Had the pleasure of being interviewed by Tracie Arboneaux-Gorham from the FB Group “Therefore, I create!”
We talked about my career as an actor and the recent books I have authored. It was a fun conversation.Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments
Had the pleasure of being interviewed by Tracie Arboneaux-Gorham from the FB Group “Therefore, I create!”
We talked about my career as an actor and the recent books I have authored. It was a fun conversation.Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments
I had the pleasure of being featured on The Story Blender, a podcast hosted by critically acclaimed author, Steven James. Some of his previous guests include international bestselling authors George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones), Candice Fox, Steve Berry, Meg Gardiner, Sue Grafton, MJ Rose, and Robert Dugoni; comedian Bob Stromberg; Emmy-award winning writer John Tinker; and screenwriter Mark Bomback.
We are passionate about well-told, impactful stories. We love to listen to them. Watch them. Create them. So, we decided to talk with premier storytellers from around the country. Hear their stories and get their insights. From novelists to comedians to film makers to artists. Stories are told through a variety of people in a variety of ways. And here they are. The secrets of great storytelling from great storytellers.
I share some of my story and talking about some of the things that make live storytelling effective.
Give it a listen on their website at The Story Blender or on these podcast providers: PodBean, Spotify, or iTunes.Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments
(Finally, after months of not being on stage in front of an audience, Steve Wilent has been able to perform a couple of times recently. He discovered things are a little different than what he was used to before the pandemic.)
I was standing on stage about to start my one-man show According to John. I have performed this 45-minute version of the Gospel of John for over 30 years but this would be, thanks to COVID-19, the very first time that I have performed it to a congregation of masked people.
It was a bit jarring at first. I was used to seeing full faces out there. Faces that had mouths that would grin if I said something funny or would fully open if I said something really funny or perhaps droop in sadness to a character’s failure or lips that stretched thin during a stressful scene. So many ways to know that the folks out there were connecting with me and in turn I with them.
But that was all gone now. Now, due to the masks, all I had to go on, apart from a bit of body language and the muffled noises they made, was their eyes. The biggest problem with having a sea of eyes to look at is that, regardless of the emotion, everything looks like a squint! Happiness, sadness, stressfulness, nervousness, passion, hatred . . . it all comes across as a squint.
I remember an advanced acting class when I was in college. I was in a short scene with a female classmate. We were portraying two young lovers experiencing their first argument. I don’t remember the script. I don’t even remember my acting partner’s name, but what I do remember is that right at the height of the argument Jim Kirkman, the class instructor, suddenly yelled, “Stop!”
I remember freezing right there on stage and thinking, “What the heck?! We haven’t even got to the good part yet!” Kirkman then hopped up onto the stage and walked briskly past my acting partner and over to me. “Close your eyes,” he commanded. Ever the compliant, affable actor, I did so. Mind you, I didn’t simply allow my eyelids to softly come together; no, I shut them with such force that you might have been able to audibly hear them slam together. There was a sprinkling of suppressed laughter coming from the other students, who in this moment were quite happy not to be the target of Kirkman’s coaching.
I heard him say, “Steve, relax.” Again complying, I relaxed and for some reason decided that to fully relax I must also open my eyes. Kirkman grabbed my shoulders and quickly spun me around so that my back was now to What’sherface. Kirkman gently squeezed my shoulders and said, “What color are her eyes?” Understandably nervous I said, “What color are whose eyes?” I heard titters of laughter coming from the cheap seats. Before Kirkman could say, “What’sherface’s eyes,” What’sherface, sounding annoyed said, “My eyes, you moron.” Calling me a moron, I thought, was just her way of letting me know how attracted to me she was. I thought.
Kirkman, gesturing with his thumb over his shoulder said, “Yes, Steve, what color are her eyes?” Being put on the spot tends to do funny things to people. My usual way of handling this kind of pressure was to try to say something funny. So taking a cue from a popular Elton John song I said, “So . . . excuse me forgetting, but these things I do. You see I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue . . .” Truthfully, I just wanted to say that, what I actually did say, in a moment of surprising self-awareness was, “I don’t know.”
Kirkman suddenly spun around to face the class and pointing back at me with a bony finger yelled, “Exactly! You don’t know the color of her eyes because you were acting at her and not with her! When you act with a fellow human being you focus on their soul. The eyes are the windows to the soul, people! Use your eyes to see into their eyes!”
