By Diane Howard, Ph.D.
In May, Fathom Events provided in theaters the spectacular Sight & Sound ® hit musical, “Jonah! on Stage.” This amazing production for all ages filmed over, through and in front of a live audience at Sight & Sound Theatres brings to life the journey of the lovable but stubborn prophet, Jonah. This breath-taking performance provides delightful humor, cinematic music, massive sets, and an underwater scene featuring a huge 40-foot fish.
Fathom Events often presents special, wonderful events with broad appeal, but especially for Christian families, churches, and organizations in theaters. For example, Fathom Events recently provided “Facing the Darkness and Is Genesis History?” “Facing the Darkness” by Samaritan’s Purse is about how faith, determination, and prayer during the African Ebola crisis moved mountains and God performed a miracle! Soon this movie will be out on DVD and in other formats. “Is Genesis History?” presents wonderful cinematography on location as it presents ongoing research related to the Biblical, historical, and scientific evidence for Creation, the Flood, and more. It is now available on DVD and other formats with special additional resources for Christians and their churches.
“Jonah! on Stage” came to more than 700 movie theaters. It is Sight & Sound Theatres’ first time to present their stage play on the big screen. Now people who can’t travel to Lancaster, PA or Branson, MO can see this spectacular, epic, jaw-dropping. production for the whole family in their own communities.
When God calls Jonah to offer mercy and forgiveness to the people of Nineveh, Jonah runs in the opposite direction! However, as is often the case, one bad choice leads to another and soon Jonah’s “get-away” ship is on the verge of destruction amidst a fierce storm. To save themselves, the ship’s crew tosses Jonah overboard into the waiting mouth of an immense fish.
However, Jonah discovers that God is willing to offer second chances to the Ninevites and run-away prophets alike!
Sight & Sound is the largest faith-based live theater company and one of the top three theater destinations in the country. Last year, more than a million people came from around the world to experience a Sight & Sound Theatres production at their locations in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Branson, Missouri.
In business since 1976, Sight & Sound is a family-owned, family-led organization whose mission is to bring the Bible to life through live stage productions, thus illustrating truth the same way that Jesus did, through storytelling. Their desire is that audiences will discover the life-changing message of the Bible and will see how all of its stories point to the Lord Jesus Christ.
I recently conducted an exclusive interview with the Corporate Communications Manager, Katie Miller. Ms. Miller works with the Leadership Team, Management Teams and individual departments within the Lancaster and Branson locations to bring synergy, cohesion and direction to internal and external communications. As a member of the Brand Team, she serves as the primary liaison for all Public Relations efforts.
Her long career at Sight & Sound has included supporting the Executive Leadership Team, supervising the Contact Center, and managing corporate and employee relations in the Human Resources department as the Corporate Events Planner.
Katie was the first member of the family’s third generation to officially work within the organization. She stepped onto the stage as a child and performed as part of the cast until she was 13. Her unique, rich perspective into the company’s formative years has been leveraged in everything from publicity opportunities to future succession planning. Katie and her now fourth generation family members work with the Sight and Sound productions.
Since its inception in 2013, Katie has also served on the Board of Directors for the Sight & Sound Conservatory, a performing arts academy which provides professional training to students from a Christian Worldview.
Dr. Diane Howard interviews Katie Miller:
DH: Why was the Biblical Book of Jonah selected for a Sight and Sound production?
KM: It is a story with which many people are familiar and with which they identify. It has broad family appeal. It has elements that have whimsical appeal for a musical production.
DH: What are the primary themes in the Biblical book of Jonah?
KM: Mercy, forgiveness, and second chances are primary themes to which we were drawn.
DH: Why are these themes especially relevant for today?
KM: These themes are important in our world today in which there is much negativity.
DH: Why did you choose to produce one of your stage productions for a Fathom Event film?
KM: We have been filming our productions to extend outreach. The Fathom Event seemed like a natural next step.
DH: Why do you think more than a million visitors a year see your productions?
KM: The Biblical stories have been read and told around the world for thousands of years. They are impactful and thoughtful. Our productions add spectacle to the stories.
DH: Why will audiences want to see one of your shows in movie theaters?
KM: The audiences in movie theaters will enjoy the same elements as audience do in the live stage productions with the benefit of being able to see details up close.
DH: Everything about a Sight & Sound production is extra big: 300-foot wraparound stage, live animals, aerial stunts overhead, and special effects. How do you get an extra-large stage show to fit on a movie screen?
KM: We filmed in front of live audiences for four performances with live eight cameras from different angles to produce the multi-dimensional experience that audiences in theaters will enjoy.
Having auditioned hundreds of actors from all over the country, Sight & Sound cast than 50 actors for Jonah. “Jonah! on Stage” features nearly three dozen live animals including sheep, highland cattle, alpacas, camels, llamas, a sheep dog, miniature donkeys, birds, horses (of course) and one skunk. The music (recorded in Prague, The Czech Republic, by the Prague Symphony Orchestra) in “Jonah! on Stage” is all original and is a collaboration of multiple professionals. The vocals are sung by the performers.
With the 70-plus set pieces is a boat weighing 30,000 pounds, which is one of the largest set pieces in Sight & Sound’s history. Production teams worked two years to create the lighting effects to take audiences through a storm and under water. The more than 1,700 lights in each performance include 100 automated lights with 100 color changes, requiring five miles of cable.
All 550 costumes are the work of Sight & Sounds’ in-house staff of designers and seamstresses. “Jonah! on Stage” costumes include 5,500 yards of fabric, 4,000 snaps and 250 wigs.
Every show is an epic experience with a meaningful message. Audiences enjoy edge-of-seat action with heartfelt drama on a panoramic stage. Viewers are surrounded with uplifting, profound Bible stories brought to life by an exceptional cast, spectacular special effects, massive sets and live animals on stage, in the aisles and overhead.
Hopefully, this production of “Jonah! on Stage” will encourage us all to read and study the Biblical Book of Jonah. In Jonah’s day, Assyria was a threat to Israel, Nineveh was its great capital! Despite Jonah’s reluctance to bring God’s message to Ninevah, God used him to bring this threatening nation to repentance and faith in Him. Today some whom we have viewed as a threat (such as Muslims) are coming to faith in Christ. Could it be that we can learn from the Book of Jonah about following our Lord as He leads us in praying for, reaching out, and going to those whom we view as a potential threat?
Nineveh is today Mosul, Iraq! Maps still refer to the “Plains of Ninevah” that surround Mosul. The indigenous Assyrians continuing to live in Iraq are today one of the few Christian people groups in this entire country and providing life-changing Christian witness to this region of the world. Today we are serving this war-afflicted people and their children. God knew that wicked Ninevites would provide light in the darkness in this region until today and that we would support them.
God’s ways are not our ways and He often works most unexpectedly.