Bloopers abound in Easter production

Published 8:03 am Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lifestyles & Features Editor

FARM LIFE — Costumed performers re-enacting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ move across the expansive set of “The Message of Easter.”
Suddenly, a youngster darts into the scene — a youngster in contemporary clothing who looks out of place among the full-length robes and head dresses of Biblical times.
Josie Hardison recalls the situation with laughter.
“A little boy, about 4 years old, ran up to a soldier and kicked him on the shin,” said Hardison, who portrays Mary Magdalene in the live drama. “He told him not to be mean to Jesus.”
That’s just one of the many unexpected things that can happen while presenting a live drama, which the congregation of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Martin County has done for over three decades.
“The Message of Easter,” which began its 31st season last week, resumes tonight and continues through Sunday nightly at 8 p.m.
Logan Hardison wasn’t the hapless recipient of the little boy’s well-aimed foot, but he does play a soldier now. The church and the drama have been mainstays in his life.
“I was born and raised in the church. I live just three miles away,” he said. “It’s fun doing this. The funniest thing is when something messes up.”
Hardison has been dubbed “the pigeon whisper” because of several encounters with the bird that stands in for a dove during one scene.
And then there’s Gus.
Hardison shares a dressing room of sorts with Gus, a donkey featured in the drama. Like his mother before him, Gus can be a bit unpredictable in scenes — his fellow actors never know when he’s going to take a notion to just sit right down in the middle of a scene.
“One of the things you can count on for comic relief is Gus,” said Sarah Hodges, a member of the tech crew. “You never know what Gus is going to do. If we have a diva in the cast, it’s Gus.”
While the antics of a donkey can’t be controlled, some bloopers can be avoided. That’s where Linda Taylor, widow of the drama’s founder E.T. Taylor, steps in.
Before each performance, she lays down the law: no chewing gum, eyeglasses, tennis shoes, white socks or watches. And leave your cell phone at home.
Weather can also play havoc with presenting live theater, according to Leslie Hardison, who plays Peter.
“One year, the ground was so wet my shoes stuck in the mud, so I just walked out of them,” said Hardison, who continued the scene in his bare feet.
This is Hannah Buck’s second season with the show, and her first portraying one of the most important women in the Bible, Mary, the mother of Jesus. She inherited the role, ironically enough, because her predecessor, Allison Durham, had a baby recently.
Buck did voice a stipulation before she accepted the role.
“I told them if I had to ride a donkey, they’d better get a Clydesdale because I have a lot of hiney to take,” she said with a laugh.
Sometimes the recorded rooster misses its cue in the denial scene. When that happens, a cast member will often fill in and make the sound.
But after 31 years, the cast and crew have learned to roll with whatever happens on stage and behind the scenes.
“We take the effort completely seriously, and the opportunity we have for outreach, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Hodges said.
And since each production is narrated live by Roger Ward, there’s always a blooper opportunity there.
“If he sneezes, everybody knows it,” Hodges said.
*For more information about Piney Grove Baptist Church and “The Message of Easter,” visit