Back on stage in front of the masked and socially-distanced congregation, remembering Kirkman’s words helped me to link to a much wiser man’s words, “The eye is the lamp of the body . . .” Jesus said. Suddenly the sea of squints out there became a sea of souls to me. Precious souls, who now more than ever needed the hope and the courage to be able to thrive in this time of pandemic.
I have now made the decision that when things “get back to normal,” I will continue to focus on and minister to people’s souls, through their eyes.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, mine are blue!Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 2 comments
Pastor Kyle was lamenting his job
As his head was starting to throb.
He was squeezing a sponge,
Had a toilet to plunge.
“I was hired to preach, not to swab!”
from Get Me To The Church In Rhyme
by Chuck Neighbors
October is pastor appreciation month.
The punchline to numerous jokes I have heard over the years is “the pastor only works one hour a week.”
Having worked in the world of the church for over 45 years, I can tell you that nothing is further from the truth. If the average pew-sitter could job-shadow a pastor they would quickly realize that the one hour a week is easily multiplied by 60 or 80 for most of the pastors I know.
As with my job as an actor, there is so much more that goes with the job beyond what the audience/congregation sees. A typical pastor, in addition to being a preacher, is also a: teacher, lesson planner, sermon writer, counselor, hospital chaplain, event planner, and board member with too many meetings.
Those are duties that one might anticipate as a part of the job and could account for the typical hours on the job for most vocations. But for so many pastors, their job also overlaps into other areas, forcing them to be an: administrator, secretary, bookkeeper, musician, deliveryman, cook, janitor, groundskeeper, handyman and plumber.
They probably didn’t sign up for those jobs.
Add to that the people skills need to deal with the various personalities in the church. Pastors are often caught in the middle of church politics, and shoulder the blame for anything that a church member might not like. Many pastors are lonely and feel isolated, often having no one to talk to about their problems. Having close friends within the congregation can be difficult causing more problems by sparking jealousy and envy among the members.
And don’t forget that pastors are often spouses with kids, and have a life beyond the four walls of the church building. Like a doctor on call, congregation members call at all hours with real emergencies as well as a petty complaint. Way too many pastors are bi-vocational, unable to make a living on the salary paid to them by the church and forced to have a second job to pay the bills.
It’s a hard and often thankless job.
So take a moment to appreciate your pastor. Notice all the work they do beyond what you hear from the pulpit. Send a card, buy them a gift, take the broom out of their hands.
Pray for them.
Thank God for them.Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments
Went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends
A chance to share old memories and play our songs again
When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name
No one recognized me, I didn’t look the same
But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself
-From Garden Party by Ricky Nelson-
Well, okay, it wasn’t a garden party. It was my high school’s 45th reunion. My first high school reunion. It was a fun evening…a little surreal. So many unfamiliar faces. Thankfully name tags were provided with our high school yearbook picture attached. But even then…there were so many names and faces I didn’t remember. Our class was a big one, over 450 graduates, so there were a lot a classmates I didn’t even know then, let alone 45 years later.
A few in our class have gone on to make a living in the arts. Several good musicians from our class would be providing a steady stream of 70’s rock ’n’ roll through out the evening. I was asked in advance to share a monologue, since I am a professional actor/storyteller. I declined, feeling that the venue would not have been conducive for what I do. Live music can work in a party atmosphere; a dramatic or even comedic monologue, not so much. A second request was made for me to share a story. I stewed about it a bit, tried to imagine it going well…I finally agreed. I should have trusted my first instinct and stuck to the “no thank you.”
I picked a short story from my life that I thought might connect. I spent some time reworking it and even including a few references to classmates and events from 45 years ago. As a performer you try to envision the best possible scenario but also prepare yourself for the worst.
As I visited around the room that night, several acknowledged that they heard I was an actor and would love to see me perform sometime. I let them know that I would be doing a short monologue later in the evening.
There are several bits of advice and wisdom that run through your mind that apply to this kind of situation.
– Trust your gut
– Read the room and adjust
– Remember that the home crowd is always the toughest audience
I should have paid more attention to that last one. I know from performing at my childhood church over the years that the response is never what you expect or hope for. You want to impress, to show them what you can do and what you have become. They, on the other hand, can’t see past the kid they knew way back when. You know the feeling if you have ever gone back to your childhood home as an adult and suddenly feel like the kid you once were.
The reunion was in a fellowship hall of a church. About 70 alumni showed up. For the first couple of hours there was no program to speak of. People visited, ate food and there was a constant din of noise, laughter and good vibes in the room. I was asked if I wanted to go on early and thought, sure why not. The emcee made a few announcements and it was at the moment I realized my mistake in accepting this “gig.” Few people were listening. Most people were still standing. The noise level in the room did not change in spite of the fact that someone with a microphone was asking for their attention. Nothing changed as I was introduced to tell my story.
