It’s Not Just For Kids

(originally published in the Lillenas Drama Newsletter)

Pet peeves.  Everyone has them right?  Maybe for you it is people who are late for appointments, spouses who don’t make the bed, cat hair on your clothing, cold food at McDonald’s . . . the list can go on and on.

I lead an exercise called “Fret & Fuss” at my drama workshops. I ask people to find a partner and then share, in animated fashion, one of their pet peeves.  The exercise is to help break down inhibitions and also to make observations about how we communicate.  Although I have used this exercise many times, I rarely get to participate, as I am leading the group rather than playing along with everyone.

But, I have often thought that I would like a turn at this game.  So if you will permit me 60 seconds, I would like to fret and fuss to you about one of my pet peeves.  After I finish my rant, I will calm down and explore this frustration more rationally.

Ready?  Here goes…

Drama is not just for kids!  For crying out loud, I am forty….. something years old, do I look like a kid to you!  I hate it when I go to a church and they say something like “oh, that’s great for the young people.”  Don’t get me wrong—it is great for the young people—but old people like to act too!  Think of all the great plays and movies you have ever seen and then go and replace every actor with a high school age student. Give me a break! There would be no Dustin Hoffmans, Meryl Streeps, Paul Newmans, and Katherine Hepburns.  People who like to act don’t suddenly stop liking to act when they become an adult. It is a gifting, a God-given talent, and done well can have tremendous and life changing impacts. It’s no wonder that Christian drama gets a bad reputation when it is left to “just the kids.”  I wish the church would elevate the dramatic arts and tap into this powerful medium!  We are making progress, but just this week I was on the phone with yet another pastor talking about doing a drama workshop for their church and once again he was stuck in this “great for the young people” box.  We don’t do that with our music programs—many churches pay big bucks to have the best in Christian music, but when it comes to drama —we get no respect!

Okay, take a deep breath.

There, I feel better.  It is amazing how much better you feel when you take a few minutes to get something that bugs you off your chest.

Now let’s look at this issue more closely. At the heart of the issue is how drama is perceived by a number of adults in the church.  The perception by some adults is that drama is childish, unprofessional, and of little substance.  It is a good thing for “the kids to do” because it is sometimes “cute,” harmless fun, and is an activity that can “keep them out of trouble.”  It is a great experience that helps the young person develop skills in front of an audience, and we adults love to watch our kids perform.  While all these things may be true and even valid reasons for doing drama in church, it comes down to drama being an event that you can invite the grandparents to attend and take some pictures for the family scrapbook.

There’s nothing wrong with that!  I thank God that I had just those opportunities and have a scrapbook full of cute pictures from my childhood productions.  Indeed, I credit those very experiences in helping me discover my passion and calling to theatre today. No question, drama is a good thing for kids!

But contrast that attitude with experiencing a drama that is done on a professional level with material of substance by performers in my own age and peer group.  This drama is not a “cute skit,” but a play on real life issues that cuts to the heart of the Gospel leaving audience members in tears or stunned silence.  You don’t get that kind of quality and impact when drama is left exclusively to the youth of the church. Think back to the plays or movies that you have seen that impacted you, made you cry, or lie awake at night thinking about life.  Schindler’s List comes to mind for me.  The scene at the end when Oscar Schindler finally comes to the realization of how many more lives he could have saved, was powerful and for me theological—I thought about it for days.  Drama, done well, can do that to people.

Some of the blame for this “drama is for kids” attitude falls on the shoulders of those who were writing material for the church audience in years gone by.  Poor quality material is hard to turn into award winning drama.  And while there is still some pretty poor stuff out there, I am happy to say that there is a lot of good quality material available today!  There are quite a number of churches that have discovered the power of good drama done well.  The bar has been raised for these churches and the quality of their work shows it.

Do you want to raise the bar for your church?  Do you want to see your church perform drama that can change the lives of those in the audience/congregation?  If so, here are some practical steps you can take to make it happen:

Change your vocabulary. Don’t call the plays “skits” and don’t call them “cute.”  Drama, sketch, play and vignette are much better alternatives.  A skit sounds like something done at camp on talent night—let’s leave it there.

Cultivate an inner-generational drama team. Don’t exclude the youth, but include the adults. There is no reason to have a 16 year-old play a 60 year-old man if you can get the real thing! Talk up drama with the adults in your church.Find out who did plays in school, college or community theatre and go after those people.

Be on the look-out for talent. Use social functions at the church as a time to find talented adults to add to the drama team.  They are usually easy to spot—they’re the ones who make large groups of people laugh or can tell a good story.

Get some training. Take a class on theatre at a community college.  Attend a church drama conference (there are several to choose from, call me for details). Go see plays so you can begin to see the difference between good drama and bad. Hold a drama workshop for the team to teach the basics to all those involved. (You can even book me to do this!)

Find good material to perform.

You can start with the books offered by this ministry.  Send me an email or give me a call if you want help finding other printed resources.

I am convinced of the power of drama to reach people.  I believe that, in light of our current entertainment oriented culture; it is one of the most effective avenues available to communicate with this world.  Let’s not use it lightly by leaving it in the hands of children. Let’s give it our best for the sake of the Gospel!

Chuck Neighbors