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
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
Sometimes even I have to cringe when I talk about what I do for a living. I try to find different words to use. “I am a professional actor/storyteller in ministry” has a bit more credibility and helps to distance the gap from saying something like “I do skits in church.” Let’s face it, church drama has suffered a (often a well deserved) bad reputation. I understand when people roll their eyes when the topic of church drama comes up. It’s no wonder that in many churches it is relegated to the children’s department and gets no respect when adults engage in this craft.
And yet, it can be done well, and is by many—both professionals and amateurs. It was seeing it done well that inspired me to pursue acting as a career. I can’t begin to tell you how many people credit a church production as being the thing that drew them to church and, for many to faith as well. If you read the bio’s of famous performers you would be amazed at how many credit the church with giving them their start. (Although considering the paths some of them have taken, that may not be a compliment!)
We have just finished Christmas, a time when many churches engage in this creative endeavor, and we are quickly approaching the Easter season, the other time of the year when even churches who don’t allow “church drama” will often make an exception and give that much maligned group of artists in the church a chance to ply their craft.
The Easter Pageant Season is upon us.
As a warning…maybe some things are better left to our imagination. A sensitive scene gone wrong will only inflict more damage on our reputation. It might be better to leave some special effects to Hollywood. I offer these examples of what not to do:
Our message matters! Make a memorable show, but to quote an old TV show “be careful out there!”
If you want some good quality drama, consider inviting me or one of our artists to your church. We promise not to drop, fly or burn Jesus!Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments
The actor I was directing was just saying his lines. There was no feeling, no thought, no sense of character. The only thing I could get out of his performance was the sense that he was afraid he would not remember his lines. He spoke too quickly, his sentences ran together without pause. I knew the feeling… I have been there many times. He was afraid if he paused he would forget what line came next.
Actors learn that one major key to a good performance is knowing what your character wants–its motivation. If you don’t know your lines, you can’t play the scene with the true intent of the text. Instead of wanting to achieve the objective of the character, you are completely obsessed with remembering your next line. And anyone watching the play will be able to tell.
If acting were just memorizing lines and being able to repeat them, it wouldn’t take much talent or skill to be accomplished. But acting is so much more than that. In training actors we emphasis the importance of owning your lines–knowing them so well you don’t have to think about what comes next. I tell actors you can’t act until you know your lines.
In an earlier blog I talked about the importance of knowing “who you are,” a key question for any actor playing a role. But equally important as knowing who you are, you need to be able to answer the question: What do you want? This is true for the play in general but also for every moment the actor is on stage. The big picture may be to defeat the villain or to win the affection of the princess, but it also applies to every little moment on stage. If you need to move from one side of the stage to the other, you need to move motivated by a reason that the character understands. When the actor speaks, he needs to understand why he is saying what he is saying. He needs to know what he wants.
Acting–good acting–is a reflection of real life. I sometimes wonder what my life would look like if I took the time to actually stop and think about “what I want” as I go through each day. I think most of us may have it figured out on the big scale. We want to be happy, to make a decent living, have a good marriage and loving family. Some aspire to fame, fortune or adventure. Some to make the world a better place and work on the cutting edge with a sense of calling in faith and service. We may know what we want in a big picture sort of way. Some of us are moving forward and achieving our objectives.
But sometimes I think I may be living my life a bit like that actor I was working with. Struggling to remember my lines. So obsessed with just getting through the day that I may have lost sight of the big picture. I need to be reminded of “what I want” and move forward with the proper motivation to achieve my objective.
What about you? What do you want?Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 2 comments
“I really enjoyed your… uh… sho–uh… your… uh”
I’m thinking, “Please don’t say it. Don’t say that other word that starts with an ’s’.”
“I mean, I liked your skit?… is that what you call it?”
Ah, she said it. There it is–the dreaded 4 letter “S” word that is like foul language to us theater types. Yet I understand. I mean, this is church and I think the word “skit” was invented at church youth camp. It is hardly the right word to use for those of us in the world of professional theater, but it’s okay. The church, for the most part, doesn’t quite know what to do with performers the likes of myself.
The next person I encounter struggles for a better whatchamacallit…
“That was a great… uh perfor… uh… presentation. Is that what you call it?”
Ah, yes! “Presentation” that’s the safe word. I don’t like it, but it is better than “skit,” although I think presentation works better in the corporate training world. However, I find that even I use it when describing what I do. “Presentation” is one word that can mean many different things; it’s generic. A sermon, a concert, a testimony, a drama… all can fall under the banner of “presentation” and be suitable to use in the context of a church service.
