The Life: Drama and Dance to accompany Songs of Michael Card

Having been involved in drama at Jubilee Church for years, I felt inspired to write a dramatic adaptation of twelve songs from Michael Card’s CD set The Life (see right). Our church performed it a year later, involving the majority of the congregation and covering the entire life of Christ in one full-evening production. This issue of Reformed Worship includes a sample—a few songs from the Advent section—for congregations who wish to integrate one or more of these songs into a worship service. Using a couple of songs in this context may help you consider whether you want to stage a performance of the entire production. Visit our website for more detailed notes on our production (including photos): http://www.mergetel.com/~jubilee/thelife/life.htm.

The Life tells the story of the life of Christ, starting with God’s covenant and ending with the Great Commission. Our production includes twelve songs with spoken Scripture passages (presented by two readers) as transitional dialogue. Dancers and actors, none of whom speak, present the drama during the songs. The music is best performed live, using solo and group singers and a variety of instruments.

I depended on the input of many people, including music director Marjan Vrolijk, in creating the script. Making these songs come alive requires the creative energy of lots of people: a lead singer or a choir, a band (keyboard, guitar, drums), and supporting choir members and instrumentalists.

For our congregation, this production served as a unifying activity—much like Vacation Bible School and our recent mortgage-reduction campaign. We also viewed it as an opportunity to bring in seekers from the community.

The Life

Overture

[Performed in darkness (only the musicians had lights)]

Scripture

[New Testament readings are taken from The Message by Eugene Peterson. ©1993, 1994, 1995, Eugene H. Peterson, used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. During the first reading, musicians play part of the song “Meditation.” As the reading begins, a spotlight appears on the figure of Jesus as a child.]

Reader 1: Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries. (Hebrews 1:1)

Reader 2: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. (Isa. 7:14)

Reader 1: The scepter will not depart from Judah . . . until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. (Gen. 49:10)

Reader 2: Even my close friend, whom I trusted . . . has lifted up his heel against me. (Ps. 41:9)

Reader 1: I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. (Isa. 50:6)

Reader 2: They will look upon me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. (Zech. 12:10)

Song 1: “The Promise” (2:27)

Cast: six dancers

Vocal: men lead; women on harmony.

Instrumental: band, flutes, recorder, mandolin (possibly violin, classical guitar)

[A recorder plays the verse first in the dark; then the singers and the other instruments begin. When the singers begin, the dancers enter, coming down the aisles with lit candles; they are looking for the Messiah.]

Scripture

[During the reading, part of the song “Immanuel” is played.]

Reader 1: The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

“Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son; they will call him Immanuel”(Hebrew for “God is with us”).

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: he married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus. (Matt. 1:18-25)

Song 2: “The Final Word” (3:24)

Cast: Mary, Joseph, baby, shepherds, wise men, dancers with lights as angels

Vocal: female solo with female harmony

Instrumental: piano, clarinet, violin

Song 3: “Celebrate the Child” (4:00)

Cast: Mary, Joseph, baby, angels, shepherds, wise men, children

Vocal: choral with female solo

Instrumental: full band with electric guitar solo

[A great praise song. Angels, shepherds, and wise men dance in celebration. Mary, Joseph, and baby are center focus. The band jams! As the music begins, the dancers have a gold sash in each hand, swinging each arm up and down creating a flowing celebrative movement. In the beginning of the chorus, children come down the aisles joyfully. The shepherds and wise men come halfway down the aisles to meet them. Talking to them, they bring the children to the front and finally to upstage center. There they show them the Christ child.]

Scripture

[During the reading, part of the song “Meditation” is played.]

Reader 2: Later, when Herod died, God’s angel appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt: “Up, take the child and his mother and return to Israel. All those out to murder the child are dead.”

Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother, and reentered Israel. When he heard, though, that Archelaus had succeeded his father, Herod, as king in Judea, he was afraid to go there. But then Joseph was directed in a dream to go to the hills of Galilee. On arrival, he settled in the village of Nazareth. This move a fulfillment of the prophetic words, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matt. 2:19-23)

Reader 1: And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people. (Luke 2:52).

 

Excerpt

Director’s Notes for Staging and Costumes

A bare platform works, but it’s helpful to have a raised level at the back. You’ll also use your center aisle, a left aisle, and a right aisle.

Costumes play an important role. We borrowed ours from a local church; high schools are another possible source for costumes. Patterns for all sizes of biblical costumes are readily available for congregations who want to create their own. You’ll need to enlist the services of several sewers. The child’s pattern we used is Butterick 6505. The adult pattern is McCalls 8435, a basic gown with two types of sleeves, one plain and one pointed, appropriate for an angel, a shepherd, a wise man, or Joseph and Mary.

Remember that most people during the time of Christ wore shades of brown. You may decide to highlight a character by using a unique color (for example, have Mary wear light blue). For headbands, weave two men’s ties together. For a wise man’s hat or Pharisee’s hat, use a small basket or an old ladies’ hat for the foundation.

Take good care of all props and costumes. Label each costume with the character and actor’s names. Hang and store them on a rack. Costumers should have lots of bobby pins and safety pins handy to make sure all costumes stay looking good on stage.

 

Michael Card is a songwriter and performer with over a dozen recordings currently available. To read more about him, check out his website: www.michael Card.com.