I am sure it was not as bad as the experience Ricky Nelson talks about in “Garden Party.” His was a performance in Madison Square Garden where he was actually booed by the audience. I wasn’t booed. But one of the most difficult things to do as an artist is to plow through a performance when you perceive no one is listening. This was “Show ’n’ Tell” gone bad.
In my early years as a touring performer we would occasionally be asked to do guerrilla theater—street theater. We would set up a makeshift performing area in the street or on a college campus. The goal was to command attention and capture an audience. Often that audience didn’t want to be “captured,” especially in a college cafeteria. I hated doing it, but did it anyway, it was part of the job. This reminded me of that.
There were a few who listened, or tried to listen. I found the eyes of those who were focused on me and played to them. If they were going to listen then I would tell them my story and try to shut out the noise and distraction filling the rest of the room. I’m quite sure many of them were thinking “who is that guy with the microphone…I wish he would shut up.”
I plowed through and couldn’t wait to get back to my seat. I’m guessing that about 75% of the room didn’t even realize they had missed it.
But a few people did listen. Because my work as an artist is faith-based, a few classmates sought me out to let me know that they too were people of faith. Nice to know.
I’m not angry. Not hurt. A little disappointed perhaps. It was what it was. I don’t blame people for not listening… hey, if the shoe were on the other foot, I am not sure I would have been one of those listening either. It was just not the right place and time for what I do. But next time… if there is a next time… I will be sure to ‘trust my gut!”Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments
I am in a different church almost every weekend. Being in itinerant ministry for nearly 45 years I figure I have been in no less than 2500 different churches, participating in their worship services. I like to observe these services and imagine what a visitor, an outsider not familiar with church culture, might be experiencing. I like to try to view the service through their eyes.
On this Sunday, as I sat in the front pew waiting to take to the platform for my performance, I was treated to the litany of announcements coming from the pastor. There was the need for volunteers to help with the Children’s Ministry. The Hospitality Ministry was looking for someone to bring donuts to the service next Sunday. And the Parking Lot Ministry wanted to let us all know about the resurfacing of the parking lot happening next week, advising anyone coming to the Women’s Ministry luncheon on Saturday to park in the street.
So many ministries! When I was a kid growing up in the church, the word “ministry” was not thrown around so casually. If someone was in ministry, the assumption was that they were the pastor of a church or a missionary. The word “calling” was frequently used in connection to “ministry.” As in being called into the ministry. If you look up ministry in the dictionary you see this definition: “the office, duties, or work of a religious minister.” Clearly the word is used more in line with a vocation than with a simple act of service.
Today the word is used for almost any activity, service, group or project in the church. I am a little conflicted about the use of the word. I use it too, of course. I tell people I am in full-time ministry as a professional actor/storyteller. For me it is tied to the vocation and the calling that I have on my life. The main purpose of my work is to spread the Gospel.
The current use of the word seems to imply that anything you do as related to church life is a ministry. There is great emphasis in a number of churches on “finding your gift” and using that gift in service to the church. Acts of service can certainly be a ministry. Whatever your gift, talent, or ability, you can now have a ministry. I have no problem with that. But I wonder if using the word “ministry,” for many, is a way of letting ourselves off the hook. Does matching my abilities, talents and passions automatically make it a ministry? If I like to play the drums and play in the worship band, is that a ministry? If I like sports and play in the church softball league is that a ministry? If I pass the donut shop on my way to church and pick up a couple dozen donuts to take to the church coffee hour, is that my ministry? Perhaps the answers to these questions are more a matter of the heart of the individual doing the service.
On the other side of the coin, if we volunteer at a local school, bake a cake for a non-church related-fundraiser, or help the senior citizen next door with their yard work, is that a ministry? Because a lot of people do those things that don’t claim to be Christian or a part of a church.
I wonder what the church visitor is thinking. What does he or she think ministry means in the context of this worship service? Something to ponder as I take the stage to share my ministry. I look forward to being served by the donut ministry in the lobby after the service.Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments
This summer I have intentionally slowed down my touring schedule. One reason is I wanted to devote more time to writing.
Wait, I need to take this call.
“Hello? No, I don’t need your credit card service. I have asked you about 100 times to take my number off your call list. Please don’t call again.”
