by Meghann Evans Winston-Salem Journal
More than 2,000 years ago, in the little town of Bethlehem, a baby was born — the one who would be called Jesus Christ. This year, at a church in Kernersville, NC, the Nativity story will come to life in a new way.
Local businessman Bobby Davis has created and produced The Christmas Experience, which uses 3-D projection technology to immerse people in the story of Christ’s birth. First Christian Church Ministries in Kernersville will play host to the outdoor walk-through event, which runs from Friday through Dec. 22. Guests will visit five custom sound stages and sets to watch each part of the story. Recorded actors will be projected onto the stages like holograms.
Two years ago, Davis approached his pastor of First Christian, the Rev. Pete Kunkle, with the bold idea. Now the vision will be a reality.
“We want to tell the Christmas story in a new and innovative way, and Bobby made that possible,” Kunkle said.
The project, which features an original script and music, has been a major undertaking. Davis wrote the script and searched for experienced singers and actors, who recorded music in a studio and were filmed over the summer. Davis and his team have been editing video and marketing the project while crews built the final sets.
“It’s definitely a brand new Christmas experience,” Davis said.
Sharing the story
The production will be like a walk-through movie or a theme-park experience, Davis said. Davis’ company, Core Techs, is financing most of the project and will probably spend somewhere around $300,000. He is partnering with First Christian Church Ministries. Five temporary structures with sound stages now stand on what used to be First Christian’s softball field. So why invest all of this time and money in the project?
“We believe in the story,” Davis said.
And they believe that the Christmas story is being lost amid the consumerism and hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
The Christmas Experience will tell the stories of Mary, Joseph, the three kings, the shepherds and the Nativity of Jesus.
“I think God’s going to do some incredible things through this,” Kunkle said.
Earlier this month, Davis shared his vision with about 35 leaders from local churches who visited the site.
“I think it is an awesome idea,” said the Rev. Keith Vereen, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Kernersville. “I think this is what the church of God needs to get Christ back in Christmas.”
Jon Eric Woodward, pastor of worship and arts at Community Bible Church in High Point, said: “It looks like the quality’s going to be quite impressive.”
Offering a new experience
Actors performed their roles in front of a green screen on a sound stage in Kernersville. Their images will be projected onto the stages each night using special 3-D and HD projectors with 8,000 to 10,000 lumens. Davis said it will appear like actors are walking around stage.
Davis, whose company develops computer software, said most people have not seen this technology unless they have been to a new show somewhere like Universal Studios. He outsourced the visual effects and is assembling the videos.
Some of the church staff and actors have previewed one scene. Pamela Baker, who plays an angel in The Christmas Experience and sings three songs, said it looks like people are actually on stage.
“You’re just engrossed in this whole concept,” Baker said. “It’s really almost like putting this 3-D effect on what your mind thinks about how this really took place in biblical times. So you really get a much more broad perspective in your imagination.”
When Davis told Baker about his idea and why he wanted to do it, Baker said she immediately agreed to participate. Baker, who lives in Oak Ridge, is a gospel singer and vocal coach who has traveled the world to sing. She said the production process was like being in a movie. They went through the costuming process, and a local seamstress sewed a gown for her. Davis provided direction on set.
Music plays a prominent role in The Christmas Experience, which features new songs and original arrangements of classic Christmas carols. The songs, ranging from gospel to contemporary Christian, were professionally recorded over several months. The music has gotten a positive reception, Baker said, and she thinks it is of national quality.
The Christmas Experience will sell a limited number of tickets each night — about 1,300 — and Davis hopes to have sell-out crowds.
People can purchase tickets online at christmasxp.com or at the door. General admission tickets are $10, but fast-pass tickets are available for $15 for those who want to skip lines. People will spend up to 10 minutes at each stage and Davis estimates the experience will take about 50 minutes. The site is handicap-accessible and wheelchairs will be available.
About 25 to 30 people will be in each structure at a time, and tours will leave every 10 minutes between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. daily. If all goes well, Davis hopes to make this a five-year show.
Previously, First Christian offered Christmas concerts, a live Nativity scene and a walk-through Bethlehem event. This is something entirely different.
“This is like a walk through Bethlehem on steroids,” Kunkle said.
Baker said you can tell how much effort went into the project.
“I think that people will just be in awe,” Baker said.