Special Photo Actors perform a scene from "The Messiah" presented by Victorious Life Church in Conyers.
Walking into Victorious Life Church this week feels like stepping into the world where Jesus walked more than 2,000 years ago. The Conyers church has transformed itself into the holy land as it prepares to present "The Messiah," a full-scale theatrical drama offered free to the public.
This is the third year the church has presented its special Easter drama, which is based on the biblical accounts of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, but features different characters and dialogue each year.
"The Messiah" will be presented March 29 and 30 at 7 p.m. and March 31 at 10:30 a.m. Admission is free.
Written by Dana Cline, who has been a member of the church for four years, the drama was first written by Cline 20 years ago when she was attending a church in Maryland. The daughter of a minister who has been in church all her life, Cline said she grew up watching Easter dramas.
She was working at the Maryland church when she wrote the first script and says it "has progressed from there."
Cline said she sort of "fell into it" when she wrote that first script, but now says she feels it is a calling. It has become her specialty, as well and she has been invited to numerous other churches to help them start similar productions.
"It is strictly from the Bible," she said. "We use scenes taken out of the Bible. The songs are modern day songs and more contemporary. It's Christian music you hear on the radio now. Our sets and costumes and everything else, we try to keep in the time period."
While the story of Easter never changes, the way Cline writes the scripts each year changes. She takes out some scenes and features new ones.
This year's production is taken from the words of John, a disciple of Jesus. The story unfolds as he is on the Isle of Patmos talking to the soldiers there about the messiah. As he tells the story of his walk with Jesus, the production progresses with characters, dialogue, soloists and choir performances.
Cline said she has been invited to other churches to help with Easter dramas. One church in Maryland has presented "The Messiah" for 15 years.
"(Each production) is different because of the way we write it and it's not a book-written program that churches buy and perform," Cline said. "It's very unique. No one else has this program. It's very powerful. Everyone who comes and sees it says, 'I've never seen anything like that before.'
"It's been compared a lot to the Atlanta Passion Play, but ours is different in that we don't use anyone outside the church. It's just one of those things that you have to see to believe it. It's not something you will see anywhere else."
When Cline made Victorious Life her home church four years ago, she said the church was receptive to doing the production.
"(Gary Waterman), the music minister there is awesome and we got together and decided to bring this free to the community," Cline said. "It's good entertainment. We don't want to make anything off of this. That has been our goal."
The script for the upcoming production was finished in August, and actors began immediately working on their parts. Cline said it takes about a week to build the stages and said everything from the acting, singing, lighting, sound and all other facets involved in "The Messiah" is all done by church members.
"We have three artists in our church and they volunteer all their time and come in to build the stage for us," Cline said. "We have people working tirelessly behind the scenes."
She said Larry Sanders heads up the artists working on the sets along with about 100 other people involved in other jobs needed to present "The Messiah" and all of them will be busy as the drama is unveiled this weekend. The production includes special effects, as well as great sound and lighting, Cline said.
"Our church is steeped in talent," she said. "We've got a 40-member choir and any one of them could sing a solo at any given time ... We don't have any actors we hire to do this. This is all pulled from our church. All those who do the lighting, sound and everything are from the church. Even the guys who do the special effects go to our church.
"They have been at the church for nights now, building everything behind the sets that nobody will see, but when they're at the program, they'll say, 'Oh, wow, that's great.'"
Cline said "The Messiah" runs for 90 minutes and is appropriate for all ages. A nursery will be provided. The church is located at 1615 Old McDonough Highway located behind the post office in Conyers. For more information, visit www.vlcog.com.