Tuesday night’s opening of The Promise marked the 10th anniversary of the production in Washington.
It’s also the 10th time director Vicki Bubalo has seen it through.
But she’s quick to point out its longevity comes through the work of many — not just herself. Hundreds of volunteers have sacrificed over the years. They’ve been dedicated, worked hard, studied scripture and prayed.
Gifted in music and art, blended with a love for her Lord and a desire to help others find Him, it’s her “calling,” according to her husband, Alan.
The first season in 1998 was her brainchild after she watched a First Century biblical history video with her fifth grade Sunday school class.
“We could do this,” she thought.
Soon there were call-outs. Casting. Elaborate set construction. Finely-detailed costumes. Rehearsals. Tickets. More rehearsals. Then it was showtime.
Held for several years at Washington High School’s Auditorium, it was an immediate hit in the local community. Now, the production draws a cast, crew and audience from all across Southwestern Indiana. Some come from out-of-state.
TWO ACTS. TWENTY-FIVE SCENES.
It all takes more than 150 volunteers, but only two paid personnel — the animal handler and sound technician.
The script has changed a little over the years; songs been added and cut. Many faces in the cast have changed. Some haven’t changed at all. Jay Armes has played Peter all 10 times; Randy Wininger has been Matthew and Simon of Cyrene. Others have been part of the production for a decade, too.
Bubalo has watched some cast members grow up. Like her grandson, Bryce Browning, and Gunnar Jones. Both boys have portrayed baby Jesus. In 2009, they are the sons of Cyrene’s Simon.
Some have gained weight over the years. Discreetly, but yet seriously, she told this year’s disciples they needed to diet. Their costumes were getting too tight and disciples in the Bible were surely lean...they walked in the desert and didn’t eat fast food.
In its peak months, The Promise nearly consumes her life. But Bubalo never quits working on the next one in off-season. A lover of books and music, she spends endless hours poring over what could be a new script or lyrics. “The Book of God,” a novel Bible by Walter Wangerin is one of her favorites. Peter, this year, for the first time uses some of Wangerin’s style in that the denying disciple is more rambunctious.
Also new this year are a few songs like Mary and Joseph’s lullaby created from Faith Hill’s “A Baby Changes Everything.” And Jesus in the Garden sings “Word of God Speak.” Songs like that speak to Bubalo and she believes they will speak to the audience.
Dialogue and music sometimes change in what’s now a biennial production. Jesus has been portrayed by four different men — David Bean, Steve Gregory, John Delph and this year, Cody Cummings.
But some things never change.
The story of Jesus and its meaning. That’s what’s important to Bubalo and her fellow volunteers. Like Larry Mattes...he’s been part of the production nine of 10 times — only taking a year off when he was working on his master’s.
Burned CDs of soundtracks. Tickets. Parking. Publicity. Live animals. The entire production involves an incredible amount of detail.
Mattes, a historical buff and Promise board member, makes sure it’s all biblically accurate.
“It’s a big giant puzzle. It doesn’t all come together until the last week,” Bubalo said.
Usually she’s confident and cool under fire. But yet last week she was admittedly “worried” that the entire cast and crew had yet to practice one time with every person present.
And sometimes things can go wrong. Sound equipment, no matter how technologically advanced or expensive, can break. Or, Clyde the Camel — all 1,500 pounds of him — may fall...like he did in the orchestra pit back at WHS in 1998 when the Promise was produced there. Or a little lamb could be sick like this year. Volunteer technician Janet Goodwin saw to it that animal diapers were on hand in case it happened again.
Sometimes personalities clash.
“We’re Christians, but we’re still human,” Bubalo pointed out.
But this year — maybe better ever than before — the cast seems to get along well. Especially after last Wednesday night’s rehearsal. They bonded. Witnessed to each other.
“It’s not just a play...it’s a ministry,” Bubalo said.