Why did you decide to dramatize biblical stories?
The goal of a Christian fellowship on campus is to give others the opportunity to learn about Jesus and that is what I do in Always the Women. I want to show people these powerful stories where Jesus is the main character and to give people a chance to consider him. A wonderful side of Jesus comes out in these stories. Performing on the campus gives students the opportunity to see Jesus. No matter what Christians have done, this is actually word for word what Jesus said and what Jesus did. I think that is very important to impact the campus and maybe give people who have said, “No” to even considering Christianity a chance to rethink that.
How does presenting Scripture through drama affect people?
The stories in the Bible are incredible, but we get used to reading them. We open our Bible and we read these stories and say, ‘Oh Jesus raised a little girl from the dead. Great he does that kind of thing.’ But we don’t really think about what it would be like to actually be there. In Scripture-drama, the narrator tells the story as if they had actually been there, and the stories come to life on stage.
I love to perform for people for whom the stories are new. They laugh at the things that are funny, because there are a lot of funny things. They respond just the way we ought to respond. I like performing Always the Women in neutral territory, because it enables Christians and non-Christians to deal with the stories where we can all come fresh and experience the stories together.
What I enjoy about these particular stories is how radical Jesus was in his approach to women. He very much treated them as partners in ministry, and he saw them as no one else in his culture did. And that impresses a lot of people.
How did you get started in this ministry?
I was a theater major in college, but what I’m doing now started when I got a brochure in the mail for summer staff training. I saw an actor’s training workshop, and I immediately thought, I want to go. I did and during it we each worked on a piece from the Bible. I love the process of study and rehearsal. It was my first time working with a real professional who loved God’s Word and who loved Jesus. It was very healing for me after feeling so alone in my theater arts department.
Two things came out of that experience: one was I decided I need to do more Scripture-drama, so I’ll do the passages for our Area Fall Conference. The second was I wanted to talk with a friend who was the producing-director at the Stockton Civic Theater about the possibilities of doing a longer piece. One evening after a performance, I went into my friend’s office and said that I was doing this thing where I take the words of the Bible and bring them to life, and I wondered what would it take to perform something like that here? He had trouble understanding what I was doing and he said, well, show him something. So I showed him a piece of John 9, and he was amazed. He loved it and right away, he said, ‘Well, you never see that!” And right then I thought, well, then that is what I’m going to do. Because I love those stories, and they have changed my life.
Nina Thiel is a graduate of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, where she danced with the Pacific Dance Ensemble and studied acting. Since her graduation, Nina has been a campus minister with InterVarsity at Fresno State University and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo in California, and at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Her specialties include leadership development, campus strategy, Bible teaching, and gender issues. She has also written three chapters of The Small Group Leaders’ Handbook.
Nina and her husband, Larry, have three children, Catherine, John and Daniel. In addition to her work with InterVarsity, Nina dances with Stockton’s New Dance Company, advises Tri-Delta sorority at the University of the Pacific, and teaches adults at Stockton Covenant Church. You can email Nina at firstname.lastname@example.org.