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A group practices a scene for an Easter drama at Calvary Assembly of God Church. 'The Blood Code' will have seven showings starting Saturday at 7 p.m.
Daily photo by John Godbey
A group practices a scene for an Easter drama at Calvary Assembly of God Church. "The Blood Code" will have seven showings starting Saturday at 7 p.m.

Lights, camera, resurrection!
Gospel shows grow more sophisticated, adding 'wow' factor with big ticket items

By Melanie B. Smith
msmith@decaturdaily.com · 340-2468

The "The Whip, Hammer & Cross" church drama in Decatur that has played each spring for 18 years has stopped its run.

But thousands of potential viewers won't be disappointed this year.

A new drama is taking its place, said the pastor of Calvary Assembly of God Church. The church's Easter production is now "The Blood Code."

It's not just audiences who would be disappointed if churches like Calvary quit their big productions.

Savvy productions

Drama, sound and lighting businesses do a big share of their business with religious groups, company representatives report. The result is more technically advanced, savvy productions, they said.

"Churches are an incredibly important share of the market," said Vic Lambert, a salesman with Norcostco in Atlanta and past president of the Georgia Theater Conference.

He said religious groups buy and rent fog machines, lights and other production equipment as well as costumes, makeup and props.

Norcostco's products range from 32-ounce jugs of stage blood priced at $28 to a $13,000 Xenon spotlight.

He said churches are reliable customers, and they pay their bills, "which is very important."

Lambert said over the past 25 or 30 years, the importance of drama in church has been growing. Churches are increasingly investing in equipment and training members to do lighting and sound, he said. Formerly, congregations had to hire professionals for technical work, Lambert said.

He described a technician he knows at a LaGrange, Ga., church as sophisticated in his knowledge.

"He probably knows as much as someone on Broadway," Lambert said.

Lambert said a minister told him that offerings collected at productions easily paid for equipment expenses.

At Theatrical Lighting Supply in Huntsville, church work is a big part of business, said Jessica Laney, marketing manager. She said TLS rents special equipment to congregations, especially Easter, but over the last few years the company is increasingly selling and installing theatrical lighting in churches.

"A lot of it is what you would expect in a concert hall," she said.

Some of the special lights include automated spots and fixtures that project patterns on walls, she said.

Churches have spent $30,000 to $60,000 to buy such theatrical lights for new or renovated sanctuaries, Laney said.

Special effects

Calvary Assembly has bought lighting, audio and other technical equipment in recent years, said Phyllis Sawyer, who directs the church's Easter and Christmas productions.

Calvary's dramas use wireless mikes, cameras, multiple big screens, surround sound and other complex techniques and equipment. Special effects add to "wow" factors, she said. Pyrotechnics accompany Jesus' Resurrection in Easter plays. His Ascension is in cloud-like fog. Angels and demons "fly" on cables.

The rentals of lights, special effects machines and other equipment might have cost $15,000 for drama shows previously, she said.

After years of buying equipment, Calvary now can save on rentals and budget less for shows — $15,000 to $20,000 total, Phyllis Sawyer said. Volunteers trained on the new equipment help enhance regular worship, too, she said.

Today's generation is oriented to visuals and audio, she said, so productions to reach them have to reflect that.

The cost and trouble to present "The Blood Code" and to do it well is worth it, Sawyer said, because people still need to hear about Jesus. She said the hopelessness she sees in people's faces can turn into joy, forgiveness and peace when they find him as Savior and Lord.

"The Blood Code" will have seven showings, starting Saturday at 7 p.m. Calvary's sanctuary can seat about 2,200. About 18,000 people have attended Easter shows in recent years, according to church leaders.

If you go

What: “The Blood Code”

Where: Calvary Assembly of God Church, Beltline Road at Glenn Street Southwest

When: Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m. Shows also will be Thursday through April 7 at 7 p.m. and April 8 at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Tickets: Performances are free. Reserved seating is available for a $2 handling fee. Call 355-7440 or go to www.thebloodcode.com.

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