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Sight & Sound Theater to Offer "Queen Esther" as a Live Television Event

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

For the first time ever, Sight & Sound theaters is bringing one of their epic theater performances to live television.  Nearly four years in development, their latest production, Queen Esther, will debut in a special worldwide pay per view event this Friday, September 4th, with encore performances available on Saturday and Sunday.

Visit Sight-Sound.tv for more information.

Queen Esther was prepared to launch as a stage production on March 14, 2020, but Sight & Sound was forced to cancel more than 200 shows due to the global coronavirus pandemic.  As a result, 400,000 ticket holders were unable to get a glimpse of this captivating tale from the Old Testament. 

Despite the shutdown, the timing for this production seems perfect, as Queen Esther is the story of a young woman who lives out her courageous faith in the midst of chaos.  Sound familiar?

I recently spoke with Sight & Sound’s Manager of Communications, Katie Miller, about the decision to offer Queen Esther as a live television event, the impeccable timing for showcasing Esther’s story, and what it teaches us for such a critical time as this.

First off, how have you and the Sight & Sound team been making it through the coronavirus pandemic so far?  Can you share a little bit about what has happened behind the scenes since you were forced to shut down both theaters in mid-March?

It has certainly been a challenging year but it's also been a year of continuing to see and experience the faithfulness of God in a very real way that we're incredibly grateful for. When we closed both of our theaters on March 20th we ended up furloughing 95% of our employees. For several months we had a handful of team members that remained to take care of the animals and the facilities. But otherwise we were in true dark mode. We're super grateful to be reopened now. We opened Noah in Branson on June 16th and just a few weeks ago reopened for the first time this year in Lancaster with Queen Esther, which is a brand-new show. Our premier show was to an extremely limited crowd. I think we had roughly 400 people (theater capacity is approximately 2,000) for the opening show. So, it's been quite a year for sure but one that we're continuing to walk forward in and hoping for the best as we continue to move ahead.

With the two shows on hold, did the actors continue to rehearse or did everything just stop?

Everything just stopped, especially here in Pennsylvania. Our government mandates were extremely tight, so we were not even technically supposed to have anybody meeting on the property since we were deemed a non-essential business for several months. So, there was a few months that the building itself, aside from a few animal caretakers, was completely empty. We did have about three weeks of rehearsals leading up to opening in both locations, but we were not rehearsing throughout the whole dark period.

As we have been discussing, Sight & Sound went dark in March, more than 200 shows were canceled, and 400,000 ticket holders didn’t get the opportunity to see Queen Esther.  Was the idea to do a live broadcast of the show on Labor Day weekend even a thought at that point?

It definitely was something that evolved. We did not come into this year with any intent to do a live broadcast. But it is something we've thrown around in the past. We had been doing Fathom events … filming our shows for wider distribution. Our heart continues to be to grow this ministry beyond our four borders. Taking the pandemic out of it, we know the whole world can't come visit us in two locations. And so, this year has felt like God took a little seed that had been planted. We've been saying for the last couple of years, we need to continue to grow. We knew we should put some focus on digital availability for our titles. We thought wouldn't it be great to someday do a live broadcast? We constantly float around “wouldn’t it be great someday” ideas.

And then, while the whole world has been at a standstill, it feels like it's the thing that God has been cultivating in us at Sight & Sound, causing us to grow at a much faster speed than we ever could have been able to do if we were in a normal mode of operation.

Specifically, what can you tell me about the live broadcast?  I understand there are going to be a whole lot of cameras in the theater for this.

Yes, we are super excited. We will be having a pre-show and an intermission show as well. There will be live cams, backstage and interviews. We will be sharing our heart for what this year has been and what we believe God is doing, not just with Sight & Sound, but with this story. Specifically, we're going to have 10 cameras. It's going to be broadcast in 4K, high definition all the way around. We'll be broadcasting in true live form that Friday night, September 4th, but we know that that time may not work for everybody. So, on Saturday and Sunday, there will be encore times that will be live streams of the broadcast from Friday night.

Will the show look any different from what viewers see in a typical Sight & Sound theater experience?

No, we really want the theater experience to translate through on the screen. We will have a physically distanced in-house audience that night just like we do for regular performances. We really want that theatrical experience to translate through on the screen. The thing that makes theater so special is the fact that it is unfolding in real time and you're a part of it. The audience is as much a part of it as the players on stage. Any actor or actress that's ever been on stage will tell you that there is something special that happens when you have an audience. And so, knowing that this audience is going to be a global audience across the screen, it doesn't change anything for us in the way that we want to present the show.

Your chief creative officer, Josh Enck, has been quoted as saying, “Esther’s story is one of courageous faith in the midst of chaos.”  Do you feel the same way about Sight & Sound the last few months in this time of COVID-19?

God knew exactly what the world was going to need, what we were going to need in this season. Watching Queen Esther have her entire world turned upside down (was incredible). She in some ways went into quarantine in a palace. She was taken from her home, her family, her friends, everything, and was very much alone in the palace. (She experienced) everything from social injustice to complete chaos and uncertainty swirling around her while she is trying to find the courage to just be still and know that God has a plan in the middle of all of it. She just needs to trust Him. It's like we wrote it for now but we didn’t. We wrote it three and a half years ago.

If the live TV broadcast is successful, are there plans to make this more of a regular event going forward?

That is the question of the hour and one that we have already decided we're not even going to talk about until we get through the first one. I think we all just need to know that we can do it and do it well. I think our hopes for the future, we know what Sight & Sound is and what we're called to do, and that God has been growing us for the last couple of years. And even in this year, He has taken us so much further, so much faster than we ever could have done on our own, even in the midst of all of the challenges. We're really excited to see what's going to be around the corner and what He has in store for us next.

Final question, after people have viewed this production of Queen Esther on live television or in the theater, what would you like audiences to take away from the experience?  What is your greatest hope for the production?

I think my own experience of quarantine this year and of the world being just so uncertain and so chaotic provided moments of reflection and going inward and saying, ‘What does God have me here for? What's my part in this?’ For this show specifically, the final line of the show is something like, ‘May we all have the courage to trust God and know that He has planted us right where we are for such a time as this.’ For me, that is what I keep telling my kids throughout this year and what I keep trying to remind myself of. When there are moments of what is going on and how do I do what God has called me to do when I'm in my house, or when things aren't open, or when our theater isn't open, how am I supposed to do this? And trusting that even in the middle of not understanding everything that might be happening around us, that God knows. He has planted truly every single one of us, right where we are for His purposes and for a calling that is so far beyond what we even might know in this moment. That's our hope for what audiences walk away with …that is knowing that they too are designed and created with a purpose for this moment in history.

Visit Sight-Sound.tv for more information on the Queen Esther live televsion event.

Watch a trailer fo Sight & Sound's Queen Esther:

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