2013: A Writing Odyssey

Having signed off 2012 in style with The Nativity musical, 2013 is promising to be another great year on the contemporary Christian drama scene in Southampton (and hopefully beyond!).

Plans are already taking shape for the next E-Quip Arts production – this time in collaboration with Sam Lenton, as we seek to take his play Zealous! to audiences in the Spring. The play, which tells the story of Paul’s conversion, is the next production from Sam Lenton following the success of his festive plays, Who’s the baby? and What happened to the baby?, and we are looking into the possibility of touring across multiple venues and maybe even putting on an outdoor performance and/or a larger show in a public theatre. Stay tuned for more details!

DVDs of What happened to the baby? are now in the production stage, the editing having been completed in December, and should be available to purchase by the end of January! Look out too for a Kindle version of the script, coming to Amazon shortly…

Alongside these exciting ventures, talks are underway to record at least one radio play and videos of monologues from the It was the tree’s fault collection.

I hope you enjoyed the free Christmas resources posted on this blog in December. If any were performed, please do get in touch to let us know how they went!

More resources will continue to be posted on this blog over the forthcoming months, so please visit us again!

Thank you for your continued support in the year ahead.

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The Nativity: Christmas Reborn

Christmas came early this week as the team behind 2011’s Southampton Passion delivered another spectacular feast of musical splendour in an exciting new production of The Nativity.

Featuring music by Phil and Laura Le Cheminant, effortlessly held together by Neil Maddock’s original script, The Nativity wowed audiences of all ages and provided a timely reminder of the miracle of the very first Christmas.

Despite being an amateur production, the songs were of the highest quality, with Grace Ibbott (Mary), Jack White (Joseph) and Andy Stubbles (Gabriel) particularly impressing with their soaring vocal performances. Backed by an outstanding 21-piece orchestra and choir, the vocalists sang with passion and purpose throughout, tugging at the heartstrings of an audience invited to laugh one minute and cry the next.

While Grace Ibbott’s beautiful portrayal of Mary’s struggle to come to terms with the angel’s message was an undoubted highlight, it was Arch-angel ‘Elvis-impersonator’ Gabriel himself who threatened to steal the show. With each appearance the intensity of his performance grew, with a perfect blend of self-parodying humour and sincerity captivating the audience and prompting vigorous applause at the end of every song.

Animated backdrops provided the perfect setting for each scene, the simplicity of the visuals negating the need for complex scenery and props and enhancing the professionalism of the production. Making the most of the screen, a video montage of the life of Jesus set the tone for a finale that sought to put Christmas in context, with clips from the crucifixion scene from last year’s Passion providing a stark reminder that the story doesn’t end at the manger.

Millions of people across the world will watch a Nativity play this Christmas but few will see a production as slick and engaging as this one. With well-placed humour and melodies that will linger long in the memory, this is one Christmas present that the whole family can enjoy and the ideal way to remember the glorious gift of grace God gave us and continues to offer us today.

 

© Sam Lenton, 2012

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Christmas Readings – The Sam Lenton Version

Four years ago, I rewrote the traditional Christmas readings. Sounds heretical, I realise that, but think of it more as a paraphrase than a direct translation and that will hopefully lessen your horror…

The readings revitalised the Christmas message and were so popular that they have been requested ever since by different churches and for a range of occasions.

Why not use them this Christmas in your church? As always, the resource is free so by all means print these off and read them out this December!

The Story of the Birth

This is the story of a birth. Come back, if you will, to a time before carefully structured birth-plans, freely available epidurals and a well-equipped team of fully-qualified midwives. Come to a manger. Come and see a mother whose nine months of pregnancy has ended in a cross-country census trip with no pre-arranged comfortable accommodation, just in case the baby comes at a bad time.

Emperor Augustus had given orders for the names of all the people in the Roman Empire to be listed in record books. Everyone had to go to their own hometown to be listed. For Joseph, along with his heavily pregnant fiancée Mary, that meant leaving Nazareth and trekking to Bethlehem. Bethlehem was the hometown of King David, and it wouldn’t be long before it hosted the birth of an even greater king.

This would be no easy birth though. Certainly not the birth we would expect a king to have. Alone and exhausted, unable to find room to stay in the Inn, Mary and Joseph find shelter amongst the animals. Mary gives birth to a son, wrapping him and laying him on a bed of hay. The king’s first bed. No scales to weigh the pounds and ounces. No family rushing to discover if he has his father’s eyes. Just a couple, miles from home, eagerly anticipating who their baby would become.

