Written by Jane Holloway
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
The truth of the gospel can be powerfully communicated using creative arts such as drama, movement and mime.
However, it is important to realise that although for some people these forms of expression seems very natural, they are viewed by others as inappropriate. We need to remain sensitive to this tension, and do all that is possible to ensure that these art forms are used to glorify God and not people. The incarnational significance of using the whole body in worship (cf John 1:14) is being grasped afresh in many parts of the Christian church. Worship need not be restricted to our minds and hearts; in Romans 12:1 Paul reminds us ‘in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.’ Such is the attitude in which to use these creative art forms in our churches and for reaching out to others. The limelight should go not to the performers, but to God himself in centre stage.
Contexts in which drama and movement can be used
In worship services
- Call to worship - Scripture can be read by different voices; responsive readings can involve the whole congregation; an interpretative dance can introduce the theme; or a simple procession can carry in some symbol, such as a cross or a candle.
- Children's time - read a story, then get them to act it out and dress up; involve other children in reading parts; teach simple arm movements to their favourite action songs, or a circle dance; use visual aids, sketch boards, puppets, mime.
- Scripture reading — use different readers for different characters in a passage; act (or dance) out the whole passage using biblical narrative; update a parable for today's world. Encourage those involved in the public reading of Scripture to prepare prayerfully. Find the version which is needed for the occasion and be familiar with the passage. What does it say? How should it be read? Use punctuation, pauses. Practise reading it out loud. Speak clearly and don't mumble. Learn how to treat a microphone as a friend and not an enemy. Look as though you believe what you are reading!
- Congregational prayer time — different prayers can be led by different people, and simple arm movements to familiar prayers (or responses) like the Lord's Prayer can be taught to the whole congregation.
- Communion — without detracting from the holiness of the meal, the elements can be carried in by those doing processional dance steps. The movements of the minister during the consecration are important too.
- Worship time — dances can be prepared for particular hymns or songs that are to be used in the service, and can be danced while the congregation is singing.
- Work with the preacher — either to illustrate the theme of the service with a sketch or a dance, or to dramatize a particular theme of the talk by using a short sketch.
- In Sunday school - whether for adults or children - use opportunities to get people to act out the Bible passage under discussion. Also encourage the use of the whole body to express lessons learned.
- Workshops can be used to teach more about the art forms themselves, to encourage anyone interested to have a go, as well as to identify people who may be willing to give more time to using drama and movement in the life of the church.
- Guest services in the church, incorporating any of the above suggestions into a service, can often communicate much of the joy and vitality of the Christian faith.
- Special church events, such as picnics and barbecues, often have a slot for a `talk'; so why not insert something different?
- Church holidays, children's camps — these are ideal opportunities to introduce drama.
- Local schools — many churches have connections with schools. Offer to go in and do an assembly using drama, or make a presentation of music and drama in the lunch hour.
- Open-air work — out in shopping centres, on housing estates, on the streets, and in praise marches: a mixture of testimony, drama, circle dancing, juggling, puppetry, and speaking can lead people to find out more about the Christian faith.
- Local arts festivals, community centres, amateur dramatics - maybe those interested in acting and dance could work together to produce something for a community event like this.
How to introduce the use of drama and movement
This will need much prayer and sensitivity, but it can be done!
- Be open to God. He is the source of all creativity, and creative arts stem from him. An interest in drama or dance may not mean you should use it in public performance. Your role might be that of an enabler of others. But be open to God, and open to have a go!
- Be open with the minister. Keep him informed of plans as they emerge. Is the church ready for the use of drama or movement? Is the leadership sympathetic?
- Share the vision with like-minded friends, and start praying together.
- Explore the possibilities. Where are the places that drama or dance could be used in the church or for outreach? Are there any local resources in terms of people already involved, or a neighbouring church which could help? Investigate books on the subject.
- Prepare the congregation. Some teaching will be necessary on how the arts can be integrated with worship and outreach. Otherwise you are courting shock, and rejection.
- Choose a suitable occasion. For example, a special festival - Advent, Easter, Harvest.
- Start with the children — they so often show adults the way!
Types of drama
- Readings and storytelling — taking a passage of Scripture, a Bible narrative, a poem.
- Short sketches — essentially concentrating on one theme, using a minimum of props, designed to be part of a `bigger picture'.
- One-act plays — less demanding in terms of equipment and actors than a full-length play, but enabling a plot to be developed.
- Full-length plays — using full stage facilities. The theme could be either secular (with an underlying Christian message) or explicitly Christian.
Most of these different types of drama use words as the main means of communication; however, mime, which replaces words with stylised movements, can often be even more powerful, and is invaluable in an international context, because it needs no words.
Types of movement or dance
- Simple arm movements, or gestures, to children's songs, and to prayers.
- Folk dances or Israeli-type circle dances.
