Director and producer Talashia Keim Yoder, an AMBS student, engages student actors in exploring biblical and theological themes in the show
By Katie Hurst / Bethany Christian Schools
This spring, Bethany Christian High School in Goshen, Indiana, is excited to present the musical Children of Eden by Stephen Schwartz and John Caird.
Directors, cast and crew have been working hard to bring the show — a retelling of the biblical stories in Genesis 1-9 — to life. For most shows, this process would include memorizing lines and music, learning characters and choreography. But for students working on Children of Eden, there’s another element of focus: faith.
The show uses the narrative framework of the first nine chapters of Genesis to explore the dynamics of a parent/child relationship and universal themes of love and family. It is not written to be a precise retelling of the biblical stories, and director and producer Talashia Keim Yoder was excited about the opportunities that performing this show could provide.
“I’ve been drawn to [the show] partly because of the exploration of faith that it allows, but also just because it’s a really beautiful show,” Keim Yoder said. “You don’t have to be a person of faith to enjoy it. But of course I’m more drawn to it because of my broader calling.”
Keim Yoder is not only an experienced director, but also a pastor at College Mennonite Church in Goshen and an M.A. in Christian Formation student at AMBS. The combination of her theological and theatrical backgrounds has put her in a unique position to produce this show.
“On the first day [of rehearsals] I said, ‘I love the Bible, I believe the Bible and we are exploring it and we’re going to dig into this together,’” she said. “I want this to be a faith-affirming experience.”
The cast engages in a variety of intentional activities, unique to this specific production, to encourage that kind of experience.
Each rehearsal starts by reading aloud and moving with an affirmation of faith. Cast members then dig into the Scripture of the scenes they will work on. They work together to find the truths about God, about humans and about creation in the biblical stories, and then they ask, “What’s the sweet spot?”
“That’s a term we’ve been using to find the meeting place of what we’re learning from the Bible and what we’re portraying in the show,” said Keim Yoder.
Senior Clara Lind plays the role of Father in the show — the God figure — and she doesn’t take that lightly.
“I’ve done a lot more thinking about who God is to me so I can portray that as well as I can,” she said.
Keim Yoder added, “[Clara] knows the power of theater, and that what she portrays on stage will become a little piece of what people picture in their image of God. And that’s a big responsibility.”
At Bethany, Bible classes are an integral part of the curriculum at every grade level. Lind mentions how this has combined well with working on the show.
“I feel like I’ve been getting more out of Bible classes and church,” she said. “Sometimes we’ll be talking about a concept in Bible class and I’ll think about how it relates to the show or how I think of God in the show — same with songs we sing in choir or sermons during church.”
This is just one example of how faith development is integrated into not only the curriculum, but extracurricular activities as well.
“In anything I direct, I am wanting people to grow as human beings,” said Keim Yoder. “And more specifically, I want people to grow as created in God’s image and grow into what that means. So in this show I’m getting to work at that a little more explicitly than I usually get to.”
And that work is cultivating a sense of ownership over students’ own faith journeys, evidenced by how the production is coming together.
“What is amazing to me is that after we’ve done the work with the Scripture, there’s a ton that I don’t have to do with them on stage,” said Keim Yoder. “The purpose behind the scene is coming through, and they seem to know what story it is they’re trying to tell and why they should care about it.”
(The original article appears at this link. The piece is reposted with permission.)
Caption for second photo: AMBS students Talashia Keim Yoder (at left) and Madeline Maldonado, both of College Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana, during orientation week at AMBS in August 2018. (Credit: Peter Ringenberg)
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