CHC’s Easter production is set to bring the salvation message to thousands through a gripping drama. City News goes backstage to find out what it takes to stage The Centurion.
Contributed By Annabelle Low
This weekend, City Harvest Church presents The Centurion, a tale that brings the congregation back in time to the height of Roman rule in ancient Jerusalem. You will witness how two friends become bitter enemies, and how the love that surpasses all puts an end to the vicious cycle of bloodshed.
The Centurion is the first drama production for CHC at Suntec Singapore. With a bigger venue and a massive stage, CHC’s drama ministry directors, Sandy Yeo and Jaslynn Khoo, were faced with the challenge of putting forth the message of Easter in a fresh, yet relevant way, while utilizing the available space creatively. This called for a whole new level of resourcefulness, creativity and collaboration.
The auditorium features an LED wall that stretches the length of the stage. This wall presented the team with a landmark opportunity to foray into the integration of multimedia in the drama production. The new space at Suntec Singapore has necessitated the ministry’s leveling up to broader concepts and smarter execution.
BIRTH OF THE CENTURION
The idea of The Centurion initially came to the directors before Easter 2010. However, they shelved the idea for 2010’s Easter story, Life-Book, which placed Jesus in a modern context. This year, for a change, the directors decided on a period drama. They dug up their idea for The Centurion, rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
The directors sought to capture the epic atmosphere of movies such as Ben Hur (1959) and The Count Of Monte Cristo (2002). As they worked on the concept, it began to take on a life of its own. The final production of The Centurion, they say, is completely different from their original concept.
This year, in order to get the actors to evoke the appropriate emotions, all of the actors had to undergo training to get into character. Chris Lee, 34, a Drama Ministry member and professional acting coach [see sidebar], trained some of the main actors.
Cast member George Kuruvilla, 28, a web designer by profession said, “You have to let go of your personality every time in order to play your role. It takes a lot of internal training to separate your actual character from the character that you are playing.”
The team also roped in professional help for the combat scenes in the drama. Douglas Kung, 44, a professional and highly sought-after stunt choreographer from Hong Kong, choreographed the various fight sequences in The Centurion, and trained the actors to perform the scenes realistically. Kung has vast experience in the entertainment industry, both in Hong Kong and Singapore. Apart from movies, he also works closely with MediaCorp on large-scale programs like the President’s Star Charity where he regularly coordinates the stunt acts.
To set the mood of a period piece, all the costumes in the production were specially designed and made to order. At the same time, the costume and props team did further background research to ensure that the different clothing and props were as historically accurate as possible.
For example, the centurion’s helmet is custom-made to certain specifications. The helmet, with the centurion standard in the middle, designates him as a centurion (“cent” means 100, therefore a centurion is in charge of 100 men). The centurion’s costumes mark his progression in the story, and signify his level of growth.
“It’s amazing to see how they organize the entire production from scratch, and how they get people to become involved in such a great show,” says Joe Chen Chung Fan, 20, a School Of Theology student from Taiwan. Chen hails from Passion 99 Harvest Church, one of CHC’s affiliate churches, and is a member of the backstage crew for the drama. He intends to bring his experience in The Centurion back to Taiwan to pioneer the drama ministry there.
A TEAM EFFORT
It took over four months and a phalanx of 170 volunteers to bring The Centurion to life. From the scriptwriters to the lighting designer, the backstage crew to the actors, the set and costume designers, the entire production is a collaboration of every individual’s creativity, and ultimately showcases each one’s talents.
Whether you are a member or a new visitor to the church, The Centurion promises to be a stunning visual experience that will bring you on a rollercoaster emotional journey to the discovery of the Truth. So sit back, relax and watch the legend unfold.
Chris Lee Ban Loong is an actor who has starred in 70 stage and screen productions to date. He is also a director and theater trainer, having worked with professional actors and students at multiple levels in Shanghai, Singapore and the United Kingdom to date. Lee trained the key actors in The Centurion.
What is your experience with the Drama Ministry?
This is actually the first production where I’m directly working with the actors during rehearsal. I first got to know Sandy [Yeo, drama director] in 2007, when she invited me to join the Drama Ministry. Over the years, I’ve conducted about four actors’ training workshops for the ministry.
How did you train the lead actor for his role as the centurion?
For the lead role, it was more of helping him to understand his lines. Sometimes when we push a play that comes from a different culture, it may seem very foreign. But when you understand the circumstances in which the lines are said, you’ll find that it isn’t so different after all.
I asked him questions like, what he would do if he was under those circumstances, and what end he hoped to achieve by saying certain lines. This way, he can start to relate between his person and the character.
I was quite impressed with the lead actor. To better fit the image of a centurion, he took the necessary actions to prepare for this role. That displayed a certain level of commitment on his part, which to me, is the hallmark of a dedicated actor.
What other areas did you work on for the production?
We explored other areas like the Roman culture, and the army culture, which we needed to understand and work with for this production. It is fortunate that Singapore has compulsory National Service, so the men can relate to the army culture quite well!
Setting The Stage
Set designer Nicholas Goh explains the finer points of staging The Centurion.
Tell us a little bit more about your experience designing sets.
I like theater and musicals, so when (directors) Sandy and Jaslynn first approached me to ask if I could do the set for the drama, I was quite excited to try something new. I’m a graphic designer by training—I’ve done graphic design for 10 years. In the past, I regularly designed the décor for big days in church, like Emerge, Valentine’s Day and Asia Conference. The Centurion is the second time I’ve designed the set for CHC’s drama productions, the first being last year’s Christmas production, Heroes Of Faith.
What are the challenges that you faced during the set design?
We only moved into Suntec Singapore on March 19 so we didn’t have much time at all! We had previously discussed the design with the directors, but we could only really start work after we officially moved into Suntec. The stage is huge. There are new constraints and more restrictions on how we can use the area in Suntec. New dimensions mean a new perspective, so we’ve had to be really creative with the space we have to work with.
Suntec Singapore has an LED wall which can be split into three screens, which means that we can’t have fixed sets on stage as we normally have in previous productions as they will block these screens. You won’t see the set on stage this time—we’ve hidden it! What we’ve done is to make the set mobile, so that we can wheel it out for certain scenes.
There were many aspects to consider when creating the set. For example, we needed to figure out how many scenes we could have with one set, as we couldn’t possibly have one set for each scene. We also had to make sure the set served the scene—you can’t just do a nice, two-dimensional backdrop. We also had to make use of multimedia and work in tandem with the people doing the LED display. The set absolutely had to flow with what was on the screen.