The Advent Season will get a lively boost on Sunday, Dec. 4 when Performance ADVENTure comes to Wesley’s Oxnam Chapel. A product of Dr. Tracy Radosevic’s “Performing Scripture” course, the event uses scriptural storytelling to lead the audience through the Advent stories in a dynamic and inviting manner.
“I’ve been referring to it as a ‘story-telling concert,’” Radosevic said. “Most people hear ‘concert’ and they think musical, and we might actually start with a hymn. The majority of the experience, though, will be the stories.”
Not all of those stories will be the usual Christmas fare. “You have to do some of them, of course,” Radosevic said. “But the overall intent is to lead up to the need for Jesus to come into the world.”
The class hopes to provide the context in which the Christmas story appears. “For most people, Advent is Christmas-Lite,” Radosevic said. “We don’t normally use these four weeks to actually think about why this event was even necessary in the first place.”
To that end, the nine stories to be presented include moments from Genesis, Micah, Acts, Revelation and the Gospel of Luke.
In addition to some potentially surprising texts, Radosevic hopes the performance brings the more familiar stories to life in unexpected ways. “Some of these stories we hear every year at this time, but most people have never heard them performed.”
Student storyteller Jessica Davenport found those stories come to life in surprising ways. “The most challenging part of biblical storytelling has been giving myself permission to hear the stories for the first time and telling the stories that way,” she said.
Davenport, who used to think a “demure, contained reading of Scripture” was the way to show reverence, sees things differently now. “So many parts of our stories of how God interacts with humanity are miraculous, hilarious, scandalous. I think I have taken that aspect of Scripture for granted,” she said.
“Now, I realize that it is reverent to bring life to the Scriptures through performance in order to capture the spirit and life of God’s people contained in our stories.”
The difference, according to Radosevic, is enormous. “It adds a whole new dimension to the scriptural passage,” she said of her students’ work. “Literally, it takes a two-dimensional experience on the page and makes it a three-dimensional experience in which these stories and characters are embodied.”
She calls this dynamic process, “putting flesh back on the fossil.”
“There are people who have read the whole Bible many times,” she said. “They think they know it well. Then they experience those stories in performance and it blows their socks off. It’s like they’re hearing it for the first time.”
Radosevic lists voice inflection, dramatic pauses, facial expressions and posture as just a few of the key elements of performance. “They add a whole lot to the ‘fossil’ that we have inherited through the silent, written word,” she said. “The fossil can tell us a lot, but it’s not the living creature.”
Radosevic’s passion fuels her “Performing Scripture” course, which prepares students to work in a “post-Gutenberg world” by illustrating how different things were prior to the invention of the printing press.
“It’s impossible now to understand what a pre-Gutenberg culture would have actually been like,” Radosevic said. “All the information you received you would have received by hearing it.”
To give her students a taste of that world, Radosevic has made the course paper-free. Even evaluation is done orally, she said.
Relationship building is also key. “That’s intrinsic to an oral culture,” she said. “A lot of the class has been about creating a sense of community, of trust, and deepening relationships with each other.”
Throughout the course, Radosevic maintains a high standard for learning and understanding the scriptural passages being performed. “The tellers stick closely to the Bible,” she said. “The formula is to be 70 percent word accurate but 90 percent content accurate. It’s important to maintain the integrity of the text.”
Radosevic has been performing scripture since 1990 and doing it professionally for more than two decades. She now travels the world performing, leading seminars and preaching.
An opportunity for reflection is a key component of the experience. “There will be a chance for people to ask questions and share their thoughts,” she said of the upcoming Performance ADVENTure event.
“We’ll ask our audience, ‘What did you experience? What questions do you have about this process?’ And the audience will be welcome to ask students about their experience as well.”
For Davenport, that experience has already been a profound one. “It has been wonderful to rediscover how relatable and accessible the stories in our scriptures are,” she said.
“When angels visit Mary, or God talked to Moses through a bush on fire, we can acknowledge those instances are surreal and bizarre compared to our experiences, and in doing so it helps me dig into what that means about our God.”
On the other hand, the work has also helped Davenport recognize a common humanity with the Biblical characters. “Reclaiming that our foremothers and fathers were average people seeking God like us has helped me understand the Scriptures in a new way,” she said.
Share in the experience this weekend with the Wesley community on Sunday, Dec. 4 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Oxnam Chapel.