The truth is, what I have just done is a performance, usually a drama or storytelling. The common descriptor in the culture would be a one-man-show. Ah… but that creates a problem in the world of the church. The church is not the place for “shows.” And for many this is especially true when it comes to the worship service–the place I do most of my performing. The problem is not with what I do. Once experienced, most agree it is totally appropriate for worship. I describe it to many as a “creative sermon.” The problem is what to call it. The church, especially today has placed a premium on authenticity and anything too polished or too professional that feels like a “performance” is suspect.
I get it. It’s sort of a backlash against the idea that worship is just a “show” a–“performance”–and not authentic on the part of those on the platform. But worship is also a place for those with gifts in the arts to use them, and use them effectively. For us it is our offering.
So I will continue to struggle to find the right word. I’ll grin and bear it when you refer to my performance as a skit.
And then there are the other related issues:
“That was so moving… I wanted to applaud… but I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate!”
And this favorite from a friend:
“That was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud.”
Performing in the church: a conundrum.
Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 5 comments
From my inbox:
“How do you feel about doing live stage performance, that has been carefully, planned blocked, with sets, entrances costumes, lighting etc, and then have video camera crew shoot the whole thing onto three giant screens floating above your head? Do you feel as I do that this pretty much sucks the life out of the art form and the relationship between the actor and the audience – especially since the audience stops watching the stage and watches the giant screens instead?”
Can you feel the frustration coming from the question? And did you notice that the writer sort of answered the question—assuming I would agree—before I had a chance to answer? In this case the assumption is correct. And then there is this:
“I have no control over the camera angles, close ups or long shots. The person in the booth who never sees the rehearsals takes it upon themselves to shoot the action on the stage any way they want to and thereby interprets for the audience what they want them to see.”
No question about it, church is not what it used to be. Technology, like it or not, is here to stay. As much as some may long for the “good ole days” they aren’t coming back when it comes to technology. Oh, there are the hold-outs—mostly churches that are more limited by finances and know-how, rather than desire. But it is rare indeed to see a church that doesn’t have a video screen and making use of power-point, video, and even interactive question and answers via texting from the congregation.
Technology is great and I love all the things we can do with it. But just because we have the technology doesn’t mean we should use it in every conceivable situation! The drama department—if you even have one—is one area of the arts that has suffered the most… that and add the printers of hymnbooks. Both, it seems have been replaced by the video screen.
Live theater and video are two very different art forms. A stage play is directed with the understanding that a live audience is viewing the scene. It is up to the director to control the audience’s attention through the dialog, movement on stage, and the lighting. Video is very different and attention is focused through the camera’s lens. There is no choice for the viewer on where to look, the camera tells you. I have seen some very professional stage plays shot on video… I am rarely impressed.
I can truly identify with the struggle expressed in the email. I am often in situations where they want to project my image on the screen while I perform. I usually discourage it. The only exception being in the truly large auditoriums that seat thousands, and it is a legitimate concern for everyone to be able to see. But that is not the case in most churches and in the scenario expressed in this email.
My advice for those that are caught in the middle of live performance vs. video is to make a choice. Is this script better or more effective as a live play or as a video? If it is video, then go shoot a video outside the service time where the script is set up and shot properly as a video shoot. And if it is better live, then turn the camera off during the service!
No question, I have a bias. We are inundated with video today. There is a power in live performance. There is a relationship between audience and performer that you can not achieve with video. So I say again, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
Do you have any other helps or advice for the writer of this email? How would you suggest the person handle this issue with those making the decisions to shoot the video?Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 9 comments
was reflecting the other day on my profession and made the observation that I have something in common with actor Kirk Cameron. If I asked you to make a list of “Christian actors,” we would both probably be on that list. (It would be a very short list.) Kirk’s name would likely be very near the top of the list and mine near the bottom. Mine would only be on your list if I happened to come to your mind because I had recently performed at your church, and you remembered my name. It would probably listed like: “That Christian actor guy that performed at our church a few months ago.”
I have commented in the past about being labeled a “Christian actor” as opposed to simply an actor who is a Christian. When it comes to my profession and my faith I prefer to have both those words be nouns.
Somehow putting the word “Christian” in front of an occupation is either extremely limiting or sets up an expectation that is false or impossible to fulfill.
Christian Plumber — When he finishes your pipes will only drip holy water.
Christian Carpenter — He makes lovely crosses but his doors won’t stay closed, they are always open.
Christian Mechanic — He converts all your parts, giving them new life.
Christian Doctor — No pills… but make sure he washes his hands before he lays them on you. You don’t want the last infection he healed.
You get the idea… I mean you don’t have to be a Christian to do a job well and frankly I have met some Christians in certain professions that aren’t very good at their jobs. I want a plumber that can unclog a drain, a carpenter who knows how to make a good cabinet, an honest mechanic that can fix my car, and a doctor who is willing to prescribe an antibiotic… I don’t care if they are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim or an Atheist.
