|The "brick factory" scene in "Moses (Sight & Sound Theatres)|
The story of the creation of Sight & Sound Theatres begins over 40 years ago in rural Pennsylvania when Glenn Eshelman, a dairy farmer, made the leap from milking cows to creating and presenting live entertainment. Today, there are two Sight and Sound Theatres (one in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and the other in Branson, Missouri) presenting live Bible tales with huge sets, top-of-the-line technology and live animals to 1.5 million people every year. The theatres employ 650 people but is still family-owned and run. One of those family members is Corporate Communications Manager, Katie Miller. Though her title sounds impressive and perhaps unrelateable, I can tell you that Katie is as down to earth as one can be. I got a chance to interview her earlier this week to chat about Moses, the company’s latest project to appear in movie theaters across the country through Fathom Events and what it takes to create magic on stage.
“It was so much fun,” she tells me. “I mean, as with anything, it has its challenges, but, there was nothing quite like growing up around aunts and uncles and having this crazy thing that we were doing. Obviously, it was smaller than it is now, but that made it all hands on deck. Being a family business, we’d be backstage putting costumes on out on the stage and then during intermission quick run out and sell candy bars at the concessions stand and then go back out on stage. And in-between shows we’d be cleaning bathrooms and handing out programs and all sorts of things. It was just so fun.”
Miller tells me that after a tragedy, her dairy farmer grandfather lost the family farm and had to rely on is creativity to make ends meet. “He was doing everything from selling paintings from the back of his car to using his photography skills to take photographs at weddings,”says Katie. “He ended up putting a slideshow together of his paintings and photography to do at church one night and after doing that, he kind of ended up going on the road with these multimedia productions, which in the 60’s was a really big deal.”
|Moses (Sight & Sound Theatres)|
“So, they bought their first plot of land, opened their first theater in 1976 and that really set the stage for the journey that Sight & Sound grew to become what it is today.”
So, one has to wonder if one was in Katie’s shoes if one would be able to leave if they wanted to or if they felt that they were trapped in the theatre forever.
“No, I definitely have a choice,” she tells me laughing. “We have many family members who are not working here (we have a very big family) and I could definitely move on to something different if I wanted to, but honestly, at this point in time I truly love it. I love what we do. I love what I get to do. I love the people that we get to work with. I realize that I’m probably relatively bias, but I think that we have the greatest teams in the world and at this point anyway, I have no desire to work anywhere else.”
Today, Sight & Sound first family is into its fourth generation. Katie says that there are 21 family members actively working with the theatre including her own children.
“My older kids are actually in the cast this year, so they are kind of reliving my childhood, but in a much bigger way than what I would have experienced.”
And today, Katie’s job is still filled with wonder and fun.
|Moses Pharaoh and Aaron (Sight & Sound Theatres)|
Each year, Sight & Sound Theatres present different Bible stories at their theatres and last year, they worked with Fathom Events bringing these larger-than-life productions to the comfort of the local movie theater. This year they are presenting a filming of the love live produced show Moses on September 15 and 20. I ask Katie how the film version compares with the live shows and she explains how they both have their pluses and minuses.
“We are of course known for being large and spectacular in size so when you are in the theatre, it’s a 300-foot-wraparound stage and 30” tall set pieces and animals running up and down the aisles. You obviously have all of that live experience that’s happening. The movie screens are large, so you still get a spectacular experience, but the thing that I realized, especially last year when we did for the first time, the movie experience is unique and honestly it felt very almost personal to me.
|Miriam (Sight & Sound Theatres)|
As one would expect, faith is a big part of everything Miller and her company do. Their mission statement begins with the declaration that they exist to present the gospel of Jesus Christ and it is very important that all of those who work with them be of the same purpose.
“That is our hope. That the employees working alongside with us are just as excited about the heart behind what we do. Every single one of these Bible stories that we put on stage, whether it’s seeing Samson’s opportunity for second chances … or the story of Joseph and him working through forgiveness, every single one of us…” and then she stops and says, “Well, I should say for me, I know that I’m in need of second chances. I know that I’m in need of walking through forgiveness. And I think that when you look at our society, the inspirational messages of these stories are just as relevant today as they ever have been if not even more so. We need hope. That’s why we are here. That’s why we do what we do.”
And it’s not just the performances that are exhilarating. It’s the changed lives of those who see the shows too.
“I think for us, true success is always reflected in the stories that we hear from our guests after they have been here. When we were doing Joseph, I remember this one woman who wrote to us to say that she had been out of touch with her father for like 15 years and after watching Joseph and seeing him reunited with his family and recognizing that she had been living with unforgiveness in her life, she actually left our theater and drove straight to his house and had this really cool reconciliation experience with him and the two actually came back together to watch the show a couple of months later.”
She tells me of another story of a man who saw the story of Samson and was moved by the importance Samson’s father played in their rendition of the story.
“After the show he said, ‘You know, I’m realizing that I may not have been the kind of father that I would have liked to have been and this story inspired me to really search the scriptures about what it says about being a father and what the role of a father can be in my kid’s lives and I’m so excited to go home and be able to really dive into that.’”
Finally, I ask Katie that if we are already familiar with the story of Moses, why bother seeing this production of the show. “With the story of Moses we say that we take it all the way from the Nile River to the Red Sea,” she tells me. All of the main parts of the story that you would expect to be here, are here including the burning bush, the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea. All of it. The special effects are what make this show. Though no water was actually used in the production, how they are able to transform the theatre into this other world is one amazing feat. But again, Katie says that the music, acting and special effects are secondary to the heart of the story.
“When we think of Moses we often think of Charleston Heston standing on the mountain with the wind blowing in his hair and we tend to put Moses up on a pedestal because he was used mightily by God. [Moses and others] and are heroes of … but they were also human. They were also people just like you and me. They messed up. They made wrong choices. They were afraid of stepping out of their comfort zones. They needed the people around them to literally hold their arms up – all of those pieces of those Bible stories that we know. So, being able to take the man off the mountain and help audiences realize that God used him, and God can use us – I think is one of my favorite aspects of the Moses show.”