Grrr…there ought to be a law! So, where was I?…ah, writing…
The Oregon weather is finally wonderful. So I am sitting out on my patio, looking up at the sky…oh, you have got to be kidding me. I just swept the cobwebs off the eaves yesterday and now they are back! Ugh… where is that broom?
[long pause, we hear some grumbling about spiders]
Okay, I’m back…
Now for some inspiration. Maybe I’ll address the writing process for the creative. Controlling your environment is very important-
“What? Yes, Lorie I know I said I would unload the dishwasher and – Now? But I was gonna… okay…now.”
[another long pause, with dishes clanking in the background]
All right, uh, controlling environment…
I have discovered that I do my best writing when I can find a space to work that is devoid of distractions-
[phone chime alert]
Oh, wow! This is great! A booking just came in. I need to respond to this right away. Let me look at the calendar…
[clacking of keyboard on the computer]
So…yeah…devoid of distractions. In fact I think my best writing was-
[Lawn maintenance guy rounds the corner of the house with a leaf blower. A few wood chips fly up onto the keyboard]
My best writing…my best writing was NOT done at home.
As strange is it may sound, I think I have more control over my environment at almost any place but home…
[long pause in the writing process]
I’m writing this last part at a coffee shop. Not too far from my home. Now I can write without distractions.
“Whoa…is that guy gonna drink all that by himself? That’s one huge drink. I wonder if it comes with a catheter?”
To be continued… or maybe not.
[Note: I really did set out to write about the importance of controlling your environment when writing. Most of the distractions that I mention, really did happen during the writing of this article]Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments
Remember the old commercial with the slogan “Is it Live or is it Memorex?” The conclusion that Memorex wanted you to draw was that quality of the recording would be so good that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. That you would prefer the recorded music to a live performance.
Technology has come a long way since that commercial (1972). If we are talking about sound quality alone, a professional recording would be hard to match in a live performance these days.
As a professional performer with a focus on ministry these last 40 plus years, I have seen the tides change on the “live vs. recorded” question, especially in the area of drama. I have written about it a few times, most notably here. For the church today, the consensus seems to be that live performance is “out,” video is “in.” And why not? Quality video is easy to obtain and relatively inexpensive. You don’t have to worry about an actor forgetting lines, and you don’t have to move anything on the platform to accommodate a living room setting (sofa, coffee table, and lamp) for a scene that only lasts 5 minutes. It is rare to find a church today that does not use video in some form at their church services every week.
And yet I hear from people in churches all the time that they miss live performance. So I decided to conduct an informal poll on Facebook. I wanted to see if the perception were true that, due to cultural shifts, more people would prefer video to live performance. I asked this question:
“Informal poll for my church-going friends:
A pastor has decided he wants to launch his next sermon series with a powerful 5-minute dramatic scene. He has the option of having two professional actors perform the scene live, or those same two actors perform the scene on video. Both options will be professional in every way. Would you prefer the “live” option or the “video” option?
(along with your answer would you give your age group with a simple: teens, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s?) Additional comments are welcome.”
There was great participation, with over 135 people responding to the question on 3 different FB sites in 24 hours.
Here are the results:
I know this not scientific. There is a bias in that most responders were in an age bracket closer to mine (between 50-70). It would be interesting to see how a mostly millennial sampling would have responded. And because of my connections in the arts, there are more responses from people in the performing arts than you might find in a more random poll. One responder questioned if the responses favored “live” over “video” because I, a theater person, was asking the question, rather than a person who does video for a living asking the question. Fair question and I am sure the results were skewed some because of that, but I don’t think that the vast majority were answering the question to satisfy the poller.
Note that there are also several pastors responding to the poll. One of the more interesting responses from a pastor was this:
Live would be more impacting, BUT, as a pastor I would have to consider the actors afterwards. Will the focus be on them and their performance? Would the video allow the people to more easily integrate it into my message?”
The implication being that the live performance might “upstage” the sermon. I have long suspected that a pastor might feel that way, but had never heard someone actually verbalize it.
There were a few other surprises. There were some theater people that I would have suspected would choose “live” who actually preferred “video.”
Many of those who chose video over live cited more practical reasons dealing with “easier for more people so see and hear in a large auditorium” as opposed to the artistic impact on the audience. And there were many who, rightly so, said it would all depend on the actual piece; that some pieces would translate better on video than live.
I am frankly surprised at the results. I would have expected video to come out ahead, given the shift in how often it is used in the church. But maybe the overuse of video has a lot to do with these responses.
My take-away is that the shift away from live performance in so many churches today does not reflect the preference of the people in the audience. Many have suggested that this is a pendulum swing and that live performance will once again come back. Me, I’m not so sure.
