By Zach Christensen
Originally Published April 2015
“The most unusual aspect of Esther, for a book that made it into the biblical canon, is that it offers strong evidence of having been written primarily for entertainment,” Robert Alter, the Hebrew narrative scholar, writes in his translation of the book of Esther. “It has variously been described as a farce, a satire, a fairy tale, and a carnivalesque narrative, and it is often quite funny.”
This has been a story that has been a fun story for generations. We love to hate the bad guy, and we cheer for the exaggerated reversal of fortune for Esther and the Jews. The children who acted in Malice in the Palace got to live out these ideas first hand, in a really fun and entertaining musical performance we did in March.
Of course, during rehearsals we never hit the kids over the head with any of this (we were often too busy learning the songs and the dances!). But underneath the whole process was a really important idea; we don’t have to work very hard to make the Bible fun, or to make church more than ‘just a place to come on Sundays.’ One way I saw this modeled was in the attitudes of our actors. At our first rehearsal in January, everyone filed in tentatively, some of the boys were unsure what they got roped into, it was very quiet and subdued for a large group of kids. But as each week progressed, we all began looking forward to the time and being together. So much so that one girl ran in on our final performance day yelling, “I’ve got to get ready! I’ve got to get ready!”
Theatre is, in my opinion, one of the best things for children to do to really stretch all sides of themselves. Laura Nile, Marie Morache, and I each led some theatre game warm-ups each week. These exercises gave us a chance to be loud, to really focus, and to run around and be silly. The effect of this process showed up outside of rehearsals too.
I had parents tell me lots of stories, like, “My daughter, who is usually so quiet, set up a little stage and was practicing the songs and dances at home,” or “My child who was really struggling with one part came home after one rehearsal and seemed totally changed and way more confident.” It wasn’t a perfect process, but we gave space to each kid to be a little more than they get to be during the rest of their week. For most of the actors in the show, this was the first play they have ever been in; and each one of them owned their lines and their solos, and gave it 100% for the two packed houses we had.
This is one of my favorite things I’ve done on staff at Bethany. I got to know families in a new way, I saw kids go out on a limb and try something new; and I had the immense joy of working alongside these kids and an awesome leadership team (Ellen Langen, Joelie Woolridge, Lynne Reimers, Nancy Wagner). And we gave our community a chance to interact with the Bible in a way that hopefully made it come alive in a new, funny, entertaining way.