I Really Like Your Whatchamacallit
“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
Oh my gosh, you are SO dead-on! I call it the “P” word… “performance” is often spoken like it’s a sin. Being in both Drama and Contemporary Music, I found myself trying to find other words to use in staff meetings…until I finally just decided to call it what it is – it’s a performance! Our choirs perform major works, our preachers perform baptisms and rituals (and sermons, honestly), and Jesus performed miracles – and we don’t seem to get our panties in a wad over any of that. We perform dramas. I think theatre people have always understood that effective worship in any style has always been a performance. It takes planning; it’s scripted, with people assigned to various speaking and singing roles that require rehearsal; the set changes based on that week’s needs (baptismal font? banners?); we use props (flowers, banners, palm branches); choreography (who sits where? stand or sit for that song? which mic?); costumes (robes or not? which stoles?), a musical underscore; an A/V person with lighting and sound cues to follow; and a flow with an effective “arc” from start to finish. The fact that GOD is at the heart of it ALL t doesn’t change the fact that it has all the elements of a performance. I am happy to say that most in our church are now quick to applaud, to laugh out loud, and to remain still and NOT applaud when the mood of a song or drama takes them there. But it took about 20 years of dramas and permission-giving to respond however God internally moves them to respond. Keep up the amazing work, Chuck! You are one Powerful, Positive Performing Preacher! 🙂 (all those great “P” words!)
Thanks Lori! Great to know you are still performing too!
Lori, So right!!! Sad that we, while professing to share Truth, still hide behind falsehoods about just how theatrical we really are… I have had no small number of awkward moments brought about because I refuse to use multiple vocabularies for the same actions. It IS performance, and we feel Called to use our Gifts to our best ability. Plus, for me anyhow, moving between Sacred and Secular settings, my motivation and standard can remain the same, and, I believe, my Savior is brought honour by my efforts at excellence.
Great stuff Chuck!
I will never forget being interviewed by an elder board who were interested in my coming to be their pastor. They had read my resume and were commenting on the fact that I had been to Hollywood as an actor and the question was asked . . .
INT DAY Church Basement
1st Elder: So how would we know?”
Steve: How would you know . . .what?
1st Elder: Whether or not you were acting.
Steve: Huh? What do you mean?
1st Elder: Well, you know, when you are preaching.
Steve: When I’m preaching?
1st Elder: Yes.
Steve: You want to know, how you would know, whether or not I was acting, while I was preaching ?
1st Elder: Yes.
Steve: (Voice Over): After my brain unscrambled, I thought to myself- well actually as talented as I am as an actor . . . you would never know! But I didn’t go there.
1st Elder: So what is your answer?
Steve: Well, I . . . uhh . . . well . . . uhhh . . .
2nd Elder:Oh get off your high horse Walt! You know as well as I do that Sunday morning is all acting in the first place! Everybody putting on their own performance. “Hi! How are you?” “I’m FINE thanks and you?” “Oh I’m just FINE!” Well we all know what FINE stands for don’t we!!! And especially that turn around and greet your neighbor thing we do! Why do we do that anyway? I’ve seen Oscar winning performances during those silly two minutes of fake koinonia! Give the kid a break will yah?
Steve stands to his feet and does the only thing suitable- he applauds wildly!
SLOW FADE TO BLACK
At a church I attended while working in the head office of a drama ministry, I did get involved in the fine arts program. The Worship & Arts Minister (do NOT call him the choir director, even though he did that very well, too) worked very hard to find a word that would be acceptable to everyone. What he finally came up with was dramas and dramatists. It seemed to work for everyone.