Stopping Drama Ministry Conflict Before It Starts

There are some misunderstandings that are inevitable in ministry. But a lot of disputes could be avoided with better communication.

Ever been in an argument that began with those five little words: “But I thought you meant…”?

There are some misunderstandings that are inevitable in arts ministry. But a lot of disputes could be avoided with better communication. The problem is that performers–who are supposed to be in the communication business–aren’t always the best at speaking our minds. Often, we operate on unspoken assumptions that get us into trouble later. “Wait . . . when you said I was supposed to memorize my lines, you meant word for word? I thought it was okay to improvise; the old director let me do it.”

If you lead a drama ministry (or any artistic endeavor), you can save yourself a lot of headaches by establishing clear expectations up front, instead of coasting on bad assumptions. See if your ministry would benefit from these three guidelines.

1. Be on Time and Be Prepared.

Many ministry teams suffer from chronic tardiness and unpreparedness. If your team is one of them, try sharing this concept. Suppose one actor is 20 minutes late to a rehearsal with 6 other people present. He has just wasted 2 man-hours (6 people x 20 minutes = 2 hours). If an actress arrives unprepared to a three-hour rehearsal with three other people, she’s just wasted 9 man-hours. When people can’t or won’t live up to your expectations for rehearsal time, then it’s time to have a tough conversation, and maybe part ways.

Occasionally, of course, unexpected events take priority. If your actress’s three-year-old suddenly starts puking a few minutes before rehearsal, the actress probably won’t make it. She should inform the director by voicemail or text message as soon as she can–her absence is clearly unavoidable. Still, there’s no excuse for chronic absenteeism or tardiness. If she’s too busy to attend multiple rehearsals, the actress never should have accepted the role!

Talk frankly with your actors about your definition of “line memorization.” What is the deadline to be off book for each scene? Is paraphrasing lines okay? What about outright improvisation? I generally require word-for-word memorization when I direct. Actors sometimes curse my name, but their performances tend to turn out better.

2. Realize that Rehearsals are Hard Work.

Rehearsals can be fun, but they’re also a work environment, so encourage everyone to remain focused on the task. Cell phones should be turned off. Conversations must be quiet enough that they don’t disturb the work onstage. There will be down time, especially during dress rehearsals, so actors are advised to bring a book to pass the time.

If someone starts “phoning in” his role during rehearsals, challenge him to shape up. One actor who doesn’t pull his weight will drag down the morale (and performance quality) of an entire cast. I’ve sometimes told actors “You may not get excellent results, but I expect an excellent try.”

3. Live Like Christ.

Of course, the most important expectation you can set for your team is earnestly trying to live like Jesus. Suppose one of your actors portrays a loving Daddy on Sunday morning in church, then screams at his kid at a restaurant on Sunday afternoon. Clearly, his credibility will be shot.

But hypocrisy isn’t the only potential pitfall–gossip and hurt feelings can damage a ministry, too. Actors take significant risks in drama ministry, from attempting a difficult scene (and looking foolish in the process) to sharing deeply personal prayer requests. That’s why gossip has to be a nonstarter for the entire team. Tell everyone, “If you’re not part of the problem or part of the solution, there’s no excuse to air someone else’s dirty laundry.” Teach your team to apply Jesus’ conflict resolution strategy (see Matthew 18:15-17) whenever they have a problem with someone else, whether it’s you or a fellow actor.

Be sure that your actors realize you aren’t asking for perfection. If the Apostle Paul said he was Sinner-in-Chief, then the rest of us aren’t in much danger of attaining sainthood. But encourage everyone to make Christlikeness their goal.

If you and your team can incorporate these expectations into your ministry, your drama troupe’s morale, performance quality, and perhaps even Godliness will take big steps in the right direction. Try talking them over at your next rehearsal. Your actors–and on opening night, your audience–will appreciate your commitment.

Copyright © 2012 George Halitzka. All rights reserved. This article was first published in Let’s Worship.