Deep in the heart of Mennonite and Amish country of Lancaster, Pennsylvania is the Sight & Sound theatre where we saw an impressive production of “Joseph” — and the contrasts between the two cultures could not be more stark.
There were three of us: I and my sister, Doris, and her singing partner, Sharon Dennis aka “The Braeded Chord,” and we drove about three hours into the Pennsylvania farm country where we saw horse-and-buggies, many homes and barns without electricity, and boys riding Amish bicycles (they look like overgrown scooters and are without pedals).
Along the way, we stayed in the home of Doris’ sister-in-law, Jean and her husband, Richard Dickinson, whose son had recently purchased an Amish home, extremely well-built but without electricity or plumbing. Thanks to Rich’s handyman skills, the home now has indoor plumbing and electricity. Jean has become friends with the Amish neighbors and told us a little about their lifestyle: They use outhouses instead of having indoor plumbing; and because there are no buttons or zippers on their clothes, they use straight pins to close up garment openings. They use a kerosene iron to press their clothes.
In sharp contrast to this austere and non-worldly culture is the 2000+ seat theatre complex of Sight & Sound Ministries, and my first thought arriving in the parking lot was that we had come to Disneyland, with its marked areas for parking (we were in the biblical Daniel section!) As the show opened, I couldn’t help but think this was in the same league as many slick Broadway musicals; with a cast of hundreds, extremely elaborate scenery and costumes, singers, dancers, lots of live animals, and a professionally produced soundtrack—pure spectacle! Sight & Sound was the brainchild of Glenn Eschelmann 35 years ago who wanted to “bring the Bible to life.”
From their website:
Sight & Sound Theatres is the largest faith-based live theatre in the country and has been described as “Christian Broadway.” Last year, nearly a million people from around the world came to experience a production at one of Sight & Sound’s theatres in Lancaster County, PA., and Branson, MO. The Lancaster County location is one of the top three theatre destinations in the country.
Founder Glenn Eshelman, a native of Lancaster County, began to develop his gifting as an artist as a young child on his family’s farm. His landscape painting led to photographing inspirational scenes that were then presented to churches, schools and civic organizations across the U.S. with a single slide projector and screen, along with a turntable and microphone to provide sound.
There are approximately 600 show production, cast, show run and operational employees who work at Sight & Sound Theatres. Sight & Sound employees produce all aspects of the shows, including writing the script, designing and building the sets, designing and sewing the hundreds of costumes per show and creating the special effects. Employees also sell tickets, create advertising, direct traffic, program and maintain computers, feed and train animals, maintain the facilities and handle accounting duties.
Their professional actors come from a variety of backgrounds. Most of them have college degrees relating to their work; for example theatre performance, music or opera. A significant number have advanced theatre-related degrees. All of the actors have some background in theatre prior to joining a Sight & Sound cast. Some actors have contracts to only perform in a specific show, while others have been Sight & Sound employees for more than 10 years. Actors come from many states and several foreign countries. They are selected through auditions held regularly throughout the United States.
Here is the trailer from the show, to give you an idea of what we saw yesterday.