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Newsletter  -  Thursday, December 10, 2009


Almost Christmas

Ah, here it is again; that magical time of year when creative arts departments are in a flurry running rehearsals and making last minute preparations for Christmas dramas, musicals, cantatas, specials and the like. Weary directors, choreographers, set builders, costume creators and performers sustain themselves on diets of fast-food, quick kisses from their families and the little amount of sleep they can squeeze in between work and rehearsals. Somewhere in the mix we ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this when I could be enjoying the sights and sounds of the season with my family, and when am I going to get all my Christmas shopping done”?

At present, my body is aching from dancing and standing on stage for hours while rehearsing for the musical our congregation will be presenting during the next two weeks. For the first time in many years I am one of the performers, not the director or choreographer, and have the privilege of participating from the performance side, plus I have less stress. In the 21 years that I have been a part of productions, either as a performer, choreographer, or director, I have tried to glean wisdom through every experience and so have taken note of things that work and things that don’t work. I thought that in this newsletter I would share what I have learned. Even though it may be too late to incorporate these ideas for this season’s production, Easter is only three months after the New Year, which means many of us will be right back in heat of preparations for the next big congregational event.

First, I want to share with those of you who are leaders and future leaders of these productions. Three important guidelines for you are: Prayer, Preparation, and Promotion. Let me summarize each one of these for you.

Prayer: I guarantee that at sometime or another everyone who heads a church production finds themselves on their knees crying out to God for help, for vision, for the cast, the scenery, the lighting, the sound, the costumes, and the money needed to pull this whole event off…and so on. Often we pray desperately to God, but not as often with God. So, let’s change things up a bit.

1.                 Long before the rehearsals begin, gather with church leadership and pray about the production. It is so important for the pastors to be involved in launching this ministry event. They need to be brought in on the process so that their vision can unite with the vision of the creative arts department.

2.                 Programs such as plays and cantatas are done as outreach to the local community. Through these programs we are able to share the gospel with people who may not have experienced the love of God and His passion and compassion for them. We need to listen to the Holy Spirit so we can write or choose a program that accurately speaks His heart for our community during this particular time.

3.                 When you pray alone or with the group, begin with worship. Too often the director gives a quick “Oh, Lord…” prayer before and after the rehearsal; let’s change that by putting the Lord first and spend time as a group worshiping the One we serve and wait on Him before we charge into all that needs to be done. Consider spending at least 30 minutes singing to the Lord or quietly adoring Him. Position yourself so that you are face to face with Him. This is such a precious time because our ears can be opened to hear God’s whispers to us. Take note of words and phrases He gives you because they are connected to what He wants you to pray. When a group does this everyone usually gets a connecting or confirming word and the prayer is formed. Now we have the privilege of praying with God that His kingdom come and His will be done here on Earth as it is in Heaven.

 

Our friend, Bob Sorge, has an excellent book called Secrets of the Secret Place. Chapter three of the book is titled “The Secret of Listening.” This is a portion of what Bob has found about prayer:

“…(I) was suddenly struck by how often Jesus talked about the necessity of hearing. For example, He cried out, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear!’ …I realized that everything in the kingdom depends upon whether or not we hear the word of God.” “For this reason, I strongly advocate for a prayer life that is comprised mostly of silence. It’s a great delight to talk to God, but it’s even more thrilling when he talks to us. I’ve discovered that He has more important things to say than I do. Things don’t change when I talk to God; things change when God talks to me.” “So the power of prayer is found, not in convincing God of my agenda, but in waiting upon Him to hear His agenda.”

 

Preparation: This is all the at home and/or at office work that the entire creative team must do ahead of time so that rehearsals run efficiently.

1.                 Creative team - Arrange to have enough copies of the script and sheet music, as well as all copyrights and royalties taken care of before rehearsals begin. Also, brainstorm plans for marketing the event to the community and begin implementing those ideas.

2.                 Directors – Print rehearsal calendars and give them out on the first day of rehearsal or before. When planning your schedule, be specific as to what each rehearsal entails (i.e. opening number and scene one) so that cast members know what to expect and are prepared as well. Also, don’t limit rehearsals to just Saturdays or schedule rehearsals on every Saturday, as that is when many family and church events occur. Often, Saturday is the only day performers have to rest and we want to be sure that the cast stays healthy.

3.                 Directors – Tell the entire cast the story, vision, and message of your production. Let them see the whole picture so that they can truly feel a part of the outreach.

4.                 Music directors - Have music arranged into vocal parts before the first rehearsal. I have found it wise, if doing a musical, to teach the songs and vocal parts during the first weeks of rehearsal so that performers are singing without having to think when rehearsing scenes closer to performance time, especially if they are singing while dancing or doing some choreographed staging.

5.                 Choreographers – Take time to fully choreograph each dance before the day it is to be taught. Work out the formation patterns as well as the steps and have them written down so that you can teach them quickly and easily. True, you may need to change some steps at rehearsal when you see that they do not work, but that can be done easily without taking up too much of rehearsal time. You should be able to teach at least one complete dance at each rehearsal. Like the music, dances should be taught within the first three weeks of rehearsal so that performers have time to gain muscle and movement memory and dance without thinking about the next step.

