On Monday, we practiced one of the most tasking scenes in Above All for the Apostles. It is not as physically imposing as the procession or crucifixion scenes, but the combination of conveying emotions, practical timing, and physical requirements makes this scene a difficult one for our group. Today, I breakdown why these factors are true and how we handled the task.
Going into this practice, we had already briefly run through this scene on Saturday. However, much of that time was spent on getting the spacing of the scene along with figuring out how to work in the new features of the scene. A small accident on the set shut the practice down early, so we weren't able to go into the bare run through as much as was needed. On Monday night, we were at a disadvantage from that short practice and were tasked with making up the deficiency with focused effort. Spoiler alert: All parties involved in this scene rose to the occasion. How we did this will be explained as I break down this scene.
We start by entering the Garden. I am tasked with bringing up the rear of the Apostles and encouraging the other fellow Jews to continue following after Christ. The character I spend the most time with in this early part is played by Jimmy Savoy. His character is a Levi, someone to who my character of Matthew can relate. We discuss why it's okay to pray outside of the temple, something that bothers his character. It should be noted that none of this is explicitly conveyed to the audience. Why do it then? It's one of the examples that makes Above All so real. Even people who aren't mic'd up have these kinds of natural conversations in Above All. We invest in our characters and try to relate to the best of our abilities what they would talk about with each other. This makes the atmosphere of the scene real. The more real the scene, the easier it is for the audience to get invested.
A Tense Argument Creates An Ominous Atmosphere
From that quick opening sequence, Peter (played by Spenser Waters) and Jesus (played by Troy Toney) engage in a tense discussion about Peter's commitment and faithfulness. Jesus warns Peter that he will betray him and this causes a spirited argument that spills over to Peter throwing all the other Apostles under the bus. His character doesn't necessarily mean to do this. He's just trying to defend himself. However, this conveys a very natural reaction. How many of us say and do things we don't intend when faced with an accusation, especially about our character? Spenser does a great job of conveying this lost-in-the-moment reaction by swinging his arms without considering those around him (he almost pops me in the face every time) and running up to Jesus and getting right in his face to profess his loyalty. Troy portrays Jesus perfectly by staying calm and even merciful in how he responds to his upset friend. Meanwhile, the other Apostles react accordingly to Peter's and Jesus's responses. We get angry with Peter for throwing us under the bus. We are shocked and taken aback when Jesus likens him to Satan and we follow cautiously when Christ talks about death and suffering. These things might be easy to overlook for the audience because they are focused on Jesus (and that is the goal). However, if we don't do these things, the scene becomes hollow and lacks depth. It's the little things that makes Above All stand out and this segment of this scene underscores that beautifully.
Sleep Isn't So Easy
The next segment of our scene is when we are sleeping and Jesus is praying. I don't get to witness it, but the agony Troy portrays while praying is felt across the stage. It's also in this portion where are timing is put to the test. We have cues to "awake", but how we wake up matters. We can't hop up like a bunch of ground hogs. We have to try to rise like someone who is exhausted. It's midnight and we have traveled to and from Jerusalem on foot that day. Our bellies are full from the Last Supper, our hearts are heavy from the suffering Jesus is already experiencing and our minds are confused about his most recent utterances. Getting that timing and portrayal right further creates that real atmosphere. We have directors talking to us throughout the practice about how to position our bodies, how to raise up from the ground and how to react when Christ is talking as we struggle with our exhaustion.
Betrayal and Chaos Brings Reward
The next segment is the actual betrayal. It is a chaotic scene as the soldiers march in. They toss some of the Apostles around and stand over others threatening them with their swords. I'm positioned at the front of the stage and am cut off from most of the other Apostles. Only Andrew (played by Logan Monk) is with me. We cower in fear and anger as Judas (played by Matt Hughes) betrays Christ and the priests shout viciously at Jesus. Andrew yells out at Judas and I'm tasked with trying to hold him back as he lunges. Suddenly, Peter comes in furiously and attacks a soldier. This leads to even more chaos and amps up the tension even in practice. I felt as though I was having an anxiety attack witnessing it all because we are getting so invested in this scene. I can see the rage in Peter's eyes. I can hear the fear in the Apostle's voices. I witness the regret that comes over Judas just as the hateful speech of the Priests commands the arrest of our leader. I, like all of the other Apostles, am left helpless reaching out for the Master as they rush him away to certain doom.
From there, we have to portray the chaos of that feeling, rushing to one another and colliding as we try to figure out what has just happened. Remember, we are still portraying exhausted men. We run wildly through the sanctuary screaming for a Master that we fear has been taken to the death he warned us about earlier. If you're reading this and already anxious, remember I'm recounting a practice. We had to run through this scene multiple times, constantly adjusting our emotions and countenances to address each segment. To say we (the priests, soldiers, Jews, Apostles and Jesus) were all actually exhausted at 9:10 PM is an understatement. We know what this is for, though. It's for those who will enter into the POA Sanctuary and sit in those seats. Those people who are facing anxiety, suffering and loss. Our portrayal of those feelings will hit home with them because they are real. We feel them and so the audience will, too. That's what makes Above All great. It's real. We're real. And what we are striving to accomplish (the deliverance, redemption and salvation of countless attendees) is real.
Chris Farris is the author of The Way, a manual detailing how to implement the Beatitudes into your life. He review events and other media and offers other insights into writing and working for the Kingdom of God.