Rock Lititz tech featured in ‘Jesus’ at Sight & Sound

By on March 28, 2018

The core design and story teams for “Jesus” visited Israel to get a feel for what the land where Jesus lived looked and felt like. Photos courtesy of Sight-Sound.com)

Upstage Video and Tait Towers, both based at Rock Lititz, contributed technology and equipment to the Sight & Sound Millennium Theatre’s current production, “Jesus.”

Sight & Sound usually focuses on an Old Testament Biblical figure, like Moses or Noah or, most recently, Samson.

But now, 42 years after it first opened its doors, the Christian theater is presenting a show about Jesus Christ.

“We wanted to tell a familiar story in an unexpected way,” says Josh Enck, the producer and director of “Jesus,” which opened March 10 and will run through Jan. 5, 2019. “We wanted to make sure we were ready.”

“It’s a 20-year quest,” says Matt Neff, chief executive officer of Sight & Sound. “We’re retelling the story from scratch.”

This is not the first show to present the life of Jesus. In 1987, “Behold the Lamb,” a straightforward biography of Jesus’ life, opened. It was the first Biblical production Sight & Sound had ever done.

“That show was the catalyst to expand,” Neff says.

Sight & Sound had been a fairly small operation in a different theater in Strasburg.

“We purchased the land we have now after ‘Behold the Lamb,’” Neff says. “And we ran the show off and on. I think the last time was 2008.”

Unlike “Behold the Lamb,” this new production is not a traditional biographical story.

Instead, we see how Jesus affected people’s lives. Stories from the gospels are brought to life, and other facets of his life, including his birth and death, are woven throughout.

“This is not a story of Jesus’ life, but of Jesus’ love, which we believe is his life,” Enck says.

“Jesus is the redeemer. What if we could portray those (he saved), those whose lives completely changed because of him,” Neff says. “That’s what we wanted to do.”

Lots of action

It is a fast-paced show.

“There is constant action,” Neff says. “All four gospels are part of it, but most comes from the Gospel of Mark.”

“You are going to see many different sides of Jesus,” says Brandon Talley, one of two actors portraying Jesus in the show.

He will not be a distant, stoic figure.

“We see the beautiful parts of him being human,” Talley says. “We want people to experience him and his personality. You’ll see Jesus making jokes with his disciples, laughing, getting angry and saddened, and expressing his compassion toward people who are hurting.”

Among the stories that will unfold is one about Legion, a tormented outcast who lives in the tombs. Jesus and his disciples will cross a stormy sea to meet and comfort him.

“Jesus” at Sight & Sound features a scene where Christ walks on water. To create the illusion, a 110-feet wide LED screen was created by Upstage Video, based at Rock Lititz. Another Rock Lititz company, Tait Towers, created a hoist, which allows the screen to be lowered onto and raised off the stage.

Walking on water

Mary Magdalene’s story will unfold, Jesus will throw the money changers out of the temple, he will give his Sermon on the Mount, and he will walk on water.

“Walking on the water is one of the most incredible things I have ever seen,” says Talley. “There is so much depth; it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a theater before.”

That is because of a huge investment the theater made.

A 110-feet wide LED screen was created by Upstage Video, based at Rock Lititz. Another Rock Lititz company, Tait Towers, created a hoist, which allows the screen to be lowered onto and raised off the stage.

The screen is 30 feet high and weighs 12 tons. And the hoist weighs just as much.

“It’s got the wing span of a 737 jet,” Enck says. “And we are only using seven percent of the brightness available, so it will blend with the sets.”

It is the biggest screen of its kind in the world and it cost $1.3 million.

“The depth and layering is so deep and clear,” says Enck. “We want to go into the story in an immersive way.”

Unlike many video screens, audiences won’t see the frame of the screen. It runs the entire height and length of the theater’s stage.

“You feel like you are there.” Talley says.

As he was developing the show, Enck found his inspiration for the design from a toy he used to play with at his grandmother’s house when he was a kid.

“Remember the old View-Master? That was the effect I wanted,” Enck says.

The View-Master was able to present 3-D images through a stereoscope and corresponding View-Master “reels,” thin cardboard disks containing seven stereoscopic 3-D pairs of small color photographs on film.

Enck wanted that 3-D effect.

“We wanted to go into the story in an immersive way,” Enck says.

Trip to Israel

The core design and story teams visited Israel to get a feel for what the land where Jesus lived looked and felt like.

“It was transformational to walk the places Jesus walked,” Neff says.

For all the technical advances Sight & Sound has at its fingertips, Enck says the story is what counts the most.

“We’ve made a commitment to not do technology for technology’s sake,” he says. “The technology always has to emphasize the themes of the story. And it has to be a great story.”

Neff agrees.

“We didn’t want the screen to be the focal point,” Neff says. “It has to serve the story.”

Not every production Sight & Sound does will feature the screen, according to Neff, but he admits everyone is thinking how nice it would be to have a similar screen at Sight & Sound’s other location in Branson, Miss. In the meantime, the screen is designed to travel.

Neff estimates that it will take 50 trucks to transport the screen and the sets to Branson when the time comes.

The idea for “Jesus” had been on people’s minds for a long time, but actually got started three and a half years ago.

“That’s how long it takes to produce a Sight & Sound show,” Enck says.

It is work he loves.

“I get to work on the greatest stories of all time with the greatest team of all time,” Enck says. “This has been an amazing experience. It’s the most innovative show we have ever produced.”

“Jesus” will be staged at Sight & Sound Millennium Theatre, 300 Hartman Bridge Road, Ronks, through Jan. 5, 2019, at various times, Tuesdays through Saturdays. To purchase tickets, visit sight-sound.com.

Jane Holahan is an entertainment reporter for LNP. She can be reached at jholahan@lnpnews.com or 717-481-6016.

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