 

The Story of the Shepherds and the Three Kings

This was a baby that people had waited centuries to see. And it is maybe a little odd for us today to hear that shepherds were the first people chosen to lay eyes on the new-born king. But here they were – outcasts in society working in demanding and lonely conditions – when the angel of the Lord appeared to bring them such unexpected news. Terrified, they hid their eyes as the angel declared:

Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you, which will make everyone happy. This very day in King David’s hometown a Saviour was born for you. He is Christ the Lord. You will know who he is, because you will find him wrapped and lying on a bed of hay.’

Suddenly, many other angels appeared, praising God and saying:

‘Glory to God in the highest! Peace on earth to everyone who pleases God!’

After the angels had left and gone back to heaven, the shepherds said to each other:

‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord has told us about.’

They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and they saw the baby lying on a bed of hay. They repeated what the angels had declared about him. Everyone listened and was surprised. But Mary kept thinking about all this and wondering what it meant.

The shepherds were not the only ones chosen for this great honour. Wise men from the east also saw Jesus’ star in the night sky and rushed to Jerusalem to ask King Herod where the king of the Jews was due to be born, since they were keen to go and worship him. Herod’s advisers informed him that the prophets had said that Bethlehem was the place – exactly where Jesus had just been born – and so the King told them:

‘Go and search carefully for the child. Then, let me know where he is so that I can come and worship him too.’

The wise men followed the star ahead of them, and it guided them to the place where Jesus lay. They were thrilled and excited to discover the king and knelt before this little baby to worship him.  A baby whose first bed was merely a pile of hay was now being treated like a true king, as the wise men offered him gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Later, in a dream, they were warned not to return to Herod and so they went back home by another road, wondering at the sights they had seen.

 

Telling the Good News

This baby was the promised King. This baby was one with God. This baby was God. From the very beginning, this baby – the word of life – was with God, and nothing was made without him. Everything that was created received its life from him. He has shone his light into this dark world, and the darkness has never been able to put it out.

A man named Simeon was living in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ birth and he loved and trusted God, waiting for him to save the people of Israel. God’s Spirit had promised him that he would not die until he had seen Christ the Lord. Imagine his astonishment and joy when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple! Simeon took the baby in his arms and praised God, saying:

‘Lord, I am your servant, and now I can die in peace, because you have kept your promise to me. With my own eyes I have seen what you have done to save your people and all foreign nations. Your mighty power is a light for all nations and it will bring honour to your people Israel.’

He spoke of the light and power that had been promised – the same light that had shone in the darkness through all eternity. But, he made it clear to Mary that Jesus would not be received by everyone as he deserved. He told her:

‘This child of yours will cause many people in Israel to fall and others to stand.’

Jesus would divide people of all nations, for not all people would see him for who he is. Not all people would accept the light. Not all people would welcome the Word. Even though this Word gave life to the world, gave life to the people of the world, many would not recognise, welcome or accept him.

Yet, some people would accept him and put their faith in him. And to those he would give the right to become the children of God, not through anything they had done but through the loving mercy of their heavenly Father. 

The Word has come and we have seen his true glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. A glory that shines today as it has shone through all eternity. From this Son, all the kindness and truth of God has come down to us. God’s light and God’s Word is with us.

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Winterval time, clover leaves and juice.

This is a sketch written and performed in 2006 and available for you to use this Christmas.


A carol singer is singing Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe and Wine when someone walks by to confront them about the language of the
 song they are singing. (The italics are to be sung by the singer, apart from the final line of speech.)

Christmas time, mistletoe and wine. Children singing Christian rhyme.

Christmas? Haven’t you heard? It’s ‘Winterval’ now. Or Wintertide, if you prefer. Happy Holidays. Something like that. We wanted to make sure people didn’t get confused. Sorry for the inconvenience. But please…let’s have none of this ‘Christmas’ you speak of. We don’t want people getting confused. Or worse…insulted. You have to think of the people.

Winterval time, mistletoe and wine. Children singing Christian rhyme.’

Um, I’m sorry to be a bother but we have a bit of a health and safety issue this year. You see, some unfortunate little boy brushed a little too close to the mistletoe last year and the cute red jumper his nan had lovingly knitted for him was brutally torn by a stray leaf. We believe that it would be wrong to celebrate such an anti-social plant. The good directors at
the National Lottery have voiced support for the clover leaf – everyone knows
it’s a lucky leaf and what’s Christmas – I mean, Winterval – all about if not
good luck, eh?

