BRANSON, Mo. — Some of the pivotal moments of Rodney Coe’s life happened thanks to the stage.
There was the high school teacher who saw potential in a hard-working freshman and gave him a role. There was the college scholarship in theater.
After college, there was a season in which Coe says the boy from Greenfield who grew up going to church was in New York City and going his own way. Even then, Coe bumped into a guy he knew from acting circles — a guy who invited him to a Bible study. It turned out to be a study that made Coe’s faith come alive.
“It went from a head knowledge of ‘Jesus is Lord’ to ‘Jesus is my Lord,” Coe said.
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Now, Coe is part of pivotal moments acted out on stage and also those experienced by an audience. He helps bring Bible stories to life in epic fashion as part of the cast at Sight & Sound Theatres’ location in Branson, Missouri.
Five days a week he plays Moses’ brother, Aaron, in the musical “Moses.” He’s part of a large costumed cast that sings, dances and mingles with live animals during more than two hours of telling the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.
“Not only is the quality of the work good, but the scale of it is epic,” Coe said.
That experience requires stamina. The stage is as long as a football field, and the sets reach as high as three stories. When the cast gathers before the show, the preparation includes not only vocal warmups but also a little stretching.
But Coe has never been a stranger to hard work, said Jack Rhoades, a retired Greenfield-Central High School teacher who directed him in several productions. He remembers the young man who acted but helped paint scenery, who was a natural tenor but worked with coaching from his teacher at producing the baritone tones needed to play Captain von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.”
“He never made a mistake,” Rhoades said of Coe’s high school performances. “He worked at it like this was his life.”
Rhoades later went to bat for Coe, convinced he could make it in college.
“Most people don’t really know who they are” in high school, Coe said. “He took the time and took a risk and invested in me, and I’m so glad he did.”
After graduating from high school in 1991, Coe went to the University of Indianapolis for two years. As a youth he suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy, and the university had a program to help students with special needs.
Near the close of his teens, however, his symptoms diminished, Coe said. A once-struggling student was now making As and Bs. He sought to be a fish in a bigger pond, taking his talents to Ball State University, where he graduated in 1997.
Coe is in his sixth year with Sight & Sound. Before moving to Branson, he acted in Sight & Sound’s Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, location, most recently playing the title role in “Jonah.”
Amanda Brown, Branson show operations manager, said in the three years she’s worked with Coe, she’s been impressed by not only his acting ability but also the support and inspiration he is to others backstage.
“I enjoy the passion and creativity he puts into his role on stage,” she said. “It’s that two-fold thing that makes him a star for us.”
Performing the show five days a week, with two shows on four of those days, could put a damper on passion and creativity for some. But Coe said the day-to-day changes of this or that understudy or backup in a role for the day, plus live animal moments such as a donkey (in “Jonah”) that urinated at an unscripted moment, keep the dozens of performances fresh for him.
And even though he’s uttering the same lines each time, he said there’s often a different moment, a different piece of the story, that strikes him in a new way. It’s one thing to proclaim on stage night after night that God will set his people free, and another to be facing one’s own struggle and ponder that same message.
“(It’s) the opportunity to learn the same lesson every single day … and it not be words on the page. You start to realize how important those moments were,” he said.
“The Holy Spirit is in the midst of that; every day something else is highlighted … there’s something you notice that you didn’t notice before.”
What’s also different at every performance is the audience interaction afterward. After the performance, two-person teams of cast and crew members or ushers stand up front at five stations where audience members can go to have someone pray with them. Some ask for prayer for marriages. One recent viewer said he was an alcoholic, and it was time to seek help.
One woman, Coe said, was facing Stage 4 cancer and simply asked for prayers for peace during the month or two she’d been told she had left. A cast member asked if she could also pray for healing for the woman. Weeks later the woman returned with a message for the actress: the cancer was gone.
“That has nothing to do with us,” Coe said. “But to have the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ is a powerful, powerful thing.”
Coe said it’s rewarding to be part of a team that reaches out both through and beyond its work to encourage others. It allows him to share what others have poured into him.
“The way your parents raise you and the experiences you have … do have a lifelong effect,” he said. “Now I have the opportunity to sow into others what they made the effort to sow into me. And that’s a blessing.”
Rodney Coe plays older brother Aaron in Sight & Sound Theatres’ production of “Moses,” running now through Dec. 31 at the company’s Branson, Missouri, location. See the trailer at http://www.sight-sound.com/WebSite/shows.do?showCD=MOS#videos?media=media1.