6.                 Directors – Know your script and have your staging planned before rehearsal so that actors, singers, and dancers can be directed as to where they need to be at any given time during the show.

7.                 Directors – Know how you want your performers to be costumed for each scene. If costumes need to be rented, confirm with the rental store that they have sufficient numbers of those particular styles and have them hold the costumes and get them before the last two weeks of the show so that performers can rehearse in them. If you have a costume designer and seamstresses, be sure to impart your vision for costumes and have them finished for rehearsal at least two weeks before the show, again so the performers can get accustomed to moving in them. Having costumes early allows for any wardrobe adjustments that need to be made in plenty of time for the show. (It will also prevent wardrobe malfunctions:-)

8.                 Directors – Plan scenery and props when first going over the script with the creative team. Have a day or two dedicated to building and painting the set and encourage performers to help. This will build team, relationship, and foster a sense of ownership about the production. Props need to be used during rehearsal once the scene begins coming together so that they become a natural part of the actor’s movement.

9.                 Creative staff - Performers are volunteers and their time is valuable, so be completely prepared for each rehearsal. Have goals set as to what needs to be accomplished and communicate them to the other leaders and performers. Love your cast in word and deed.

Promotion: Our special events shouldn’t be seen as simply a time to share the gospel with the unsaved, this is a time for all involved to be changed as well. Promotion refers to furthering the progress and growth of everyone involved in the production spiritually, emotionally, relationally, as well as their talents.

“Minister” is a verb that means to serve, meet the needs of others, and be a servant to them. During this time of stress and deadline, we need to remember that we are servants first who must look out for the needs of those in our care. As we work to build relationships within the group, we will be able to learn about the circumstances in each person’s life. Is there someone who needs prayer? Is there someone who needs financial help to make payment on a bill or to buy presents for the family? Is there someone who is alone or a family that has no one else with whom to spend the holiday? We need to meet the needs within our local congregation as much as we need to reach out to the community at large.

Here are a few ideas to help encourage spiritual promotion in the cast:

  1. Prayer. I covered this subject earlier, but I want to talk about praying for each other now. Some of the largest and quickest growth spurts I have witnessed during productions came when the cast waited on the Lord and prayed rather than hurry along to rehearse what was scheduled. They prayed intently for their pastor, for the creative arts leadership, for each person playing a leading character, for the group as a whole, for those who would come to the program, and for the message that God wanted to speak through them. I have watched entire casts come alive with passion, focus, dedication and a new vision of who Jesus is and His heart for us.

  1. Share. Leadership needs to take a few minutes at each rehearsal and share a word about what God has been saying or revealing to them in the scriptures or through prayer during this season of time which will require those in leadership to set aside time daily in their busy schedule to sit at the feet of Jesus. I admit that I am guilty of letting my time get eaten up by “urgent” matters and the never ending “to do” list, and find myself at the end of the day empty and grieving that I did not do the most important thing that day, take time to listen to God through prayer or reading His word. We can’t be leaders in God’s kingdom and slack on this. This is a part of our growth, too, and will help to keep our production Christ-centered.

  1. Lift others. When people are required to “bring something to the table”, they usually rise to meet the challenge. Ask each person to bring a three to five-minute sharing lesson. They could take a scripture that the Lord has laid on their hearts and have them expound on it. They could read a poem they wrote. You could assign everyone different scriptures about Christmas, Easter, Passover, or whatever period in which you are preparing to do a program. Each person can research and expound on the scripture given them. Ahead of time, ask two people to share along with what one of the creative arts leaders has to say. All total, the sharing doesn’t need to be over fifteen minutes; there is a rehearsal still to be done. This exercise will cause each cast member to go deeper into the Lord and the purpose of the program. It will also open up each cast member so that the others will have the blessing of seeing them for the treasure they are.

 

Now I want to talk to everyone who participates in plays, musicals, and other specials. My biggest encouragement is to realize that you are not just a performer, but also a minister. You are a servant to God and His Kingdom and must look to the needs of others. Allow yourself to become family (brother and sister) with the rest of the cast. Honor your directors, choreographers, and fellow cast members by being at rehearsal on time and prepared to begin. Rehearse your lines so that you are off script as soon as possible. Ask the Lord to give you understanding as to how that character would feel and think so that you portray the character accurately. Practice your music and dances so that others don’t have to endure leadership teaching the same piece week after week. Be a blessing and active prayer warrior for those around you.

 

Announcement!

Would you like help preparing dances for your congregation’s Easter production? Join me March 4-6, in Cincinnati, Ohio, for Celebrate New Life. You will have the opportunity to learn several dances and movement pieces in various styles from numerous Christian choreographers all geared for the Passover and Easter season. (By the way, please send me suggestions for songs with these themes, as I will be teaching at least two dances while there.) More info and web site link to this event is coming soon.

 

May your Christmas production be most enjoyable and meaningful and your outreach most fruitful ever.

We wish you truly wonderful and peaceful Christmas and abundantly blessed New Year!

 

 

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