Winterval time, clover leaves and wine. Children singing Christian rhyme.’

Clover leaves and wine? My good friend, how can you – a Christian of all people – sing of wine? You should know fully well that we have a massive problem with binge drinking in
our society nowadays and all you are doing is adding fuel to an already out of control fire. I’m sorry but the wine will have to go. It’s sending out a negative message.

Winterval time, clover leaves and juice. Children singing Christian rhyme.’

No, I’m just going to have to stop you there. You simply can not single out Children and indoctrinate them by forcing them to sing rhymes concerned with your particular religious institution. Children must be given a choice. Education must be secular and completely unrelated to any expression of religious celebration. Only adults who have consented to be involved in such occasions may be included in your choral endeavours. What a disaster we would have on our hands if such vocal ventures were considered something anybody and
everybody was involved in.

Winterval time, clover leaves and juice. Consenting adults singing Christian rhyme.’

Now how can you just limit this to ‘Christian rhyme’? It is intolerant, anti-social, offensive to other religious groups and completely against the spirit of Winterval. You have taken one of our nation’s favourite literary forms and soiled it with your insistence on religious conformity. No, my good friend, this will not do at all. You have taken away our individuality and forced us into a single group, as if we all believed the same thing. Tell
me, what does ‘Christian rhyme’ have to do with Wintertide anyway?

Winterval time, clover leaves and juice. Consenting adults singing rhymes that reflect their own personal spiritual journey, whether or not they believe in a god.

Ah…much better.

You know, somehow it just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

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The Unopened Present

In the weeks running up to Christmas I am posting free resources for people to read and use as they see fit and this week’s offering is a poem which explores how God’s gift of grace is too often overlooked like an unopened present beneath the Christmas tree. Permission is granted for you to print off and perform the poem but please acknowledge Sam Lenton as the writer.

The Unopened Present

At Christmas time, the family gather,

Eating and drinking and sharing as one;

Beneath the tree sit gifts of all sizes,

Tokens of love and the promise of fun.

Carolling voices echo through the streets,

Renewed hope warming the hearts of the free,

But all of the while there sits unnoticed

The unopened present beneath the tree.

 

Pressed to the window, the child’s face looks in

At a world of wealth that’s not meant for him –

Gifts of great value, one after the next,

A barely voiced ‘thank you’, gratitude slim.

He turns to his father and whispers ‘why?’

‘Why are they different, yet why can I see

There in the corner, untouched and ignored,

An unopened present beneath their tree?’

 

‘That box looks familiar,’ his father said,

‘I’ve seen it in many houses like these.

Sometimes it’s picked up, examined, explored,

But few come to find it’s opened with ease.

The words you can see are quite clear to read

If only you’ll take the time, let them be

A life-giving message waiting inside

The unopened present beneath the tree.’

 

‘But how do you know this?’ the boy replied.

‘Have you ever seen a present like those?’

‘Yes,’ he responded, ‘And you will do too;

The seasons may change but this never goes.

Christmas will come and Christmas will leave us

But waiting behind for you and for me

The box that reads ‘Life: a free gift for all’ –

The unopened present beneath the tree.

© Sam Lenton, 2012

 

 

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An Interview with the Baby Jesus

In the first of a series of free Christmas resources, I present you with a monologue I wrote in 2005 and which has been performed at special events and services since. As with all resources posted on this blog, you are free to print it off and use it as you see fit but please acknowledge Sam Lenton as the writer of the monologue.

An Interview with the Baby Jesus

Are you prepared to die? Are you ready to suffer? Are you
itching for the pain? Well? Come on, baby Jesus, speak up! Hmm. Nothing. Not a
peep? Not a sigh? Not a word for the fans? Nothing. Just a tearful whimper and some
thumb-sucking action.

Very meek. Very mild.

Peace on earth – until – and there it is – peace on earth
ruined, the stable filled with a baby’s scream.

Are you screaming at our sin, I wonder, or crying at the
cross? Do you know it’s coming, can you feel the loss?

Mary – you’re his mother, you must know – has he said
anything yet, shown us he knows? Does he already feel love for his enemies,
forgiving his foes?

There’s a shadow on the roof, the heavens high above – a
shady rugged cross of darkness and of love. Tell me, baby Jesus, can you see it
in your eyes? Your mother foretells sorrow in her tender, tender sighs.

