January 4, 2016 | noon
By Rachel Gmach ’18
From the moment she first stepped foot inside Bethel University as a transfer student her junior year, Lori Anderson Bunce felt her life spiritually challenged. During her first day of orientation, Bunce recommitted her life to Christ. “I was so happy to be in a place where there were so many young adults who had chosen to go to a Christian college,” she says, “I really needed the support of other believers to encourage me in my walk.”
After she graduated from Bethel in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in vocal music education, Bunce worked at Bethel from 1982 to 1984 in development under Jim Bragg and Dan Wiersum. During that time, the chair of the theatre department, Jeffrey S. Miller, invited her to participate in Gloria and The Refreshment Committee, a Christian drama troupe. During a January 1982 Bethel interim class, Miller led six theater students in creating the show Gloria. The production is based on the songs and stories of Ken Medema, an American composer, singer, and songwriter. The story is about a young woman named Gloria, who moves from the Midwest to New York City to work at a successful ad agency, but has felt dissatisfied with her life. On her way to work one day, she steps into a “steam cloud” where she mysteriously meets a number of intriguing characters who tell her stories about God.
Gloria toured throughout the United States with The Refreshment Committee from 1983 to 1989. Bunce traveled with the group, acting as the Gloria character for the 1982-1985 tours. “Those amazing theater touring experiences helped to shape my life to become a passionate follower of Jesus,” she says.
She was in New Jersey on her last tour when she met her husband Greg Bunce. Greg moved to Minnesota and the two married a year later. They had their first child, Sharayah, in 1992, followed by her brother Trevor in 1995.
For eight years, Bunce worked in the music department at the University of Northwestern–St. Paul as a project and events coordinator. She also worked in human resources, took up a few part time jobs, and did some substitute teaching before she decided that being a music teacher wasn’t for her.
So Bunce and her husband decided to start a musical theater company, founding Bunce Backyard Productions (BBP) in 2007. BBP is a family-friendly theater company that performs high-quality and inspirational musical theater. “Our purpose in doing shows is to find shows that have some sort of hope, inspiration, or transformation–stories that are similar to life and how we struggle,” Bunce explains. Originally based out of the Bunce backyard, BBP now operates out of a friends’ backyard in Dayton, Minnesota.
Bunce says BBP has become a way of giving back to the community. They produce one show each summer with six performances during the months of July and August, and each performance draws 300 to 1,000 people. It is a non-profit organization, so they never charge for shows, and always give half of each year’s donations to a charity of the cast’s choosing.
Bunce believes her time at Bethel was foundational in her faith–inspiring her to follow Him and His plan for her life. “God is who equips you and gives you the strength and the vision,” Bunce says. “His vision was this musical theater company, I just feel very lucky to get to do it.”
Now, BBP is excited to revive the Bethel-born Gloria as this year’s summer production. “With our show Gloria, we will expand our vision,” Bunce says, “bringing the Light of Jesus Christ to the world with a story of true redemption and hope.”
BBP would like to offer this show to churches and Christian theaters as a way to partner with them in reaching out to their communities. “Our small cast can actually come to their church or a stage in town, set up our set and lights, and present our full production, Gloria,” she says. BBP plans to make Gloria available to churches and theaters in the Twin Cities and in greater Minnesota on weekends from June 18 to July 10, 2016.
(If your church or community theater might be interested in this production, please contact Lori Bunce at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about Bunce Backyard Productions can be found at BunceBackyard.com)