Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from the February issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version, click here.
Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by David Kadlubowski
“Friends, students, lunch ladies:
Lend me your ears!”
Such is the zaniness of “The Complete Bible in 40 Minutes,” a pithy, blithesome, sometimes manic ode to the Bible. There’s a segment dubbed “Road Trip with Moses!!!” and another scene in which the seven seals in the Book of Revelation are represented, literally, as seven stuffed-animal seals that an actor chucks at her fellow actors.
The play, written by Grand Canyon University theatre instructor Michael Kary, debuts this spring as the first production of Parables, a two-group theatre troupe aiming to leave the comforts of GCU’s Ethington Theatre and fan out, primarily, at Christian high schools.
“GCU band has a group that goes out. Choir has a group that goes out. Dance has a group that goes out. It was about time theatre started serving the community,” Kary said. “We do service projects. But this is a way for us to take performances outside of campus and represent the theatre.”
That ideology complements GCU’s mission as a Christian university to provide academically challenging and values-based coursework while embracing the context of its Christian heritage.
“When you’re looking at the regular season, we don’t have very many shows that explicitly share the Gospel,” said junior Victoria Nay, a Parables member majoring in theatre performance. “What’s really cool about Parables is we do explicitly share the Gospel. We’re on stage and we share the message of Jesus in a really entertaining and silly way.”
Tyler Sorrels, whose agreeable character’s only line throughout most of “The Complete Bible” is “yes,” said of his role, “There’s more pressure with this show. I think it’s more important than any other show we could do because it’s the Gospel. It’s the story of Jesus, and with that comes a certain amount of pressure for our cast to get the theology right – to get these stories of the Gospel correct and to portray them with the love that they were written.”
Ryan Ardelt, who portrays the same “yes” character in Parables’ second performance group, said, “One of my favorite parts of this show is that we’re able to include our Christian beliefs and values in our art. It’s what’s so important for me personally – my faith. They don’t have to be separated. Christian beliefs and values can go hand-in-hand with art. We can use art to help preach the Gospel and preach what’s truly important.”
Parables serves other purposes, too.
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the viability of a theatrical career and a lot of misconceptions about (historically) the dark environment of the performance community,” Kary said. “And so we’re trying to show them, through our students’ performances, that (a) it’s something you can do at a university and is worth studying, and (b) you can use it to edify and build up the community.”
Students might think you can’t get paid to act in a play, but Kary said you actually can. The hope, too, is that once students start to see theatre as a viable career, they might choose GCU as the place to learn their craft.
Kary recruited the 10 Parables actors – each of the two groups is made up of a stage manager and four actors. Each team rehearses the same show, with the shows based on original material.
While Kary’s “The Complete Bible” gets the spotlight in the ensemble’s debut season, he said, “I will be mentoring the writers who will come alongside me,” so future productions might feature plays conceived by students.
The Parables actors rehearse three hours a week, somehow squeezing in practice time between other obligations: “Most of these guys were in ‘Peter and the Starcatcher.’
We’d have rehearsals from 5-9 and this rehearsal from 3-4:30. It was a huge thing and we paid for it with our bodies,” Kary said with a laugh.
Sorrels confirmed that, saying, “It almost didn’t happen. We sat as a group and we collectively switched classes,” with one student switching to an online class to meet Parables’ schedule. The actors also find time outside their scheduled rehearsals to practice even more.
In the end, the challenges have been worth it, said Parables actor Gavin Harris, who sprints about the stage, jumps, sings and sculpts human figures out of Play-Doh: “When we all got together and read the script for the first time, I felt like, OK, this is a really important thing. The goal of a Christian actor is to show the Gospel through our acting. This is an awesome opportunity to be able to do that.”
Parables’ Christina McSheffrey added, “For me, it’s been such a release of tension. It’s been so fun, and every time I rehearse or go hang out with these guys, it’s been an escape for me. So mentally and emotionally it’s been important.”
Nay hopes that, ultimately, the actors’ passion for theatre and their dedication to their faith is something the community will feel: “It’s a joyful experience to be with these people. There’s so much love that has to happen in order for this performance to happen. I want others to see the love and to know that Jesus loves them way more than we could ever love one another. His love is so much bigger.”