Do you know your life was spared for a purpose still to
come? Rescued, just like Moses – the first victory is won.

What do you think of your gifts, so unsuitable for a child?
Maybe we’ll see what they mean when you reach that cross so wild.

I kneel before you, Lord, for that is to be your glorious
name – my God, my King, my Saviour – the very one and the same.

Do you know it yet as you scream your infant voice? Can you
feel the tension of the garden’s crushing choice?

Take this cup from me, will be the words you say – yet not
my will but yours be done – living and dying God’s way.

The way that leads to certain death for one so young and
pure, yet brings to all new hope for life, for man’s sickness a perfect cure.

Enjoy your manger Jesus – the comfort will not last. Your
fearful death is close at hand, uniting future, present, past. All shall bow
before this babe with no offering but praise and you, my Lord, shall reign
secure for eternal days.

Take my tissue, Lord, and wipe away those tears. The time
for weeping has not come, but celebration, cheers. Allow us just this moment to
cradle you with love, to gaze upon your feeble frame, standing here above. Just
one more chance to see the babe this sinful world would slay – to sing for joy
that you would come for us on Christmas Day.

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Not Just for Christmas

I wonder if you’re planning on watching a Nativity play this Christmas?

Yes, I do realise that we’ve only just entered November but I’m sorry to have to inform you that it really is only a few weeks until children (and some adults) everywhere don tea-towels on their heads and start cradling baby dolls before launching in to a resounding rendition of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

Only this morning I was hearing the latest news from Neil Maddock on how rehearsals are going for the big Nativity event in Southampton this December. He plans to fill a large public venue for five performances, seeing it as a great opportunity to tell people the good news of Christmas. Undeniably, it is a great opportunity – and it’s one that I sought to make the most of with productions of Who’s the Baby? over the past few years – but I wonder how ready and willing people are to embrace Christian drama when there isn’t even the slightest hint of a carol lurking in the background?

Put simply, is Christian drama really just for Christmas?

At Contemporary Christian Drama, our vision is to see lives transformed through drama and we strongly believe that God uses plays, musicals, monologues and more as vehicles for the gospel, means by which people might hear the good news and be convinced of its power to change their lives. The question is: why drama?

Theatre is one of the oldest art forms and throughout its history has been considered so powerful that kings have sought to shut down theatres, ban plays and dictate who can and can’t be involved in productions. Drama gives us a way of looking at the world around us and watching a play truly can be an all-consuming experience in which we feel as though a mirror has been held up to show us what we had been trying to ignore or what we had been too blind to see. There is something so immediate and personal about a play that is being put on right before your eyes that simply can’t be replicated in novels, poetry or even film.

Drama has been used in a Christian context for centuries and has given us a fresh way of engaging with the narrative of the Bible and the reality of the Christian life. The immersive experience of watching a live play presents the audience with a clear challenge: how are you going to respond to what has been said and done before your eyes? We might laugh, we might cry, we might simply sit and wonder what it all means and if it really does have any bearing on our own lives.

As writers, this is a reality and a test that we must embrace. We have a responsibility to communicate clearly, to challenge sensitively, to entertain appropriately and to create an art form that is of the highest possible standard. If our drama is to be the means by which people encounter the Bible’s narrative and, we hope, meet with Jesus, then we cannot dare to take this task lightly but must strive to develop our craft, to imitate God by using our creativity to produce the very best our efforts can muster.

If people are struggling to read the Bible, let’s find new ways to tell them its many wonderful stories. Let’s get to the heart of the Bible’s narratives and re-imagine what it must have really been like to be there so that we, in some way, experience what these historical figures went through. And let us not be afraid to present a new perspective, to seek to question how people may have thought and felt so that we don’t sit back detached and disinterested but rather we engage with the emotions, the struggles, the joys, the breakthroughs that Scripture records.

A single monologue used in a service might be the key to unlocking understanding of a passage that has become almost stale in its familiarity. A short sketch prior to the sermon might provide a different angle from which to approach the issue under scrutiny. A full-length play or musical might tell the story that changes the life of the person who won’t come along to an ordinary service or reinvigorate the believer who now sees the Bible as they’ve never seen it before.

As with all art forms, some drama will work and some won’t. Some monologues will do nothing to move hearts, while others will set in motion a transformation we could never have dreamed of. One thing’s for sure: if the Christian message is not just for Christmas but is for every single day of every single year then so is Christian drama.

Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

 

 

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