1 The Promise

The Lord God said when time was full,
he would shine his light in the darkness.
he said a virgin would conceive and
give birth to the Promise.
For a thousand years the dreamers dreamt,
and hoped to see his love.
But the Promise showed their wildest dreams
had simply not been wild enough.

Enter six dancers with lit candles. Each dancer is wearing a long white robe with two golden sashes around her neck.

Searching through the darkness, a pair of dancers comes down each aisle.

As the dancers approach the stage, stage lights come up halfway.

Chorus

The Promise was love
and the Promise was life;
the Promise meant light to the world.
Living proof Jehovah saves,
for the name of the Promise was Jesus.
Three dancers take center stage, moving in a slow circle with candle in the outside hands. Three others stay in separate aisles turning in slow circles.

The faithful One saw time was full,
and the ancient pledge was honored.
So God the Son, the Incarnate One,
his final Word, his own Son
was born in Bethlehem,
but came into our hearts to live.
What more could God have given,
tell me, what more did he have to give?
Dancers 1, 2, and 3 join dancers 4, 5, 6 at the base of the stage. Each pair (1, 4; 2, 5; 3, 6) moves in a circle dance with candles held high. Other hands joined flat hand to hand.

Coda

At last the proof Jehovah saves,
or the name of the Promise was Jesus.
At the end of the song, all dancers form a line across the back raised level of the platform. Both arms are up with candles high.

Fade to black; candles extinguished.

 

2 The Final Word

You and me, we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say
is not worth being heard.
When Father’s wisdom wanted
to communicate his love,
he spoke it in one final perfect Word.
Lights up. Dancers stand, hands folded, spread out across the back of the stage. As the stanza continues hands move into prayer, then into praise.

At the beginning of the chorus, a spotlight follows Mary, Joseph, and the baby down center aisle. The dancers stand in place with the following gestures:

Chorus

He spoke the Incarnation
Hands pulled to chest, up to the face and thrust forward and up.
And then so was born the Son
Palms up hands extended to center aisle. Head hangs to the side.
His final word was Jesus,
Right hand up to mouth and extended out.
He needed no other one.
Right hand placed on left shoulder and extended out.
Spoke flesh and blood
Right hand touches left wrist, then left upper arm.
so he could bleed
Repeat use left hand to right wrist and upper arm.
and make a way divine.
Cross arms to chest.
And so was born the baby
Rocking baby motion.
who would die to make it mine!

Crucifix (arms extended, head tilted to the side) then cross arms to chest.

And so the Father’s fondest thought
took on flesh and bone.
He spoke the living, luminous Word;
At once his will was done.
And so was the transformation that in man had been
unheard,
took place in God the Father,
as he spoke that final Word.

Dancers stay with arms crossed. Mary (holding the baby) and Joseph stand upstage center. Shepherds slowly come down each aisle looking for the Christ child. Spotlight down center.

Chorus

During the second chorus, the dancers repeat the chorus movements. Halfway down the aisle, a shepherd spots Mary, Joseph, and the baby; he beckons to others. All race upstage center. Shepherds all kneel reverently and then come to the left side of Mary marveling at the baby. Freeze.

Bridge

And so the light became alive
and manna became man.
Eternity stepped into time
so we could understand.
Three wise men move down center aisle, one at a time. Spotlight down center. Each wise man bows at nativity scene and moves to the right of Joseph as the next wise man comes to bow. All three have moved into place by the end of the song.

Chorus

Dancers repeat chorus movements.

Coda

And so was born the baby
who would die to make it mine.

A nativity scene is created in a freeze. Angels along the back, Mary, Joseph, and the baby upstage center. Shepherds standing, kneeling as a group stage left. Wise men with gifts stage right.

 

3 Celebrate the Child

Chorus

Celebrate the child who is the light;
Arms up. Arms move in circular motion.
now the darkness is over.
Hide face into cross arms. At the word over, sweep out motion with arms extended out.
No more wandering in the night;
celebrate the child who is the light.
Sweep arms across. Extend alternating arms. Walking motion with three steps forward.

You know this is no fable
Godhead and manhood became one.
We see he’s more than able
and so we live to God the Son.
Three steps back. Arms move in a circular motion.

During the first stanza, dancers remain still, have arms extended and hands side by side, focusing on the Christ child. The shepherds and wise men quietly and reverently show the children the Christ child. Not a freeze, but small or slow hand gestures to and from the children.

Chorus (first section only)

Dancers repeat chorus movements. Mary, Joseph and the baby remain in places as shepherds, children, and wisemen do circle dances. Three circles, one at the front of each aisle. A wise man and some shepherds in each group.

Bridge

During the musical bridge, dancers sweep arms in a circle. Children, shepherds, and wise men return to look at Christ child.

Firstborn of creation,
Lamb and Lion, God and man,
the author of salvation,
Almighty wrapped in swaddling bands!
Dancers swing arms back and forth. Children, shepherds, and wise men remain still.

Chorus (sung twice)

Dancers repeat chorus movements. Children, shepherds, and wise men repeat circle dance.

Bridge

Repeat movements from musical bridge. Children, shepherds, and wise men leave down all three aisles, waving back at Christ child or celebratively walking. The dancers who repeat chorus movements follow them as they exit. Joseph and Mary, holding baby, remain on stage.

Chorus

Fade to black.

Ron Vanden Burg (rachron@vaxxine.com) is a school teacher and a member of the worship planning team at Jubilee Christian Reformed Church in St. Catharines, Ontario.