James Burke Dunsmore, the professional actor who plays Jesus (last xxx years) describes how dramatising or rehearsing biblical drama deepens engagement with values learning.
Q: Why do you focus on Biblical drama?
A: I think there are many ways to use the Bible to help you be better than you are. Different people use the bible in different ways. I don’t connect with many of these ways, but I have connected and benefited from is using the mixture of drama and the bible to repeat the stories. In rehearsals we re-read the stories over and over again. It is such a simple approach but it allows you to peel away the layers, almost in a scientific way, and you slowly reveal all the different qualities and emphasis hidden away in the story. That offers you a far richer experience than a lot of other approaches, for example reading it once or twice and relying on your memory to recall it.
The first time I read the Bible I knew that its purpose was to improve my life. I didn’t know to what extent. The more I have rehearsed with it, the more that I have repeated these stories over and over, and the more I’ve been able to get under the surface of it, explore what the essence of each of these stories are, and from that grow. It is not only peeling away the layers of the story also digesting the stories deeper and deeper into yourself, so that they become part of you. It is one thing to just know the stories, it is another thing to really have absorbed it so much that it becomes part of your cellular activity. That the echoes of the story are vibrating around you all through the day. In every scenario that you walk into you can recall a story or encounter with Jesus or encounter, perhaps from the Old Testament or New Testament, once you have those echoes they guide you. They guide you in a more succinct way, a better, more gracious way, whatever way. The more you do it, the less clumsy you are.
Take forgiveness – forgiveness is a very difficult thing to do, particularly very time you are required to or given the opportunity to forgive someone, it is often a completely different scenario. There are so many permutations to it. I try to work out or wonder how do I forgive this person, or forgive myself or a situation. The examples in the Bible are so beautifully elegantly described. It is like knowing the most beautiful songs, and being able to sing them in the most beautiful in tune way, and so you’re not clumsy anymore. You can just forgive simply, without any struggle or conflict. You just forgive. That’s the benefit that I have found in exploring scripture and doing so through theatre has allowed me to do it through. By the actions of rehearsals, the repetition allows repeated viewings of the same stories and so that’s why I understand them to a greater degree than if I read them twice. James Burke Dunsmore May 2016
The theatrical experience is a communal one. You need to have at least one person in the audience. The way that we do it we have hundreds if not thousands of people in the audience and hundreds of people in the cast. That collective experience of the same story, in my mind is incredibly valuable. I kind know what I know, and it’s kind of interesting, but I want to know what I don’t know. If I read these stories standing next to someone, perhaps parable of the sower, just because you were in the room, I’d understand it in a completely new way. Even if you didn’t speak, because we are such communicative beings, I’d experience it through your eyes. If you did open your mouth and did actually have offer an opinion or read it to me, I’d understand it in a completely new way. When you multiply that by one hundred and fifty actors and your brain is exploding with new experiences, and then you are deliver that to 10,000 people in Trafalgar Square, you have 10,000 explosions going on in your brain. It’s phenomenal. It takes a long time and a lot of practise to just to digest the experience, let alone recover from the experience of sharing. It’s that sort of communal experience of the teachings and the stories that theatre offers. You can’t get that experience standing alone in front of a painting or sitting alone reading the bible.
James Burke Dunsmore May 2016