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Runaway-Jesus

Photo Credit: Joshua Pwee

First of all, I’m immensely honoured to be able to act as Jesus for this year’s at City Harvest Church. This post is about my personal journey to portraying the Son of Man in 2015’s Easter drama, Runaway. It will have my own revelations as I prepare to become Him. This is my first time acting as Him on a public stage and it is definitely the toughest role I’ve ever had. You see…

It Completely Terrified Me To Act As Jesus

2 years ago, I was at the funeral of a friend’s grandmother. He was a fellow actor in the Drama Ministry and the directors Sandy and Jaslynn were there.

Runaway-with-Directors

It’s all good, it’s all good

It was then that I told them I received a word… a vision from God. That one day, I would be acting as Jesus. And truth be told, I was terrified. Absolutely terrified. I really felt like Jonah and wanted to run the other direction. I remember telling God “How can I act as Jesus? It’s such an immense task and I’m definitely not worthy!” Back then, I wasn’t that close to the directors yet and am just happy serving in whatever role that was given to me.

The next year though, I was acting as Judas and was tasked to shadow and understudy Ed, who was acting as Jesus. During the preview for our Executive Producer, Sun Ho, Ed wasn’t able to make it as he had to settle some work overseas… I stood in as Jesus. By that time, I had already memorized his lines so I was able to stand in as Jesus. Which was rather interesting as I was also acting as a crazed Judas later so someone else had to stand in for Jesus while I acted as Judas. Which also kind of helped my character then as I had like… 2 different characters in my mind.

Fast forward to about 2 months ago, when auditions for Easter 2015 began… I was called in to audition either for the lead role of Amon or Jesus. You know now which character I ended up with.

Was I ready? Heck, no! But a daily verse app I had on my phone told me that God doesn’t wait for me to get ready. And even if I was ready, I wouldn’t have known what to do anyway.

Romans 5:6 - 8 (MSG)

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

So when I became Jesus, I relied on Him heavily. And it was through this that I got a revelation – God uses people when they’re not ready… so they can rely on Him a lot more to do the work He has tasked them to do. It was a word I’ve heard so many times and now I have lived through it.

The Physical Transformation

Even though I didn’t want to do it, I knew I had to undergo a physical transformation. At the time when I was given the role, I was round and out of shape. I had only about a month before show time so I needed to do something.

Knowing that I don’t have the habit of going to the gym or exercising, I needed to find a solution. So I went over to Groupon and bought myself a weight loss program to get started. I got the upsell as well and it cost me $804.64 in total for 4 sessions. Not wanting to waste the money I’ve already put in, I worked with the program and went on a no-carbs diet to match it.

It was SO HARD because I love rice, I love noodles, I love bread, I love pasta, I love pizza, I love sushi, I love to eat, I love supper (I had it almost every night) and I did not want to stop doing those. But I had a role to do and I didn’t want to showcase a very out-of-shape Jesus.

UrbanHomme

Went from 70.4kg at start to 67.4kg in less than 2 weeks

After losing the weight, I started hitting the gym to maintain the weight loss. I started running and doing some weights, while working on my stomach. I was insanely hungry very often but I resisted the urge to eat any carbs during this time. By the time the show started, I had lost 2 pants sizes… from 34 to 32. Quite a difference, my pants were seriously loose.

I had to do another “first” in my life… Waxing. I had to make sure my legs were clean of any hair as the removal of the make up for the crucifixion scene will definitely… hurt. To say the least. If you enjoy watching hair get ripped off a guy’s legs (my legs), enjoy the video below.

No screams were recorded as I am a manly Son of Man. I simply laugh off as my leg hairs that have been with me for decades get ripped away in a merciless, greenish, solidified goo.

I can’t say I’ve managed to hit the perfect body in less than a month, but I can say I’ve definitely lost weight since almost everyone I’ve met in church since I started the diet were asking me if I’ve lost weight. Maybe one day, I can show a stronger build if I ever get tasked with this role again.

The Challenges Faced

The road to the last show sure wasn’t easy, it was filled with it’s own little drama stories in my life. There was a script overhaul, there were injuries and the “water didn’t flow”.

Script Overhaul

Multiple script versions

Originally, it was titled “Chasing The Wind”. At last count, it was version 5.

