Saturday, March 22, 2008

Greg Allen in the C-J on the SE Easter Pageant

An interview-- or "lunch conversation"-- with Greg in the C-J...

Hundreds (of the tens of thousands) of tickets are still available by clicking here...

Tell us about the genesis of this pageant.
I joined the staff in '83 and was youth minister until '90, when I switched to doing he worship. And our pastor at that time was Bob Russell, who was also a longtime fixture in Louisville. He was here for 40 years. He had seen Easter or Christmas pageants in other churches around the country, and so he said, "Greg, go ye and see all the pageants and come back and build one."...

After a second visit to First Baptist, Ft. Lauderdale, we resonated with their performances the most of what we thought God wanted us to do here. We also happened to have some connections there. Some leaders here knew some families there who gave us tours. It turned out to be a very warm experience. So after the second visit, which would have been in '91, I believe, we sat in the Delta Crown Room in the Ft. Lauderdale airport waiting to fly home, and we where there for like two hours early that morning because we were so juiced up about doing a pageant here. We sat in the Delta Crown Room and on a legal pad filled out act by act, scene by scene, what we wanted to do, most of which we were just stealing, plagiarizing right from First Baptist, Ft. Lauderdale. They knew it, and they were kind of thrilled that we were doing that. And we made a few notes of things we'd rather do different. Then when we flew home to Louisville, we had it on a legal pad....

How large is your congregation?
Our average weekend attendance is right around 17,000. There's probably about 22,000, 23,000 members, but those who are actually here on a weekend, probably about 17,000 people. But in the early `90s, that would be probably 4,000 or 5,000. So we had less of a pool to draw from to try to find good actors and players and singers. To show you how hard up we were for good actors, I actually played Joseph that first year, and the reason is that even though I cannot act at all — I'm horrible — we needed a guy that could sing the Joseph song, so I was the last guy available, so I said, "OK, I'll do it." I was mortified.

...probably about '96 is when we really, really started: we moved it to Easter off of Christmas for two reasons. One, we wanted to do the full life of Christ, and we felt that was more appropriate coming down at the end of Easter because of the death, burial and resurrection, and that's where we wanted to end. But the other reason is purely practical: In the month of December, to do a big event — there are so many other events. The whole city has something going on....And it has turned out to be the greatest decision we've made. All the other big churches we visited are still doing theirs at Christmas, and still have big attendances. But ours have doubled their attendances, and I think it's because we moved it to this time of year...

Why did you decide to take a break for a year?
We moved to this facility in '99. Attendance went out the roof. We were quite shocked at how many people almost over night started coming here on weekends. Pageant attendance went way up. And in 2002, the senior minister and I were actually talking about — because pageant tickets sold out so quickly: like 75,000 before the show even started – we were contemplating ways over the next year of encouraging our congregation not to come in order to make room for other people. The attendance was so huge. We were living at the top of the bell curve. Business and revenue were at their peak, and we knew at some time it was going to start going down the other side. So you want to shock the system at the top of the bell curve so you don't decline. Well, we waited one too many years. We had talked about it in 2004. In 2002, 2003 and 2004, we had sold out before the show even started and we thought, "Can it get any better than this?" So all the leaders of the pageant went to the leaders of the church and we said, "We think it's probably time to make a change," and they said, "No, this is going too wonderful, surely not." That next year, in 2005, the ticket sales went from 75,000 to 65,000....So it was two things: One, the ticket sales told us that our community had said, "Been there, done that...." But the second reasons we wanted to do it is that even all of the artistic people who were in the show were becoming tired of doing the same old show....

What was the impact of "The Passion of the Christ" on your program?
I knew — four years in college, I was a Bible major, Greek minor. I did my master of divinity here in Louisville at Southern Seminary as a biblical studies major. So I know the story — studied the history behind it....At the scourging scene in Mel Gibson's movie, I was struck not so much by the pain and suffering that Christ endured, but by the depth of my own sin that brought on the reason God sent us Christ in the first place. I don't have to be a murderer or a convict. The scripture teaches we all have strayed away from Christ....So we were impacted by that, and our thought was this: We loved our old show, but it was more described by fanfare and pageantry, which means it's a happy show. Yes, he was crucified at the end of it, and it was very emotional, but the resurrection is 10 minutes afterward in the show — three days later in reality — but 10 minutes later in the show, you've already recovered from so much pain and agony. And so, "The Passion of the Christ" movie influenced us to want to make the whole life of Christ the overwhelming majority of the show. In the old pageant, the life of Christ was probably 50 percent of the actual time. This show, it's about 99 percent. We don't start with the birth. We don't do a chronology. We start with the crucifixion, and it's on film. Then we go live to the stage and do flashbacks through the whole show....

We have heard that this show is more intense and perhaps it isn't right for young children, whereas the pageant was a natural for young children.
Yes. We are already rethinking how we're going to advertise this for next year. We say for 6 years old and under, don't come. But we also told our parents here, "Every child's different. You know your child, and you make that decision." My 8-year-old is actually in it, and she's seen all the film, and she's OK, but her temperament is very different than when my oldest was her age. She wouldn't have been able to take it....It's not that this is that much more graphic. It's that before, the graphic scenes, let's say the scourging, the crucifixion, was on the stage, and that's anywhere from 40 to 80 feet away. The film screens in our room now are IMAX screens. They're 50 feet wide and 30 feet tall. So it's not more graphic. It's just more visible....It's not anything as intense as Mel Gibson's movie. That's two hours of intensity, and it never lets up. Ours gets intense. It's an hour and 57 minutes long. I would say there's probably 10 minutes that's as intense as Mel Gibson's movie....

Are all the people who work on this volunteers?
All volunteers. It's amazing to me.

What about the animals? Where are they? How do you handle them?
They are living in a parking lot out there. We get a big circus tent that we put up for them every year. It's a company right outside Branson, Mo. — really a husband and wife who are animal handlers. They bring them on a huge truck: a camel, horse, two donkeys — it's the smallest cast of animals ever this year — a whole crew of precious little lambs, several ravens and doves — they rotate — a snake for the temptation scene. So we pay them a contract to bring the animals. When they get here, we have the retired Louisville Zoo curator, Steve Taylor, who's a church member. He gets a crew of volunteers. And every single day they're caring for those animals until the show is over....

Finally, this from the middle of the interview-- but it doesn't fit under the questions I wanted to emphasize:

A lot of people come to a big church for as much as three or four years before ever coming forward to let you know they're there, because they like hiding. That's why a lot of people come to a big church. They don't want to be confronted like they would at a little church. If you walk into a little church of 200, more than likely somebody is going to say something to you. A lot of people are afraid of that. That's why they don't go to church. They'll come and sit in a big room, because they can get lost and stay anonymous. That's one of the reasons we like being a big church: People can feel safe to come in and hear what's going on, but they can leave without anybody saying anything to them....

1 Comments:

At January 15, 2009 at 3:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reminds me one of the Branson shows!

 

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