What People are Saying
“Jonathan Swenson’s ministry is a breath of fresh air. His craft of adding flesh and blood to our ancient Biblical stories make these timeless accounts come alive before our very eyes. Blending wit and humor with compassion and knowledge, Jonathan winsomely proclaims the Good News of Jesus in the arts of drama, rhetoric and storytelling. While directing our thoughts and emotions, Jonathan leads our faith lives to be enlivened as we hear with fresh ears the saving truth of Jesus found in God’s Word. I’m convinced God will continue to use Jonathan to get His message of love, forgiveness and acceptance out to many people!”
+ Pastor Bill Yonker,
Nationally-Known Conference Preacher/Speaker
“Jonathan Swenson is an extremely gifted and remarkably versatile performer. He brings to the stage tremendous warmth, integrity, humor, and humanity and leaves his audiences inspired and uplifted. “
+ Robert Lindsey-Nassif, Award-winning Broadway and Hollywood Composer and Lyricist (Hollywood Arms, Opal, Honky-Tonk Highway, Lawnchair Man)
“Jonathan Swenson through Witnesses allows the audience member a number of unique vantage points on the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Witnesses builds a powerful witness and concludes with a message of incredible conviction. Don’t allow your congregation to miss this opportunity to “see” Christ through the eyes of the Witnesses.”
+ Rev. Mike Morgan, 1st United Methodist Church, Marion, IA
“What a thrill was experienced in our congregation when Jonathan Swenson was here. He presented his one person drama, “Witnesses” to a packed house. Everyone was gripped by the many characters inhabited by Jonathan. We experienced laughter, sorrow, and joy as the person of Jesus came through these many voices. I highly recommend bringing Jonathan to your congregation. He will bless and benefit all who witness his artistic talent.”
+ Rev. Joel Quie, Prairie Lutheran Church
Eden Prairie, MN
“You made us laugh and cry and think and reflect and enjoy. I like the Jesus you want us to know. I have had to question all my beliefs as of late and it helped steer me back to a more solid focus once again. Everyone needs to see this. Thank-you, thank-you, for sharing your passion with others.”
+ Joanne Miller,
Clear Lake, IA
“Two thousand years of history evaporated in an hour with this stunning characterization of real and imagined Biblical personalities. With minimal props and effortless transitions one was led to grasp the depths of each personality and plight in real time. Jonathan has achieved a level of performance most actors only aspire to conquer.”
+ David Rasmussen, Professor Emeritus,
Waldorf College, Forest City, IA
“My husband does not usually care for theatre presentations, but every time I glanced over at him during Jonathan’s performance, he was completely enthralled. Later he told me he thought it was ‘enjoyable, thought-provoking and a definite ‘do-again’ as a couple!’ ”
+ Jean Renstrom, Artist in Residence,
Mt. Carmel Ministries
“Can’t text right now. Have to watch this. It is really good!”
+ Pastor’s report of a tweet he saw posted by one of his confirmation
students, sent during a performance of Witnesses.
“Jonathan’s presentation of Witnesses was indeed a great witness to our congregation. We scheduled this as a kick-off event for our discipleship programs. It was that and more. It really affected people. I heard them commenting not just about Jonathan’s talents but how those first witnesses of Christ came to be disciples and grew in their understanding and relationship with Christ.”
+ Rev. Blair A’Hearn,
Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Marion, IA
“The Witnesses event on our campus was amazing! I’ve heard nothing but extremely positive comments from all sorts of people … both about the show and the conversations it has inspired in the last couple of days. The story is so refreshing and rejuvenating in terms of how I view my relationship with Jesus.”
+ Matthew, Student at Gustavus Adolphus College,
St. Peter, MN
“Very professional, yet an easy event to host. It was a home-run for our church. I highly recommend it!”
+ Rev. Eric Hulstrand, ReaLife Church, Bloomington, MN
“WOW! My family just got back from seeing Jonathan Swenson in WITNESSES! What an awesome and powerful performance. The story of Jesus in a way that makes me rethink what I want my relationship with Christ to be and the direction I want it to grow. Thank you, Jonathan.”
