TRAVERSE CITY -- As more Christians view Halloween with skepticism -- disliking its emphasis on the supernatural and celebrations of gore -- a local youth theater company is offering an alternative.
For the second year, the Homeschool Arts Project will present a classic C.S. Lewis story from "The Chronicles of Narnia" series over the Halloween weekend.
"A Horse and His Boy" will run for four public shows Oct. 30 and 31 at the New Hope Community Church.
Attendees may also participate in a Narnia character costume contest, complete with prizes awarded by Narnian royalty, before the Saturday evening show.
Brimming with ideas and enthusiasm for the Christian company, director Lynn Moody mines multiple positives in the annual production.
"First of all we like to bring classic literature to the stage," she said. "Second of all, it gives the the homeschool students an opportunity to do something they might not otherwise get to do -- in other words, theater."
"The third thing, obviously by doing a Narnia play, there's so many fantastical characters it just lends itself to Halloween," said Moody. "It also allows us to do a large cast and involve younger kids and older kids."
This year's company features 50 homeschool students from third grade through high school. Many of the cast are veterans from the 2008 show, which delved into untapped -- and, at the time, mostly untrained -- acting abilities.
"Last year, we had three or four kids with actual play experience, others had had church drama experience," recalled Moody. "And they were wonderful. I'm just amazed at the talent these kids have."
The Williamsburg church seats 1,600 in its sanctuary. Last year's three showings of "The Lion, Witch and Wardrobe" at the Lars Hockstad Auditorium drew more than 400 attendees and launched a loyal following.
Not to mention a welcome Halloween tradition for many area Christians.
"I think this is a wonderful alternative, to be able to go and watch a play, especially with children," said Carolyn Hoover, like Moody a member of New Hope Community Church, rented for the event but not a sponsor.
Besides her annual "Narnia" productions, for the past six years Moody has offered a range of programs for area Christian or homeschooled youth, including summer programs, summer performing arts camps and a USO show.
This past summer, Moody skipped her usual performing arts camp because, after holding auditions in May, she wanted her cast to focus on "The Horse and His Boy." Taking an unusual approach, she assigned parts and handed out scripts shortly after the audition. She challenged the students to return in the fall ready to go "off book" -- that is, with lines memorized and ready to rehearse.
Moody believes that drama is an excellent outreach for Christians. She also sees a resurgence of interest in the arts, using theater as a ministry that allows participants to share their talents while glorifying God.
"Jesus taught in parables, parables are stories," Moody said. "He taught that way for different reasons. But we use the same idea: We teach in parables or stories by doing theater on the stage, which makes the message real to people."
Hoover, part of a church team that presents "The Promise" every Easter featuring a cast of 150 adults, seconds the notion that drama can help spread Christian gospel.
"If you make the show good enough people will come," she said. "If it was well done, you hope a seed is planted."
'The Horse and His Boy'
-Where: New Hope Community Church, 5100 Bethesda Court, Williamsburg
-When: Friday, Oct. 30, and Saturday, Oct. 31, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
-How much: $4 for adults, $2 for students; available at the door or online at www.thehap.net.
-Contact: Lynn Moody, 313-2420; www.thehap.net