With a song in their heart, they give up a chunk of their winter, spring and summer to tell stories — hoping to touch and change lives across the country.
Sydney Sanborn struggles to adequately describe why such a sacrifice matters in her busy, teenage life.
“It’s something unexplainable,” she said. “It’s a place free of judgment and just love. It’s a place where all the crazy things teenagers have to deal with disappear. It’s something that makes me happy even on my worst days.”
And it’s something that often leaves people teary-eyed while feeling God’s love.
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That’s what a little Sonshine apparently can do.
Sonshine is a 39-member traveling teen troupe performing original, Broadway-style, biblical musicals at churches across the country for a week each summer. The group will present “Chains,” the New Testament story of the life of Saul-turned-Paul, at 7 p.m. Thursday at Columbus’ First Lutheran Church, 3600 25th St.
Mark Fox, 52, founded the Columbus, Ohio-based troupe in 1980 as a way to present age-old stories in a contemporary fashion. A third of Sonshine’s members come from Bethel International United Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio, where Fox, a retired band teacher, serves as director of contemporary music. Another third come from Hilliard United Methodist, near Columbus, Ohio. And another third come from various parts of the Columbus, Ohio metro area.
The group travels by bus with its own costumes, props and lights.
“One of the main points of church is to tell stories of the faith,” Fox said. “Of course, we read the Bible in church.
“But especially in today’s very visual culture, to see the Bible portrayed is important. I believe the real competition for church (time and focus) is not a bunch of activities on Sunday. It’s actually Disney. Because Disney is telling great stories.
Using detailed drama to tell stories has more impact, he said.
And the impact isn’t just for the audience, but also for the teen actors, as Fox has found. Many over the years have mentioned that the productions have bolstered their own faith.
“It brings us closer to God,” cast member Dylan Newcomb said.
“Do we do Sonshine for the audience? Or do we do Sonshine for the student cast?” Fox asked. “The answer is yes.”
“Chains,” written by Fox’s brother Kurt, is set in a Roman jail cell as Paul reminisces about his experiences and spiritual conversion. Scenes include the trial of Peter and John, the stoning of Stephen, and, finally, Paul’s life-altering encounter on the road to Damascus.
The show is one among four that Sonshine presents. In last year’s production, “Dream Maker,” highlighting the Old Testament character of Joseph, emotion took center stage at some points.
For instance, in one scene, a brother’s lament of regret — selling his sibling into slavery — stood starkly in a single spotlight in the classic tale of roundabout redemption. And an emotional voice sang, “I would change yesterday if only I could/But for tomorrow and today, I’ll cherish your brotherhood.”
Audiences range from perhaps 50 to 250 people, depending upon the size of churches. At the end of each show, teens leave the stage and mingle with viewers and listeners.
“That’s some of the most important ministry,” Fox said.
Some audience members grow emotional when they feel a surge of hope from Sonshine’s stories. Fox’s teens notice that, which he considers an important element linking to their passion to rehearse beginning in November for the shows.
“Through this,” Fox said, “I want people to see that Christian teenagers recognize the power of storytelling — and the power of transformation.”
Who: Traveling teen troupe Sonshine performing its original musical, “Chains” about the New Testament story of the life of Paul.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Columbus’ First Lutheran Church, 3600 25th St.
Admission: Free, but a collection will be taken to help the group cover expenses.
Information: 812-372-1256 or sonshineproductions.org.