I probably don’t have to convince you that storytelling is one of the most powerful forms of communication God has given to us—or that drama is the most potent way to tell a story. However, there may still a question rolling around in your mind, something like this: “How do I get a drama ministry started in my church?”
The best advice is to start small, but start smart. Here’s tip number one for smart drama directors: Always audition your actors.
“But I’ll probably need to cast them all anyway,” you say. “Why bother?” Because you want to make participating in drama a privilege for your actors, not a favor to you. That makes all the difference in the world!
If you’re thinking about starting (or re-starting) drama in your church, you probably already have a few actors in mind. So don’t be afraid to invite certain people to audition. It’s very easy to ignore a bulletin announcement. It’s harder to say “no” to a personal invitation. Emphasize that no experience is necessary, just the ability to express yourself and be natural onstage.
But remember, you don’t want to invite anyone to join yet: just invite them to audition.
Plan your tryouts in advance to create a pleasant experience for everyone. Potential actors will naturally be intimidated—but you want them to succeed! Begin with some acting games, like the ones in Steve Pederson’s excellent book Drama Ministry (Zondervan, 1999). Then proceed to a few improvisations, like asking someone to impersonate an animal or sell you a fabulous new product. Finally, have each person find a partner and read some dialogue onstage. Pick sections from a few good scripts ahead of time so that they have material.
As you watch your prospective actors, think about these questions.
- Do I want to watch this person? Does he grab my attention? Is he “oozing” energy?
- Does she show versatility in different roles, and a willingness to wholeheartedly commit to the part—even if it makes her look a little silly?
- Is he directable? If I give him a simple instruction for improving a scene, can he do the scene again and effectively incorporate my idea?
- Is she creative? Can she take what’s on the paper and “add to it,” effectively interpreting the role with her voice and body?
- Most important of all: Do I really believe in his performance onstage, or does it look “fake”?
You might be surprised at how much potential is shown by some of your auditionees!
One of the most important—and difficult—functions of an audition is to evaluate potential actors’ skill levels. In other words: not everyone who tries out needs to serve in your drama ministry. God did not make every part of the body of Christ a hand. He didn’t make all of them actors, either. You are actually doing people a favor when you point them to a different ministry. Unfortunately, it may not feel like it.
Pray for humility and gentleness when you make decisions. Artists are the only people I know who regularly dump their guts on a plate, then show them to other people for their approval. Never forget that your potential actors have taken a big risk.
And don’t feel pressured to cast a lot of people just to have a large team! A small ministry is a great place to start. Three or four genuinely gifted actors who perform an eight-minute drama sketch every month or two may be better than a large team of limited ability. Your new ministry is going to face challenges that will be easier to overcome with a smaller team. Plus, you’ll honor God with excellence in drama.
After the Tryouts
Unfortunately, everyone makes mistakes, and directors are no exception. Sometimes, you’re going to misread an audition and put the wrong person on your team. Later on, when Susan is delivering her lines with all the feeling of a sea sponge, you may want to show her the door and audition again. But that is not an option. After all, remember who picked her. (That’s right—it was you.) Strong leadership means living with your decisions. So your job is to empower Susan for the best performance she can possibly give!
Of course, if an actor goes back on his commitment to the team (which as a wise leader, you have made clear in advance)—it’s another story. When Joe doesn’t learn his lines and tries to carry a script onstage Sunday morning, it’s time for a change.
But most actors stay in a drama ministry because of the relationships. So remain committed to your people, even the ones who are doing their best but not quite as talented as you’d like. God will be glorified by your faithfulness—you can count it.
Copyright © 2007 George Halitzka. All rights reserved.