+ Aaron Stecker, Athletic Director, Kennedy High School, Cedar Rapids, IA
“Jonathan Swenson masterfully communicates the Biblical story with clear messages that are emotion-powered and impactful to the audience. Using his dramatic skills he creatively weaves humor, sorrow, pain, and pure joy through these scenes. All ages will be transformed by experiencing these presentations.”
+ Johan and Sonja Hinderlie, Directors (1985-2012),
Mount Carmel Ministries and Mount Carmel Family Bible Camp, Alexandria, MN
“Once you have him at your church or school once, you will have him back again in six months. That’s what we did! Our student leaders all voted, unanimously, to have Jonathan come back for our fall kick-off, and they are encouraging as many of their fellow students as possible to attend.”
+ Rev. Rod Anderson, Interim Campus Pastor
Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN
“Over and over, I hear raves about how special Jonathan’s performance was, and I agree. We were all moved by his amazing ability to slip into so many different, unique roles and translate the well known stories into something fresh and evocative. I laughed and cried with the rest…and would heartily encourage you to bring Paraphrase Theatre to your congregation, too. You’re in for a treat.”
+ Lisa T. Bergren, best-selling, award-winning author of
God Gave Us You, Waterfall, and Glamorous Illusions
This is a review from the IOWA THEATRE BLOG, commenting on my performance of WITNESSES. This particular production took place when I was first getting started with this drama and ministry. The play was staged in a “black box” setting… and was received enthusiastically….
REVIEW FROM THE IOWA THEATRE BLOG, OCTOBER 25, 2010
Note: This review is written for a secular audience…. and it took place in a secular setting. It was an unexpected surprise to be so warmly received by a “non-church” audience.. and it was a precursor of things to come in that the play really does work well as an outreach event for the community.
by John Harper, Iowa Theater Blog
Paraphrase – This weekend a friend persuaded me to go along with him to a show in the new black box theatre in the basement of Theatre Cedar Rapids. I knew almost nothing about what I was going to see, as my friend’s primary interest was in checking out the space in which he will be acting next month.
All I knew in advance was that it was a one-actor show titled Witnesses. As a frequent director of one-actor shows myself, I know the challenges of holding the attention of an audience for a sustained period of time. Not to worry, though. The tour de force performance of Jonathan Swenson kept me totally engaged for well over an hour of running time.
The script, by Curt Cloninger, is really a series of eight different stories, each told by a character whose life was changed by his relationship with Jesus. They are alternately funny and sad, angry and amazed.
Swenson turned out to be a master of the gamut of emotions required to convey these stories credibly. The scenes transition flawlessly from one character to the next, underpinned by taped music as the actor makes simple costume changes in view of the audience.
These are not simply re-tellings of familiar gospel stories, but rather, imaginative re-creations, sometimes told from a perspective many years after the incident has occurred. They go in more-or-less chronological order, beginning with very funny and corrupt innkeeper who owns the stable where Jesus was born, and ending with Peter’s relentless attempt to convince Thomas that he has seen the risen Christ.
One of my favorites was a middle-aged tailor, relating how he had been bullied and marginalized as a child in Nazareth for being a sissy and a mama’s boy. Jesus, as a boy, had been his protector in a life-transforming way. Another favorite was a very humorous rendering of Lazarus, who can’t quite believe he’s been raised from the dead.
Throughout the performance, Swenson gives us well-differentiated characters, each with its own distinct energy level. And he manages to make each scene visually engaging as well. Even though the performance run at TCR is at its end, I have a feeling that there will be many more iterations of this production around eastern Iowa in the future. I encourage you not to miss it.
John completed a B.A. degree at Stanford University and an M.B.A. at the University of Iowa. He completed his doctorate in higher education in 1974 and became a member of the UI English faculty in 1976. John first specialized in writing theory and the teaching of writing, and later shifted to American drama as his primary field of teaching and research. He is one of the founders of City Circle Acting Company.