A monumental project that brings the New Testament to dramatic audio form is ready to reach listeners everywhere in November.
Two years in the making, “Truth & Life Dramatized Audio Bible New Testament” brings together more than 70 actors, over 20 audio engineers and 100 media-development experts across three continents who amassed 10,000 production hours for this first-ever Catholic edition of the New Testament.
Listeners will hear every word from Matthew through Revelation dramatized by world-renowned actors like Neal McDonough as Jesus, Julia Ormond as Mary, Stacy Keach as John, Blair Underwood, Michael York, Kristen Bell, and John Rhys-Davies.
Since we’re naming names, this extraordinary 18-CD, 22-hour New Testament is endorsed by the Vatican, bears the imprimatur of Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, and has a special foreword by Pope Benedict XVI.
The project is close to the hearts of co-producers Carl Amari and Raymond Arroyo who had long wanted to create a Catholic audio version of the Bible.
“There was a huge void in this market,” says Arroyo, director and lead anchor of EWTNews, host of “The World Over” and best-selling author. “There was no dramatized multivoiced version of the Bible. For the largest religious community … it needed to be rectified.”
Arroyo points out that the available single-voiced versions “put you to sleep.” The narrator of one he heard was clearly not an actor; the result was boring.
“This is the problem: no life, no passion, no zeal, no urgency and immediacy to it,” explains Arroyo.
That helped inspire this project’s focus: Situate the Scriptures in the present moment and make listeners feel part of it.
Amari was of like mind. He grew up listening to those dull-narrator versions. Although as Catholics he and his wife read the Bible almost every night with their young sons, he felt he really didn’t know it well enough.
“When the kids asked questions — what does this or that mean? — I didn’t understand the word as much as I should,” admits Amari. He thought others might have the same problem.
As founder and president of Falcon Picture Group, which produces and distributes family-friendly audio/video/DVD products, and with 30 years experience in radio drama and film, Amari had the solution.
“I know how powerful radio drama is when you listen to shows like ‘The Lone Ranger’ or ‘Gunsmoke,’ with music, sound effects and actors good at their trade,” he says. “It gives you the you-are-there feeling. I wanted to apply that to the Bible.
“I decided that it might be powerful to get great actors who do not read the Bible, but perform the word as a radio drama but do not deviate from the Scripture. It would be a great way to learn and understand the word by performing it and putting music and sound effects to it.”
Both producers realize the powerful position audio holds. Arroyo explains: “Audio is a totally immersive experience because it allows the imagination to kick in.”
Amari knows this firsthand. “That canvas in the listener’s mind is boundless,” he says. “No movie screen can hold that picture. Your theater of the imagination is bigger than that screen they can put it on. That’s why I wanted to produce the New Testament in audio media.”
Both pointed out the Bible began as an oral tradition, handed down word by word to people. And this audio will be in that vein.
The Scripture is something “to be felt and heard,” Arroyo says. “I think of mothers and fathers bringing their kids to school in the morning, commuters on a long drive, people running errands brought into this present moment that is now and yesterday at the same time — the eternal nature of the word contained within.”
Amari agrees: “This audio (approach) puts you there; it transports the listeners through time to these events as if they’re a witness to them.”
The producers commend the actors for their talent and commitment to the project.
Amari explains that their director, Brenda Noel, is a Bible scholar who guided the actors well. Everyone wanted the “take” that was most accurate to that section of Scripture.
“When you spend a lot of time or effort, you don’t compromise in any way,” says Amari. For example, “Just how did John say these words? Impossible to know. But if you know the Scriptures as our director does and also have theologians on the phone helping the actors, you get an accurate sense.”
Veteran actor Stacy Keach found this approach most helpful in his role as John the Apostle.
“I was very apprehensive at first,” Keach explains, “because John in the Book of John is a little different than John in Revelation. There’s a difference in tone. I was concerned about that and did a lot of research. I reconciled it because the director guided me through the process.
“Rather than being pessimistic, nihilistic and negative in the Book of Revelation, she suggested all these images John brings forth are products of awe, amazement. That was very helpful to me. It’s not so much a doomsday testament as it is a recognition of the miraculous nature of God’s works. Rather than creating fear, it’s more the miracle of the future.”
Keach, who felt honored to be a part of this project, realized John was Jesus’ best friend and therefore “tried to create an intimacy in the Book of John in terms of humility, in terms of being that close to Jesus.” His aim was for his performance to be personal.
A weekly churchgoer, Keach found his own faith impacted: “Anytime you are able to take the Scripture and learn more about it from just reading it (in terms of research) and any kind of historical probe … when you do that it rubs off. It really does strengthen your faith. It did mine. I’m always pleasantly surprised by how deeply religious the disciples were, particularly John — his commitment and his devotion, his faith is inspiring. He was a great role model for me.”
No liberties were taken with Scripture. This version is a word-for-word rendition of the Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition.
“This particular edition has always resonated with so many biblical scholars both for its readability and for its ‘proclaimability,’” explains Arroyo, adding that he finds the Vatican seems to have a preference for this translation.
Amari points out another unique element. The music is scored to each scene by a composer, and the sound effects are created by foley artists. Music and sound effects help the listener get a better understanding of the words.
“That’s paramount to what we wanted to do with this project,” he says. “When you hear these scenes, you understand. It removes a lot of the question marks.”
By putting in these efforts, Arroyo believes “God creeps in and blesses it.” And because of the Holy Spirit, inspirations and things they didn’t originally intend blended in ways they couldn’t have anticipated.
For example, he points to nuanced performances, like McDonough’s Jesus, which had a mournful, tender approach. Or how the music’s Marian theme reappears.
Arroyo believes the approach and artistry will draw people to it because it “truly is Truth and Life.”
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
Visit TruthandLifeBible.com for audio samples and behind-the-scenes trailers. The release date is Nov. 1 through major sellers.