There are times when “Christian” as an adjective makes sense… Add Christian in front of minister, missionary, or maybe counselor and I understand that.
Add Christian in of front actor and you feel doomed to play only parts that require a beard and a bathrobe (unless maybe your name is Kirk Cameron). And I happen to know there several famous actors who are Christians. I won’t mention their names out of fear that you might start thinking of them as “Christian actors.” Sometimes I want play the bad guy — every good story has one. An actor who is a Christian can do that… a Christian actor… probably not.
What are some of your favorite misuses of the label “Christian?”Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 4 comments
Ever wonder what artists talk about when they get together? Fishermen talk about “the one that got away.” Truck drivers talk about bad wrecks and near misses. Food service people talk about rude customers. But what do artists, especially those musicians and actors who serve the church… what do they talk about?
The name of this blog is Backstage Blog… so today I thought I would give you some real backstage chatter. I recently received this true story from a fellow artist. I have my own similar stories but rarely have I seen so many bad cliches come together in one narrative. So read and enjoy… or cringe… as the case may be!
When I was touring my one-man material back in the 90s (I know, so long ago, right?), I would send churches a checklist of things I needed. Top of the list: I need a place where I could change and please please have the platform area be cleared of furniture before I got there. In my heyday of 2 or 3 performances a week, it got very tiring to move furniture, get changed, do the play, then move it all back. But over the years, my guess is about 70% of the churches didn’t do this for me. I’d walk into the sanctuary and the front of the church still looked like Sunday morning. Although a janitor was usually there to “help me” clear it off.
This became the beginning of true back pain.
One place, I remember it was in a little town in CA, I didn’t have anyone there to help at all. I wandered in Sunday afternoon, calling for help. Finally, an older gentleman came out and said he couldn’t help me, his back was bad and besides, I was a young whipper-snapper and couldn’t I just move those 6 heavy solid cherry-wood pews off the platform, along with the five huge potted plants, and the pulpit the size of a ship prow. I had just driven 6 hours, in the middle of summer, without stopping to go to the bathroom. So I made a stand: “I really need someone to come down and help me.” This made the older gentleman furious. He called the youth pastor/choir director down to help me. He showed up with Chuck E. Cheese on his breath, fit to be tied that I would make such a ruckus. I told him he signed a pledge the stage would be cleared and I can’t do it myself. So, he helped me, but I got the youth pastor silent treatment the whole time. But this wasn’t the only insult to my injury.
Next I asked where I could get changed. He pointed to a storage room off the stage. I could barely get inside with all the boxes and music stands. One box I noticed right away. Actually, several boxes—all containing photocopies of my plays. Dozens of them. There were probably 3 of my books with all the plays copied over and over. The youth pastor/choir director came in and saw me looking at the plays. He said: “Yeah, the youth pastor up the street got ahold of these plays from someone else and he let me copy them all. They’re hysterical. Really good skits.” I just kept staring at him, trying to figure out how to tell him I was the author and how uncool this was. Then the lightbulb went off in his head.
He said, “Oh man, you wrote those skits, didn’t you? We use ’em all the time.”
I was still looking at him for any sign of guilt or remorse for blatantly breaking copyright laws. Nothing. So, I prompted him: “Yeah, um, this is my work.”
“Your work? I thought it was the work of the Lord.”
“No, ” I said, “I mean, it’s my work. My job. This is how I make a living.”
“So, it’s not a ministry to you?”
I’d heard this line a thousand times and I had my response: “Yeah, and isn’t what you do your ministry?”
“And don’t you get paid for it?”
He shook his head. He was disgusted. “It’s not the same thing.”
Of course, I’d also heard this a thousand times too. This was just spiritual snobbery. “How come it’s not the same? I commit myself to God, the same as you. I’m preaching the word, the same as you. I went to school to study how to do this, the same as you.”
Man, this really cooked him up. Finally, his coup de grace: “Writing skits and doing plays is not the same as clergy ministry, okay? And if you were really serving Jesus, you’d be happy your work is being used.”
To which I replied: “Please don’t use Jesus to excuse your bad manners.”
Two weeks later, I got a note from the youth pastor. I, of course, expected a note of apology or understanding. He told me I wouldn’t be asked back. That I didn’t have a spirit of humility. And that he was going to write my publisher to tell them that I wasn’t representing their company well by demanding they buy copies. Oh sweet irony. Anyway, not many people I can share this story with now. Back in the old days when we were fighting the good fight to legitimize the use of theater in churches (it did get legitimized—then marginalized!)”
I can thankfully say that experiences like this one are rare. The church… at least most…has come a long way in its understanding of art as it pertains to ministry… but some of those attitudes are still out there… He who has ears to hear, let him hear.Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 13 comments