Imagine… 2 weeks before the show… the script gets changed. Like, seriously modified. And all the memorized lines were now discarded. Characters get changed, scenes rehearsed for the past couple of weeks were now discarded and some characters even got brand new scenes. Why though? After our first preview of piecing the show together with all the various parts, the show just did not feel right.

Even though it will be a huge task to change the show at that point (we only had 2 weeks to showtime)… it was necessary. This wasn’t a show for any other reason but for lives to be touched and souls to be saved. A big responsibility was on our shoulders and we had to make it work. The amazing thing was, everyone rose up to the occasion and did it. One of the reasons why I love serving in this awesome ministry.

Injuries

During rehearsals leading up to the show after we needed to do the script overhaul, my father was hospitalized. He had always been strong and him being hospitalized was a surprise to the family. During the rehearsals, 2 other actors also had their children hospitalized for viral infections.

Then just a day before the show, during the rehearsal as we practiced with the cross… as the soldiers lifted me up, the fast movement caused a sharp jerk and I suffered a nerve compression injury. Both my arms were numb and I could not feel my arms properly. Over the next few shows, the numbness recovered on the right but it persisted in my left arm.

Then during one of the shows, as I was brought down from the cross and hauled over the soldier’s shoulder (hey, it rhymes!), he wasn’t able to hold me properly and my entire weight was supported on my rib instead of my stomach. It’s kind of like someone punching me in the exact spot on my right rib with each step.

Just wanted to add I’m not laying blame on anyone, accidents happen and I actually consider this “memorial battle scars” since I fully believe I will recover given enough time.

Water didn’t flow

why-no-waterFor every show, I needed to put on makeup and about 2 hours was needed for the scarred body effect. I would be spray tanned, glued, blasted by hot air from hair dryers and painted on. After every show, I need help to remove it all. The makeup ministry removes the scars and colouring from my body as much as they can before I go back home to wash it all off.

The waters would always be pinkish as the residual make up gets washed off. But, after finishing one of the shows and getting home, I find out that my entire block’s water supply pump broke! What are the chances of that happening since it only happened like one other time in the 16 years I’ve lived here?

So I could only wait until it was midnight while the town council folks fixed it before I finally could shower and rest, so I can get up for the next show.

Relying on God and supported by prayers

Throughout the entire time, I was continually prayed for by the Drama Ministry team, the backstage crew, people from other ministries. The news of my injury from Thursday night was shared with everyone as I went to the hospital a few hours on Friday morning before showtime. Along the way, a prompting in my spirit told me that I’m being prayed for.

I really learned to lean on God just as how Jacob/Israel leaned on God through his weakness. I was filled with love and compassion as many of them asked me how I was and prayed for me before the show started. I really believe that one of the contributing reasons why I was able to carry this role was because I carried the prayers from the people with me onto the stage into the show.

I was not doing this by my power, but truly relying on His grace to empower me. There was no fear, there was only love and assurance as I went on stage. Even though my arms were still numb during the show, they were strong. God really used me when I was weak and I was made strong while acting as Him.

The Spiritual Playlist

With advice from Sandy, I played a few songs on loop throughout the month. I chose 3 songs and listened to them over and over through the days.

  • Hillsongs – Have Your Way
  • Hillsongs – The Potter’s Hand
  • Kari Jobe – Hands to the Heavens

The song which really spoke to me was “The Potter’s Hand” with the following lyrics:

And I’m captured by Your Holy calling

Set me apart, I know You’re drawing me to Yourself

Lead me Lord, I pray

Take me and mold me, use me, fill me

I give my life to the Potter’s hand

Call me, You guide me, lead me, walk beside me I give my life to the Potter’s hand

Becoming Jesus wasn’t a character that I needed to snap out of when it was all over, I felt it was God using this opportunity to draw me closer to Him. The lyrics were a perfect match to how I felt and I cried worshipping through this song.

How I Envisioned Jesus

One of the most important things to me for a character is their sound. During the early stages of the rehearsals, I had forgotten that I always created a voice for the characters as I was very focused on getting all the lines right. But when the directors reminded me that one of the things I always did was to create a sound… I remembered.