- Congregational dances — where the whole congregation might process out to the last song or hymn.
- Set pieces by a smaller dance group: dance/mime — to a piece of music, song or narration; presentation dance — done as a ministry for healing or meditation or as sheer worship.
- Spontaneous movement done without any prior choreography, in response to God's love.
Starting a drama or dance group
In order to produce good quality pieces of drama or dance, time is needed for creation, practice and rehearsal before presenting them in front of others. Forming a small group specifically to work on this needs careful consideration.
- What type of group? It could be one that meets occasionally, as and when opportunities come to present a piece. It could be a more long-term group, meeting regularly, and committed to the regular production of material.
- The aim of a group would be to please God (and not the church, the minister or those involved), to serve the church, and to communicate the gospel to those outside the church. Ideally the aim would be a mixture of all three.
- Leadership involves commitment to the group's priorities and aims; being prepared to be involved as well as to learn; encouraging and caring for group members; discovering and developing creative gifts in others; and putting in time to organise and delegate scriptwriting and publicity. Some previous experience would be helpful.
- The group can comprise people with and without experience. The most important thing is commitment - to God, to the work, and to each other. As the group gets to know each other, prays, worships and studies the Bible together, new gifts will emerge, creativity will flow, and great love and trust will develop. Try not to have too large a group: between three and ten members can work well; anything larger tends to get a bit impersonal. However, for special productions others may need to be drawn in.
- Each meeting should include prayer, worship and sharing., Other elements would be: time to learn new things; drama games and movements; exercises to improve muscles and breathing, body movement, balance, and weight transference; working together as a group and synchronisation; working on different techniques; improvisation and work on new material. You could also invite outside speakers to teach, and you could go to plays, concerts and dance productions. Obviously the content will depend on how much group members know at the start.
- Starting off. Decide when and where to meet. Choose a large carpeted room if possible. Break down barriers gently and gradually (eg, embarrassment at moving, or at being watched, and uncertainty as to what to expect). Relax and have fun. Worship and pray together. Clarify the leadership, the aims of the group, and how often you will meet.
Integrating dance or drama into an event or service
- Work closely with the leaders.
- Find out the theme, and plan a piece to fit as appropriate.
- What is the aim of your piece? How does it start and finish? What should precede and follow it?
- Does the piece need introduction and/or linking from the previous item to the following item?
- Try not to introduce too many new ingredients into one event.
- If drama or dance is to be used for the first time, a short word of explanation is imperative.
- Performance space. This will often need to be cleared beforehand. Plan what area is needed, and who will clear away chairs, microphones, etc.
- Visibility. Sit in the seats and find out what is visible from different places and angles.
- Audibility. Try not to use microphones in drama for smaller events. Teach people to throw their voices. If microphones are needed, do voice checks prior to the event, and work with the sound technician.
- Technical resources. If using taped music, get it all set up and have it tried beforehand. Carefully brief whoever is working the sound desk. Plan the positioning of any props.
- Dress. For dance, it needs to allow for full movement, and should also be modest. For drama, keep it simple but uniform.
- Ensure that the final rehearsal takes place where the performance is due to happen.
Make use of books and resources. Get in contact with others working in the same areas. Share ideas. Much of the drama published is governed by copyright laws. Check these out and get the church or organisation to purchase the appropriate licences (either for a one-off performance in a worship or mission context, or for a situation where the audience is paying to see the work).
Creating new material
Whether it is writing a new sketch or choreographing a fresh dance, God is the creator and will give the creativity.
- As a group or as an individual, pray over the piece of music, song, theme or biblical passage. Write down ideas. Share these with others.
- The material needs to be relevant and appropriate to the place and the event. Find out what that is. Spend time with the speaker if it is to be integrated with the talk.
- One can begin the creative process by having several people improvise, and getting one person to write down the precise lines or movements. Or one can identify choreography or sketch writing gifts in one or two individuals and send them off to come up with the piece.
- There is a danger in `writing by committee', although on more than one occasion it has been known to work.
- The hardest part is when a dance or a sketch is produced and does not seem to work. Do not use it just because it was created by the group. Talk and pray about it, and take what is good from it and work from there.
Handling the responses
These will be many and varied. The same piece can evoke praise from one and severe criticism from another. Listen to where the comments are coming from, and:
- Direct any praise back to the Lord.
- Weigh the criticism, pray about it in the group, and learn from it.
- Be prepared to have no reaction whatsoever to a piece. Your funniest piece of drama can fall flat, without a single laugh, especially in another culture or in a context where drama is not often used. Equally, a hard-hitting serious piece of drama can evoke laughter when you are least expecting it.
Work out how you wish applause to be handled, and educate the congregation as to how they can show their appreciation of these newer art forms when they are used in the context of worship.
Most important— have fun!
© Jane Holloway