What do you think?
In the meantime, let me know if I can come to you “live.” No Memorex, I promise!Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 2 comments
I could tell something was amiss with Mr. Music Director at this church. He didn’t greet me when I arrived early, unlike other members of his team. He was agitated with the sound issues the church was having. And it was clear that his agenda was the only one that mattered, even though I arrived early to do a sound check and rehearse my tech cues. I soon discovered he was not about to relinquish the stage to me before the service.
He first upstaged one of the team members who was speaking to the congregation by going up to each worship team member, checking their microphone and pointing wildly at the sound booth to confirm that each mic was working properly.
He upstaged again when he moved back to the keyboard and refused to start the next song until he was convinced everyone’s mic was working. The pastor prompted verbally from the front pew, “let’s go.” He then said, “I’m sorry but our music is sensitive and I don’t want to play unless it is right. I’m sure you understand.”
Finally it was time for me to take the platform. Things were going along fine until the final moments of my performance, when Mr. Music Director decided to take the stage while I was still speaking. This is a sensitive moment in my performance and Mr. Music Director was upstaging me by moving onto the platform and flipping switches getting ready for his closing song. I could sense my audience moving their focus from me to Mr. Music Director. I wanted to say something to him; to tell him to please go sit down until I was finished. But to do so would have only caused me to totally lose my audience, and possibly turn them against me. I’m sure if you were to ask him, he would tell you he was being professional and preparing for a smooth transition to the closing.
I wish I could say that this was a rare occurrence, but sadly it is not. I share this story with you not as rant but rather to encourage you to understand one of the basic rules of the stage, and that applies to any situation in front of an audience. What Mr. Music Director was doing is called “upstaging.” In theatrical terms it means to draw attention away from where it is supposed to be. Upstaging in the theater is when an actor moves upstage of another actor forcing the other actor to turn their back to the audience in order to interact with them. In theater we tend to think of it as intentional bad behavior, but in truth it can be unintentional and often accidental. Or in the case of Mr. Music Director, it can be due to being oblivious to what you are actually doing.
(I have written about this topic as it relates to church before here: Baby Talk. If you check it out also read the comments that follow—some interesting stuff.)
Here are some examples of upstaging that I observe in churches almost every weekend.
• late arrivals
• people who get up and leave in the middle of the service
• people who return to the service after leaving in the middle of the service
• babies crying or cooing
• cellphones ringing
• texting or using a mobile device during the service—yes other people notice.
• tech issues with microphones not working properly
• team members on the platform who are talking to each other, or moving things around while someone is speaking
• outside interruptions, a clap of thunder or police sirens.
As you can see, some of these things we can’t control but some can be controlled with proper instruction and planning.
So take this challenge. Next time you are in church, make a mental note of anything that causes you to take your focus away from the person you should be giving your attention to. And at all costs, don’t be the one doing the upstaging.Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 2 comments
I was excited to hear a well-known author and speaker address a conference I was attending. I’d read this man’s books and had always been impressed with his stories and his ability to craft words in ways that move and inspire people.
As he got up to speak, my expectations fell like a rock. He opened his talk with a joke. A joke I had heard numerous times before. The audience laughed…but it was a “polite” laugh, giving me the impression that I was not the only one who had heard that joke before. He went on with his talk, and it was a good talk, but couldn’t get past the fact that this renowned speaker and master wordsmith would open with a joke.
A few weeks ago I was privileged to share a meal with another author and speaker. In the course of our conversation we were both laughing almost constantly with funny stories about our lives, travels, and families. At one point in the conversation he said, “I got rid of all my sermon illustration books. I discovered that I had more illustrations from my own life that were infinitely better than the ones in those books.”
It is not that those other illustrations were bad, and perhaps some were more dramatic or funny than his own stories, but they were not “his” stories. He discovered that his personal stories had more impact, humor and relevance than another person’s stories. When he told his stories there was a ring of authenticity that made the listener connect and want to hear more.
As I have watched the really good comedians over the years, my favorites are always the ones that focus on telling their own stories or observations, not telling jokes.
It is not that I don’t enjoy a good joke; in fact telling jokes was one of the ways I discovered my talent and ability as a performer. But I have learned, like my author/speaker friend has learned, that there is great power in telling your own stories.
So the next time you are preparing a speech, sermon, or emcee, don’t go digging through illustration books. Just spend a bit of time looking at a diary, photo album, old Facebook posts or even looking in a mirror. Trust me, there is some great material there!Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments