A funny thing happened on the way to the throne the other night. King Nebuchadnezzar’s wig flew off while he ranted at the front of his giant chair.
It was an unplanned physical gag that fate handed to actor Brian Robak on Wednesday night as he sat on a 100-foot-wide stage. He was part of a cast playing to 46,000 people sitting in camping chairs on a field in the middle of Wisconsin. While the mishap didn’t cause Robak to miss a beat—nor his fellow actors, save for a few brief smirks—it got one of the night’s biggest laughs, both from the audience and a few doubled-over actors backstage.
The incident, however, was quickly forgiven. For many attendees of the 2014 North American Division Pathfinder Camporee, the evening play is a top highlight of the six-day event.
The weeklong continuing drama presents lessons from the biblical book of Daniel and is the second-to-last part of the nightly program. The script is sprinkled with humor throughout—the planned kind—but actors hope the tens of thousands of Adventist youth learn the theme of Daniel’s success. Like the “Forever Faithful” slogan of the Camporee, Daniel’s notable life of rising in Babylon’s government and surviving the lions’ den is attributed to his trust in God.
For Robak, a 26-year-old Oregon native who now works in film and theater in Las Vegas, the role of Babylon's leader can be a dark one, but he said he enjoys getting into character for a larger purpose.
“You can’t have good without evil,” Robak said in a backstage interview on Friday. “It’s my part to go into the darkness so that people can see the light.”
Many kids in attendance said they take the play seriously because of the quality of acting, costumes and production.
“It’s funny, and it’s really authentic, I think,” said Julia Fisher, 13, from the Fayetteville Falcons Pathfinder Club in North Carolina. “That’s how I would imagine it would be in the Bible.”
“In Hong Kong I’ve never seen a drama like this,” said Trevor Ko, 15, from the Tai Wo Pathfinder Club in Hong Kong, China. “The costumes, the props, the tall statue, they’re all very cool.”
Aside from the massive stage and five large-screen monitors it takes to present the evening program, the Camporee itself is its own spectacle. More than 44,000 people have come from the denomination’s North American Division and an additional 2,000 people from other countries.
The event is held every five years, and it increases the city of Oshkosh’s population by more than 70 percent during the week. Campsites sprawl across 500 acres at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture Campgrounds. It’s a week of activities, reunions, pin trading, community service and picnicking.
Like Robak’s wig mishap, sometimes attendees have to just keep on despite the occasional hitch. Lines can swell in front of the shower trailers and rows of blue outhouses. It was too chilly on Thursday for several groups each planning a tubing and waterpark excursion. Monday night it rained, turning roads in half the site to mud.
But on most days the weather has been pleasant, providing what attendees say is a great environment for worship, games, parades and earning educational “honors”—everything from space, geology and rivers to electricity, currencies and crafts.
In the late afternoon, worn-out kids return to their campsites to worn-out chaperones, some of whom cook all day for their club or a group of clubs.
Many clubs huddle under tarps for dinner, table games and laughs; some just sit and watch the roads as people walk or one of the 700 golf carts drive by.
After dinner, clubs make the trek to the outdoor amphitheater. The arriving crowds file down the roads, arriving over several hours to a festive site of flying Frisbees and beach balls, pounding sounds of an impromptu drum corps, and international flag bearers sprinting the aisles.
The program features a daily video summary, ventriloquist act, talent performances, worship song service, the Daniel play, and a 10-minute talk by Sam Leonor, the chaplain for La Sierra University in Riverside, California. Many attendees say his devotionals are also a highlight.
“It’s short, but it’s right to the point. It’s deep,” said Irma Tabarez, 16, from the Hermiston Spanish Adventist Church in Oregon.
Leonor summarizes the play’s lesson and adds a personal anecdote before urging kids to accept Christ—the entire goal of the Camporee.
“Jesus is forever faithful,” Leonor told the crowd Thursday night.
—additional reporting by James Bokovoy