BRANSON, Mo. – Sight & Sound Theatre has been celebrating biblical scripture through many avenues throughout the years and breathes life into each elaborate scene on its stages in Branson, Missouri and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The ministry found its beginning when Glenn Eshelman began creating slideshows showcasing his love for photography from across the country and presenting his work at churches. As time passed, Glenn added the element of music to his repertoire and opened the first Sight & Sound production alongside his wife Shirley at the Living Waters Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1976.
In 1987 the duo built their first Sight & Sound Entertainment Center in Lancaster, which burned in 1997 and was rebuilt into what it is today, complete with a panoramic 300-foot wrap-around stage.
The Sight & Sound Theatre in Branson, meanwhile – the only other one in the world – turns 15 years old this May.
Sight & Sound Marketing and Customer Relations Manager Kortney Neal says in 2022 the ministry premiered its first feature-length film called I Heard the Bells. The movie, portraying America’s poet Henry Wadsworth, quickly fetched the No. 2 slot at the box office nationwide in terms of attendance and ticket sales.
Neal told The Heartlander the Sight & Sound ministry plans to continue sharing Jesus’ story in film, and is preparing for more silver screen productions.
For each theater production, the ministry casts 50 actors and actresses nationwide. Each production’s casting process is done separately and contains a full one-year contract for each selected individual. For those interested in auditioning, visit the audition website.
“That’s how you can start the process of an application to be part of our production. Often people hear about our ministry and are excited to be a part of what we do. We see a lot of submissions come directly to us through our website, which is amazing.”
Large investment goes into the immersive and crowd-interactive live theater experience. Neal says the four-story sets are built in-house and contain a large number of materials, multiple hours of labor and tender loving care.
In addition to the interactive experience, crowds flock to Sight & Sound to witness the dozens of live animal actors that roam the aisles during portions of every show.
“You’ll see the kids’ faces light up when they get to experience that in person. In this show Queen Esther, we have macaws, we have dogs, camels and, of course, horses. We have dozens of animals that will make a special appearance in this show.”
A highly skilled team trains the furry actors and prepares them for the big stage in a multi-year process. Sight & Sound partners with local veterinarians to ensure each animal is happy and healthy.
“We have a few different pastures where they can go and get that energy out. Some of their pre-show jitters is what we like to kid about. There are beautiful pastures for them to get fresh air, but we also have a state-of-the-art barn for our animals for those stormy days and so we can have close one-on-one interaction with our animals to make sure they are healthy and ready to go.”
The newest addition to the animal lineup doesn’t require a veterinarian or food at all. Florence the animatronic elephant has 19 actions of motion and weighs over 1,000 lbs. Florence can be seen during a celebratory scene during Queen Esther as Esther comes riding in and waving to the crowd.
The two-and-a-half hour productions are fun for all ages, complete with an aftershow ministry where several volunteers come to the front of the theater to invite guests who have prayer requests and to teach them about Jesus, if they wish.
“There are countless stories we have. The impact that these productions have is exactly why we do what we do. We are here to tell His story through who we are and what we do. I am so excited by the opportunity to speak truth and love into a culture that needs help. I think it is such an amazing opportunity to bring these Bible stories to the stage.”
To date, Sight & Sound has told the stories of Jesus, Moses, Noah, Sampson and now Queen Esther. Moses has had the longest-running show with nine years of popularity in Lancaster. Branson plans to bring Moses back to its stage for another run in 2023.
To learn more about Sight & Sound, visit the website.