Interview with Chuck Neighbors

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.

“I’m writing a book…I’ve got the page numbers done.”

– quote by Steven Wright

It’s been a while since I gave you an update on what I have been up to lately. As some of you know, I have purposely taken a break from my touring and performing life, and have been venturing more into writing. I published a book of faith-based limericks – Get Me to the Church in Rhyme: Limericks about God, Faith, and the Church – and revised and re-released my book called Drama Workshop: Teaching Drama to Beginning Actors. I am currently writing a book about being a Christian artist, tentatively titled “Church Pews, Potlucks, and a Tank of Gas: A Survival Guide for the Independent Christian Artist”


But one of the projects I am most excited to announce is that I have written a children’s book! The book is called “I Am Lucy,” and yes, it is about our beloved granddaughter, Lucy. The book will address her special needs as a child with Kabuki Syndrome.


I am excited to be working with Canadian artist Chris Kielesinski as my illustrator. He just sent me a few early drafts of some of the artwork. He is really capturing her personality and essence. 


In the meantime, while I am not currently touring and performing, Steve Wilent and Marcia Whitehead are still trodding the boards and would be happy to bring one of their inspirational stories to you!



“What Happened to Drama in Churches?”

If you follow this blog, you know I have commented in several of the postings about the decline of drama ministry in the church.  Willow Creek Community Church was the model that everyone followed and now apparently they too have abandoned drama. Here is a a great commentary on this from one of Willow Creek’s own, Sharon Sherbondy.  Please read.. and I would love to hear your thoughts!

What Happened to Drama In Churches?


Drama Ministry—The Basic Training

A blog is probably not the best place to try to teach acting skills.  You can’t teach someone to sing by reading a book nor can you teach acting by simply telling them the basics.  Both have to be learned through experience, by “doing” rather than merely reading and studying about them.  However you can come to some understanding of some of the basics that need to be considered.  Here is an overview of the basics to be considered for those who want to develop drama ministry in the church

What Does it Take to Make it Work?

Here is a chance at the outset to help people identify some of the things that are going to be required to have a successful drama ministry. The goal is to help people realize that good drama ministries don’t just happen. They take work, planning, and discipline.  Consider:

  • People – you need actors, director and support people.
  • Material (scripts) – are you going to write your own or purchase?
  • Rehearsal space – ideally you need to have not only rehearsal space but an opportunity to rehearse on the actually stage before the performance.
  • Leadership/Director- drama doesn’t work well in committee. You need a director!
  • Commitment – it takes time to do drama well. . .you need people willing to give that commitment (rule of thumb — one hour of rehearsal for each page of dialog).
  • Costumes, sets, and props – even the simplest of productions will have these needs
  • Technical support – lighting, sound, etc.
  • Good communication between the drama team leader and the pastoral staff.

That last one is huge, especially if your plan is to include drama on a regular basis in your worship services.  And to be honest it is often the downfall of many drama ministries.  Make sure you share a vision with the leadership of the church.

Performance Basics

There are resources out there to help you train and develop your team. I wrote a book based on my drama workshops called Drama Now, which serves as a sort of basic training for drama ministry.

Here are the performance basics you will need to consider:

  • Inhibition.  One of the first obstacles to getting started for beginning actors is fear.  Fear of getting on stage and making a fool out of themselves, fear of blowing their lines, fear of not be accepted by their fellow actors or by the audience.  We need to tackle this fear head on.
  • Body Control.  Acting is a visual medium.  Our bodies are instruments to be used to communicate our message.  Often what we say with our bodies is just as important as the lines we recite.  Actors need to become aware of this and learn to use and train their bodies to say what we want them to say.
  • Body Movement.  Body Control has to do with becoming aware of our body and how it can be used to communicate.  Body Movement has more to do with the rules of the stage (yes, there are rules!).  This is where we will get into the proper way to stand, sit, and walk on stage.
  • Eye Contact/Focus.  Our eyes, while a very small part of our body, are extremely important in the communication process, both in real life and on stage.
  • Voice Projection.  Today almost every actor uses a microphone. While this technology has many benefits, it is still important for actors to know how to project their voices.
  • Diction.  You can have great projection but if we can’t understand you because you have bad diction or you are talking too fast, then we have a problem.
  • Memorization.  An actor’s goal is to know the lines so well that he or she doesn’t have to stop and think, “what comes next?”  The focus should be on character, not lines, when it comes time for performance.
  • Characterization.  The real fun and creative part of being an actor is in creating believable characters on stage.  This is where we get to use our imaginations; where we revert back to what many of us did so well in our childhood—pretend.