When I was acting as the demoniac for Crossroads in 2013 (also one of my favourite roles), my voice was extremely contorted and clearly not human. I’m pretty proud of the fact that no audio effects were used for my voice. Then there was Judas in 2014, Detective Lee for Drama Fest 2014 where I used a Hong Kong accent throughout the entire show, the Watchmaker for Christmas 2014. All these characters had a voice which helps me identify them.

How does Jesus sound like? What characteristics do I want to showcase through His speech? I spoke fast naturally so I had to slow down my pace a lot. Not as slow as the Watchmaker as Jesus was in His 30s. To me, Jesus would sound…

  • Strong yet gentle
  • Firm yet loving

Those were tough characteristics to create as it was a very fine balance. Ultimately, it came down to the tonality of each speech and line. So I had to map out which line would be soft and which line had to be strong. I really relied on the directors feedback as I tried out each line for every rehearsal. It was comforting to know that I had a very strong actor, Wee Lee, as the lead. He was the lead for 2012 and has acted as Jesus before. His advice and experience really helped to make things easier.

The-Lord-Photobombs

If you look carefully, you might see the Lord

The Scourging and Crucifixion

Without a doubt, my favourite scene was the scourging and crucifixion. When we were planning for this scene, I suggested that I wear a white robe and that the scourging would leave whip marks on my body. What I didn’t expect was that just DAYS before the show, the amazing talents of Lucas Chia, Mark Kwan, Alex Foo and Jeffrey Choong created the dramatic slow motion video and music track. It was only when I watched the recording that I saw how moving it was. Truly amazing!

Something I added for every show that was not in the script, was to cry out “Abba!” as the soldiers nail my hands onto the cross. It was easily lost as I was shouting in pain throughout and I believe He cried out to God as it happened. I give credit for that moment to The Passion of The Christ.

On the cross, I originally wanted to wheeze out and almost whisper “It is finished” as it would have been extremely hard to breathe but it would have been too soft for the mic to pick up. So in exchange, I opted to have slow and painful deep breaths to finally push out His final words.

We know He suffered. We know He could not breathe. At that moment, He could have easily just spoke to God in His head and in His heart. But He didn’t. He mustered strength and proclaimed the words. The revelation for me here was that no matter how tough the situation you are in, you must speak out the words. Jesus spoke out in spite of the immense pain He was going through. He cried out for you and me. He loves us so much that in spite of it all, He still spoke words of love, forgiveness and finished the work He set out to do.

If you want to, you can watch the recording of the show here.

Final Words

Thanks for reading thus far. I have been very blessed and challenged to do this role. After watching the recording, I really feel there’s so much more I can improve on to becoming a better actor. There are tons of people I want to thank…

  • Directors Sandy and Jaslyn – for believing in me enough to cast me for this role, they saw potential and took a risk by going with it not knowing how the church would react to a brand new Jesus.
  • Wee Lee – the lead actor for this show. He’s actually extremely busy and had to juggle so many things while preparing for his role. His dedication to excellence constantly reminds me that I can do better.
  • Jazmin – my intercessor who keeps praying for me in my place, I know I’m protected by this young girl’s faithfulness to prayer.
  • Lingual and Chin Ling – worked so hard to change the script and work life into it. Amazing!
  • Bernard Loh, Brian, Chay Yeow, Peishi, Hongyi, Nelson, Andrea, Priscilla, Eunice, Daniel Ang, Daniel Chong, Youko, Irene, Jeremy Teo, Winnie, Emi-san, Louisa, Cheryl, Yuko, Adi, Jace, Faith, Jicai, Shawn Wong, Andy, Lex, Stephanie, Veracia, Charmaine, Jing Yee, Vivienne, Emily, Bernard Lau, Felicia, Gerald, Alan Raj, Tony, Walter, Chela, all the make up ministry ladies, the backstage crew, sound crew, lighting crew, Kah Meng, camera crew, Lucas and Ivan Chia, Mike Kwah, Mark Kwan, Sun, Gary Sim, Karuna, Sylvester, Ernest, Rainft, Ines, Benedict, Madeline, Long Ge, Jack, Electropopsicles, Suraj – all of you… THANK YOU for keeping me in prayers and thinking of me, love each and every one of you, a little bit from everyone amounts to a lot.

I will recover from the injury and continue to serve in His kingdom. Thank you for all your prayers. Do leave me a comment, I’d love to read your comments. May God bless you greatly and abundantly!