Behold the Lamb celebrates silver anniversary of Easter musical drama
In 1991, director Lisa Jennings led a cast and choir of 30 in an Easter cantata at Harbour Shores Church, 8011 E. 216th St. Twenty-five years later the 30-minute service has evolved into a two-hour production with more than 300 costumed actors and musicians.
“Humbling would be the word,” Jennings said of the show’s silver anniversary. “I am so aware and constantly remind the choir and cast that this is God’s doing. This is not something that we have made happen. All glory goes to God for what has happened with this.”
Despite founding and being in charge of each production, Jennings said her job “doesn’t get easier.”
“It would seem like it should but it doesn’t because there are 300 on stage. Each year there are new people in it,” she said. “There are probably 50 to 60 individuals that will be in different roles or we’ll have brand new people we are plugging in.”
Jennings said many of the individuals who began with the production in 1991 are still involved. She said the show was created so there was a place for everyone to serve.
“When the ministry began that was a personal goal of mine,” said Jennings. “That way we have grandparents and great-grandparents with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which is a special thing.”
Tom Thomas has been involved for all 25 years playing the role of Joseph of Arimathea. He also was in the choir for 20 years and has been the house manager for the past five years.
“I joined the choir and I continued because I enjoyed it,” he said. “I’m blessed to be a part of this event and be able to tell the story of Jesus and his love.”
Thomas said he is not surprised the show is still around.
“What I am overwhelmed about is how God has grown this ministry. What has changed is the growth, performing before around 70,000 people a year,” he said.
Renee Hobby has served as make up coordinator and drama extra for 24 of the 25 years.
“Twenty-five years ago Lisa Jennings called and asked if my husband, Ron, and our two sons would be in an Easter drama at the church. From the first performance I started putting lipstick and blush on the cast members and I have been doing it ever since,” she said.
With a large cast Hobby said it takes a team of 12 ladies to apply all the make-up.
“All cast members apply their base make-up ahead of time. Our team checks everyone before each performance,” Hobby said.
The show is a family production made up by the church’s congregation. Jennings said actors on stage can be as young as preschoolers and the older they become the larger role in the show they have.
“It’s kind of a rite of passage for these children because they look forward to it,” she said. “Years ago I said, ‘I often wondered what kind of impact Behold the Lamb would have on the children as they grow up?’ And now I have the privilege of watching two generations of children grow from infants to now being young adults in their 20s and early 30s. Out of that group we have seen people who are now pastors, evangelists and missionaries serving overseas and all of these children grew up doing this year after year. I do believe God used it to help them gain a vision, passion and burden for reaching people with the gospel message.”
Jennings takes the month of January to write the blocking book to reduce the rehearsal time to one-third of what it would be without it. What began as just four pages in 1993 is now 76 pages this year.
“I like the blocking book because I value family time, she said. “As director I want to give them the opportunity to serve in a special capacity but not have to rehearse for weeks on end.”
The musical drama takes guests through the Old Testament with the Children of Israel, to Passover Week, and ends with a spectacular Heaven finale. From its inception, Jennings said the production has been about Jesus.
“Our No. 1 goal is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ by accurately and passionately proclaiming the message of salvation,” Jennings said.
In her 25 years, Jennings has only done one thing once – not personally cast the role of Jesus when her son, Clayton, was recommended for the part in 2012. When the time came to decide, Jennings removed herself from the room and let the other leaders decide the actor.
“For my own personal integrity and for the integrity of this ministry, I want who God wants in this position and I don’t want anyone to say Clayton is playing the role because his mother is the founder or the director,” Jennings said. “For Clayton it’s not just acting. He understands the depth, seriousness and soberness of portraying this role. As a director you could never ask for anything more, but in addition to that it is truly his heart. He has such a passion to tell people about Christ and to share the message of salvation.”
When Clayton was younger he said the production was “just a play.”
“I had a lot of fun bonding with the church,” he said. “Now it means so much more. All of the sudden, it was telling other people about this Lord we follow. It became a mission, not a performance.”
In her role as mother, Jennings also has to witness the stage death of her son during the crucifixion scene.
“Many times my heart is just moved as I think, ‘What would it have been like for Mary to have witnessed that?,’” she said. “That’s pretty moving to watch that.
In addition to Clayton, main characters include Mark Hall (Noblesville) narrating as the Apostle John, Dr. Gaylen Kelton (Cicero) as Simon of Cyrene, Samuel Blake (Noblesville) as Rufus, and Chris Jones (Noblesville) as Alexander. Featured soloists include Kathryn Carpenter, David Fowler, Mark Hall, Kerwin Kaufman, Larry Pryor, Steve Stone and Greg Turner from Noblesville; Jackie Barker of Lapel; Stephanie Dresser of Fishers; and John Hardacre and Michelle Mitchell from Cicero.
To inquire about free tickets, call 984-9463. Because of the length of the production, intensity of some scenes and special effects, children ages birth through 4 are not permitted in the performing arts center.
Behold the Lamb
7 p.m. March 25 through 29; 2 p.m. March 28 and 2:30 p.m. March 29
Noblesville High School auditorium, 18111 Cumberland Rd.
By the numbers
7 – Number of shows March 25 through 29.
7,000 – Annual attendance for the shows.
157,000 – Estimated number of individuals who have attended the play in the past 24 years.
26 – Nations that attended last year’s productions.
22 – Scenes in Behold the Lamb.
300+ – Costumed actors and musicians in the play. Productions also include 250 in the support staff.
3 – Families that participate in the production from out of state (Georgia, Missouri and Canada).
120 – Minutes in length of Behold the Lamb.
3 – Individuals who have portrayed Jesus in the past 25 years (Dennis Thompson 1991-2000; Brian Stater 2001-2011; Clayton Jennings 2012- present).
2 – People who have played the role of Simon of Cyrene (Ron Hobby 1991-2002 and Dr. Gaylen Kelton (2003-present).
The first performance, which was a 30-minute traditional Easter cantata, entitled Watch The Lamb, was performed in 1991. Because of community demand, it was repeated in 1992. At that time, director Lisa Jennings said the community suggested the church move the production to a larger facility to accommodate the crowds.
“It was never our intention to have a ‘mega drama ministry,’ but God’s leading was clear,” she said. “In 1993, we took a step of faith and rented the local high school. People came from all parts of Indiana and many surrounding states.”
In 1995 the name was changed to Behold the Lamb (which comes from John 1:29) to reflect the changes. Performances have been added through the years to accommodate ticket demand, yet Jennings said thousands of ticket requests are still unavailable.