What and Why is Revival?
Revival began as a challenge. In all candor it has remained a challenge and, occasionally, even extended to the level of ordeal
since it began. To the curious soul who may at some point wonder, the genesis of Revival was sparked by a question from Cheryl Harris several years ago while leaving the sanctuary following a
church service. It must have been January or February of 2013. One of my favorite collaborators in the arts ministry at church, Cheryl innocently enough asked: “Brother Harry, are we doing a
presentation for Easter?”
My church, New Antioch Church of God in Christ, had something of a reputation for performance and pageantry. The church was founded by the
Lewis family over 4 decades ago and Dr. Holly Carter, the leader of the arts ministry, had involved me from time to time for about 20 of those years. I had been an assistant director my
first time there on another Passion Play written and directed by Mother Bean—a series of episodes, with a gospel music chorus, surrounding Jesus’ last week before the Resurrection. My first thought
was to revive that production, but then I recalled Holly and her work with the Merge Summit, as well as a dissertation she had written in pursuit of another degree in theology. Both the summit and
paper proposed an intersection of faith and commerce in the entertainment industry.
There are certainly hundreds of Passion Plays every Easter in churches across the land. And everyone knows that faith and commerce have
commingled from the days of snake oil and itinerate preachers of whatever belief system. But there was something in that dissertation and in abundant evidence at the Merge Summit that was aching to
be born. Somehow this play had to be different, bigger—more ambitious. Why had we not seen a version of the sweeping epic story of Christ using the great contribution of traditional Black sacred
music? Gospel music is popular the world over, and yet nothing combining the scriptural account of the Evangelists with this undeniably powerful music had been considered as a film or a commercial
theater venture. So odd. So obvious. But how could it be accomplished? In show business the central question is always: “How?” It is the inevitable consequence of deciding what to do and why to do
Holly had called for “Marketplace Ministry.” The idea that those outside of the sanctuary of a faith community, the “un-churched,” were
those most in need of the message of salvation. It was a mixer of sorts, between Church and Business. Merge presented an opportunity for such a connection to materialize. But, then, what would the
content be? What form would it take, and in what medium? Could, for example, a Passion Play work as a concert film? Hence, I approached Holly and New Antioch for permission to undertake the initial
church production with the idea of filming a rather rudimentary version of Revival to sell in churches, conventions, revivals, online. That is to say to produce Revival as marketplace ministry,
For weeks I perused the internet and the television for previous offerings of the life of Christ. I had already seen most of it them and
they ranged from the epic to the absurd. I kept returning to The Greatest Story Ever Told, George Stephens gorgeous film starring Max von Sydow was a grand, aesthetic approach.
A cel from any portion of the film could be hung in the Musée d’Orsay. It fairly brims with reverence for its Subject. Still, it seems for and of another time. Yet, the high craftsmanship,
the nuanced high style of the performances and the nobility of the score is altogether fitting. Worthy of God in its consideration and achievement. It remains an awe-inspiring fait
accompli of Theological Aesthetics in film. Imagine if that level of detail, technique and technology were applied to a living and palpable present. Imagine Christ as our
contemporary, with a song in his heart that spoke to a real experience of a people in a situation similar to his own. Howard Thurman had lectured on Jesus and the “Disinherited.”His
towering work in theology drew direct lines of commonality between the most famous man in history and the contemporary condition of American Blacks. Indeed, there was increasing
acknowledgement that Jesus was himself a man of color. For some reason few, if any, attempts had been made to realize the rich bounty of scripture as Living Art. At best most depictions of the role
of faith in Black life relegated the Church to the background. A scene may take place in a house of prayer, but it served as a canvas on which to play out a standard melodrama. We had before us a
wide open field with the world and all of its history as the canvas on which to paint Faith as the chief subject.
There it was, then: an opportunity to bridge theology, art, culture, and modern technology. To bring to bear all of our method, study,
skill, and sacred obligation to a product for the people. A chance to imprint a growth industry in the media for a largely ignored demographic, devoutly loyal to their faith and already conditioned
to support those endeavors that speak to their spiritual core. Revival can be, in itself, the equivalent of the fresh produce section in the Christian Marketplace. Something entirely new and urgently
needed in a desperate time. In Isaiah 43:19 God says:
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.
Revival is intended as a river. As much a direction as it is a destination. One cannot even regard its elements as novel— Revival is a
return to the root source of Black Faith. A deconstruction of “faith based” to the very basis of the Christian faith. A derivation of dance ministry, evangelism, and traditional stage craft and movie
magic. All the more reason to believe in the potential lure of this modern version of an enduring story. If Revival is proven viable in distribution it can help to carve out an entirely new genre of
Black Faith Entertainment. There is neither interference nor competition in the field at present. The price points are predetermined, the audience is virtually starved for content, and the level of
execution for our ambitions is limited only by imagination and daring.
The great and under-explored virtue in Black Faith Entertainment is that is infinite. With rare exception Black media is understandably and
overwhelmingly concerned with secular matters. Even those purveyors of “content” in the entertainment marketplace who are clerics have abandoned the sacred for the profane. The conventional wisdom in
so doing is undeniable: horror, romantic comedy, suspense, et al. are proven winners from a bottom line point of view. That said, it seems irresistibly evident that the Black Church is the most
socially, economically, and culturally rich industry in the world. The fact that the world is fractious with anxiety and antipathy should make Revival and its anticipated offspring all the more
needed. We shall soon see.
The Gospels have always struck me as a love letter to the world from Jesus. We endeavor to make Revival a love letter from the world to
Jesus. Ones who might just open their minds and hearts to the possibility of representative redemption in the media for the heretofore disinherited. After all, nothing succeeds like good