|From the Editor -
I could see his reasoning, as there is always some kind of push-back to anything new, and members have left churches for much more "trivial" reasons than the introduction of a new format of theatre into the Sunday morning service. So I advised him as best I could within the given framework.
Preparing Your Audience
By David Ian
I was helping a pastor with the drama program he had initiated for Sunday mornings. The purpose of his morning dramas was to introduce the sermon topic and to possibly provide some fodder for sermon references.
This is, perhaps, the most common first step in a regular theatre program in a church. The production values in the short dramas were very low-key, by design, as the pastor did not want to make his congregation think they were introducing something too slick into the service. Consequently, the writing was kept rather simplistic, the characterizations were either two-dimensional (or transparent, to my eye), and the acting was kept at a minimal skill level.
It wasn't that all those involved in the production were not capable of a more skilled level of theatrical "quality"; the pastor just had concerns of having the medium accepted in the first place. Consequently, the morning dramas seemed to be just a notch above "camp skit" in their look and feel.
Personally, I wasn't entirely convinced that the Sunday audience would have such a negative reaction to dramas that had better "production values", but then again, hey, this wasn't my congregation, and the pastor didn't want to have any initial fallout with the addition of something new, like drama, to the morning worship.
Boy Meets Girl
By David Ian
TIME APPROXIMATE: 7 minutes
TOPIC: Finding the ideal in a lifelong partner.
SCRIPTURE: Galatians 5:19-24
SETTING/PROPS: Bare stage, four chairs.
After a series of relationships with extraordinary people, the boy and the girl find what they really want in a partner in the simplicity of each other.
*MISS HIGH SOCIETY
*MR. FAST CAR
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Now, however, he had called me into his office to puzzle something out. He had taken the initiative to step up the impact of the drama and had presented something that had more "punch". The response was startling, and now the dreaded fallout began.
"I have people who were previously supporters of the dramas, now demanding that they be stricken from the morning schedule." He shook his head. "I have other people saying, ‘How dare you bring this kind of thing into a worship service! Either it goes, or we do!'"
"Why did you change the format of the drama?" I asked.
"You know me. I don't want the congregation to get complacent. I like to shake things up so it's not the same ol' thing week in and week out. I do it with everything else; I figured I'd do the same with the dramas."
"Looks like you did a little more than shake things up," I mused.
I thought about the merits of what he had said -- shaking people out of the hum-drum Sunday schedule -- but I also thought about the drama he had used. I had seen it, and admired it. It was a well-crafted portrayal of someone in a crisis contemplating suicide. The monologue was not only superbly written, but its performance was an extremely heart wrenching portrayal by a very skilled actress. I thought about the pastor for a moment, what I knew of him, then selected an analogy. I knew he was a baseball fan.
"You know what a change-up pitch is, don't you?"
"Certainly. A pitcher throws a lot of fastballs, and so in order to keep the batter from catching his timing, he'll throw a slower speed pitch to unbalance him."
"And you thought you were throwing your congregation a change-up, is that right?"
"Of sorts, yeah."
"What happens if a pitcher throws all change-up pitches?"
"Then the batter gets used to the slower speed, I guess," he shrugged.
"Up until now, you've been throwing your congregation ALL change-up pitches. Not much 'oomph' to them, not much pepper, right?"
"Okay. Fair enough."
"Now, this last drama is like winding up and throwing a blazing fastball. Not only that, but it was a 'brush-back' pitch, aimed right at the batter's helmet, designed to back up the batter from crowding the plate. Now, would you want to get back in the batter's box after that kind of a pitch, knowing it was deliberate?"
The light went on in his eyes.
"I see. I had no idea the power drama had; to invoke this kind of reaction."
"Drama is very powerful, indeed," I agreed.
When doing drama outside of its "normal" context, especially in a church setting, it's very important that the intended audience has a good feel for what it is getting. Theatre is full of conventions that need to be addressed when it is presented, or the potential backlash can be quite surprising in some circumstances. Sometimes it can even work against its intended purpose. This is something I'll explore a little further in the next installment.
How did the pastor handle his dilemma? Well, let's just say he let the congregation take some "warm-up" swings with a different "dramatic pitcher" before winding up himself again.
I was happy to oblige.
David Ian is the Founder and Artistic Director of "Unchained Productions", a Christian theatrical production and resource organization. He is an award-winning playwright and performer, and despite having no kids of his own, he is touring a one-man comedy show entitled "The Replacement Disciple". His website can be found at www.UnchainedProductions.com.