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May 2009

Esther’s story hits the road

A Christchurch youth group turned into wandering minstrels recently to take their play based on the Biblical story of Esther to Blenheim, Motueka and Nelson.

Beckenham Methodist’s youth group’s play ‘For Such a Time as This’ was written by their minister, Rev Alan K Webster with music by Judy Utting. It combines actors performing in person and in silhouette behind a large screen to tell the story of how Esther became queen of Persia and uncovered a plot against the Jews.

Haman (Murray Gibson) comes to a gruesome and deserved end, watched, right to left, by the maid (Maria Webster), Queen Esther (Siu Williams-Lemi) and King Xerxes (Darren Webster). Performance at St John’s Methodist Church, Nelson

The play was performed at Blenheim Methodist Church on Waitangi Day (Friday), Motueka Uniting Church on the Saturday night, and St John‘s in Nelson on Sunday morning.

Alan says the bus that carried the performers and their equipment was chocker but by the time of their last performance, they had set up and dismantling down to a very slick routine.

"If we’d had a longer weekend, we might’ve come home via Greymouth and Timaru! The production was originally written to be transportable. We designed a shallow stage and a backdrop eight metres long and two metres high with a water pipe frame. We had very few props – a throne that became a bed, a garden gate, and not much else.

"The actors performed in front of the screen and behind it to create silhouettes. We used the silhouettes to set our scenes and stage the hangings."

Alan says the hangings had a dramatic impact. They evoked lots of gasps and in one performance, a scream from a child.

"The audiences responded enthusiastically. Maybe we’ve inspired some other people to try something in their own communities. We enjoyed meeting other congregations along the way and the Methodist hospitality was fantastic. We slept in churches and in halls, and were well fed and watered."

Beckenham Methodist’s youth group ranges in age from 14 up to about 35. The troupe was made of 18 people, including Alan, his wife Glenys, who served as prompt, and Judy and Alec Utting. Judy was the musician and Alec did the sound.

Alan says he would advise anyone planning to undertake a similar performance to use good sound gear and head-mikes. It was expensive to hire but made all the difference because the audiences could hear everything.

"We also got proper costumes, not bedsheets and dressing gowns. And if your cast is prepared to go to the trouble of putting in the work to learn it an hour’s worth of dialogue and song it’s worth arranging multiple performances."