There is more, much more to consider, but this is a good overview of what you will need to consider.  There is a sort of mantra that people in the church drama movement have adopted and I think this is a good place to insert it:

“I’d rather see no drama than bad drama.”

To do drama well takes time and dedication.  Is it worth it?  I think so… but if you are going to do it be sure you do it well!

Chuck Neighbors

The Pendulum Swings-Worship Trends

The pendulum swings.  What is in one season is out the next, and then before you know it, it is back again.  This is so true of cycles in worship ministry as well.  Hymns are out, worship choruses are in. . .then hymns come back and choruses are out.  The sermon is a methodical preaching of a chapter at a time through a book of the Bible, and then it is a topical sermon on how to eliminate stress in your life, and them back to the Bible again.  If there is an area of ministry that has felt this pendulum swing the most profoundly it would have to be drama in worship.  Whereas music and sermons are a given (it just changes format), drama it seems is either “in” or “out.”  There doesn’t appear to be any half measures. . .well, except it is always “good for the kids,” so it will often be found in Sunday School, even if not in the sanctuary.

There are several factors that contribute to this.  If you look at the history of theater in the church, it has always been in one season and out the next.  Historically drama has its roots in the church; the very first plays were religious plays.  But drama has a way of saying things–sometimes too effectively–and runs the risk of offending, so out it goes. Drama ministry also seems to center around the passion of a few individuals.  If you have such people in your church, you might have a drama ministry but if those people don’t exist, or leave, so goes the drama ministry.  Unlike music ministry, there will probably not be an all-out search for the next drama ministry leader.

Sadly, I have to say that drama seems to be on the “out” again, this time not for being too amateur or too edgy, but for being too time-consuming and inconvenient.  Live actors have been replaced by media.  Countless churches that had effective drama ministries are no more.  A few clicks on the computer and you can download a video that can be played in seconds.  The quality can be as good as Hollywood, and slipping it into a worship service seamless.  I wrote more about this in my blog, The First Church of YouTube.

But before we do the proverbial “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” let’s revisit the benefits of doing live drama in worship.

  • Drama has immediacy and energy to it that you cannot get from video.  The sense, when done well, of being “in the moment.”  Connecting to an audience in a way that no other media can touch.
  • Jesus told stories – parables – to get his point across.  Drama does much the same thing.  And doing this live makes it very personal.
  • We live in a culture of entertainment; it is the language of our culture.  Drama is entertaining and entertainment is not a bad thing.  We all like to be entertained.  We may not want to admit it, but the worship services at most churches are well planned.  The pastor wants the service to hold the attention of the congregation.  The best sermons are sprinkled with humor and stories.  Why?  Because if it entertains us, it holds our attention. (For more on entertainment in the church see Redeeming Entertainment.)
  • There is a lot of drama in the various elements of worship.  Consider communion, baptism, responsive readings, etc.  These and many other parts of worship have drama all their own.
  • Drama is visual.  People remember more of what they see than what they hear.
  • Drama has the unique ability to tap into our emotions and our intellect at the same time, and this is especially effective because the audience member will identify and connect with a certain character being portrayed on stage.
  • While the Gospel doesn’t change, our culture does.  We (the church) need to find effective ways to minister to our culture without compromising the truth of the Gospel. In this regard drama is made to order!
  • It provides a place of service and ministry to those who have talent in this area. If the church does not provide a place for this artistic energy to be used, then rest assured those who have a passion for the performing arts will find another outlet for it.

For me, this last point is perhaps the biggest tragedy. The church needs to be a breeding place for the arts.  Not just music, but all art.  Many have chosen to sacrifice good art for the sake of expediency.  Speaking for myself, I would probably not be an actor today if it were not for the encouragement and experiences that I had doing my first church dramas as a kid.  I encourage you to develop a worship ministry strategy that includes a variety of artistic expression:  music, drama, dance, painting, sculpture and more.  All of these can be wonderful expressions of worship to our Creative God.

Chuck Neighbors

That’s a Wrap! The end of my tour Down Under

Highlights of a Weekend in Sydney, Australia

Swapping Stories

While on tour in New Zealand, Chuck Neighbors and The Reverend David Winfield share about their beginnings in theater.

One Weekend in Christchurch

Highlights of the Anglican Clergy Conference

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