Why Do Drama? By Mark Shell

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Why Do Drama?

By Mark Shell

If you’re thinking about starting a drama ministry in your church, this may be helpful to you.
Whether you’re curious about starting a drama ministry in your church, or already have one going, I’m sure the question will arise, “Why do Drama?” Well, the answer is really quite simple. In fact you should be able to answer the question yourself right after taking a look at these next few paragraphs. But before you begin to answer this question, you need to know the basics. You need to know the history of theatre, the technicality of theatre, and especially, the effects of theatre.
Theatre certainly has a long history, so here are just the basics. The very first civilization to form the art of theatre were the Greeks. The literal translation of “drama” is “to do” or “to see.” Other than getting technical with just a noun, Greek theatre was supported by the state, and was used during the 4 annual harvest festivals for devotion to the Greek god, Dionysus, (the god of wine/grapes, and fertility). Now if you’re wondering WHAT this has to do with church theatre…well, there really is no point. BUT you do know how theatre got its start.

Moving right along (and skipping a few thousand years, to the Renaissance actually), theatre was used more “creatively.” In fact, after a complete ban of theatre by the church (Romans used theatre to mock and/or kill Christians. So when the empire fell, the church took over, and all theatre was banned.). Anyway, Christians began to re-use theatre as a way to spread the gospel and promote good behavior. Out of the Renaissance came cart wagon plays, where actors would be placed upon a moving stage (usually on a cart) and rolled through the village, performing scene after scene. (Almost like a parade.) So what did they perform? Mostly plays about the story of Christ. (Called a “Passion”, a play of the last 36 hours of the life of Christ.) Here can be seen the use and value that the art of theatre offers to a church. But first, more aspects of theatre need to be covered.

Now that we’ve seen a very abbreviated history of theatre, we move into modern theatre, where here you will find the technical side of theatre. All of theatre starts with one thing - a script. A script is NOT just something with lines that actors memorize and say when a cue is given. If that’s what you believe theatre is, there’s no point in finding a place to start to your ministry. A script is so much deeper and more complex than just lines. A script has a pre-determined fate of each character, reveals emotion in characters, and ultimately, untangles that huge knot called a plot. A well constructed script usually consists of some conflict between a character and another character, object, or sometimes even the original character him/herself!!!

Now that you know what a script is, you need to understand how to FIND a script. A script can’t just be pulled out of thin air, performed, and have success as a result. To achieve a successful production, there is one thing that needs to be understood - the audience. You need to consider WHO this script will be performed for. Age is considerably the best scale to use for your script. Consider the culture of that age group and THEN select a script that best “fits” that particular audience. For example, consider how effective a script based on World War II would affect an audience of 60-70 year olds, compared to an audience of 15-20 year olds. Considerably different. Assuming that you are the one who will be selecting the script, it’s best to fully read a script before you select it for production, and figure out how it will affect your audience.

Now that you understand how to find a script, you need to consider people. As you look around your church, consider people who have a natural talent, or hobby for things such as electronics and creativity, and design. As you consider these particular people, think of a way to ask them to come and do a production. One way of asking is something like, “I’m doing this play, and I think you’d be good to do this certain role.” Then inform them about that particular role. If they accept, GREAT! You’re on your way. If they decline, it’s alright. If worse comes to worst, there is the opportunity to hold auditions. In no way am I telling you to “pre-cast” your show, but if you hold auditions, pick a particularly emotionally “low” part of the script and then a “high” part of it as well. Have multiple people read the part, and from that take who you feel is the best fit to play the part. It is important that you understand the dynamics of the script, the attitude of the characters, their situations, and their reactions to situations.

After you’ve considered a cast, you now need to assemble a crew. If you didn’t know it, theatre is a collaborative art. It uses elements from all forms of art and forms them to one. There are actors, set designers, lighting designers, make-up artist, costumers, etc. Now that you have a general idea of a script, cast and crew members, and a general idea of an audience, there is one more thing you need to understand about the audience. For an audience to experience the full effect of drama, they MUST have these six skills:

Concentration - the ability to focus on the production and understand what is happening.

Perception - the idea and situation behind the plot.

Open Mindedness - the ability to accept what is happening in the play.

Imagination - the ability to perceive and predict future elements in the plot.

Empathy - the ability to “feel” the character’s situation; where an audience member can say, “That’s me,” or “I’ve been there.”

Response - a reaction to what they’ve seen.

All of these combined skills of an audience will prove the production successful, in addition to the work and time that the cast and crew invest in the play.
Finally, we can see the result of our time and effort as well as the true cause of theatre - the result and effects that theatre has on the audience as well as the cast. First of all, theatre is widely used as a source of entertainment. It takes everything off the mind of an audience and helps them to relieve stress as they get lost in the show. Church theatre allows a church family to have a fun time of fellowship while sharing a few laughs and tears. However, I feel that entertainment does theatre a disservice. It is fun to go out and see a show, but theatre has better qualities than just a night out of fun and leisure. Theatre inspires an audience. Depending on the type of play, the show could convict an audience to start something in their lives. Or, it could convict an audience to change a way of behavior. Finally and foremost, theatre TEACHES. Some plots offer a message in a play that may teach morality or a way of life. (These were used frequently in Greek as well as Renaissance plays.) And plays allow the playwright to teach by example. Jesus Christ himself taught through examples, and is considered to be the greatest teacher by all Christians. We are taught through theatre, that we should take the actions of one character, and fit them to our lives, just the same as we should take the teachings of Jesus, and instill them in out lives! Now it is clearly evident that theatre can be used in the church as an effective way of ministry.
Now, we’ve just scratched the surface of theatre, but I hope that this has helped you make up your mind about doing drama in church. You now know a little bit of the basics, which stating these points to a leadership group will give them some points to ponder, and will allow more consideration, and increase your chances of having a drama ministry. But finally, I leave you with this: Colossians 3:17 says, And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
God Bless, and Break a leg!
-Mark Shell


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