Sunday, August 23, 2009

WORKSHOP: Writing Christian Drama

What?! Drama in the Church!!
Writing Christian Drama
By Jeanette W. Hill

I know. I know. It’s a ‘Got ‘cha!’ title. However, let’s talk about the unique place that writing Christian drama holds under the umbrella of Christianity. I’m not talking about the standard Christmas, Easter and Black History plays. Using these events as themes is a wonderful way to educate some and remind others of the significance of the birth and resurrection of Jesus and about our history as well as the history of other races and cultures.

Why Do You Write?

Writing Christian drama, whether included as a part of a church’s overall ministry program or presented by individuals or groups as an independent entity, is a two-fold ministry tool that should: 1) bring people to salvation 2) to help Christians deal with life’s issues. Like everyone else, Christians must face issues concerning family, living single, jobs, betrayal, hurts, crisis, self-esteem and how it relates to us as children of God. Christian playwrights help the audience understand that real life happens to Christians too! More importantly, they need to show that sometimes Christians have difficulty dealing with their problems in a Christian way.

Where Do You Get Ideas?

So, where do you get ideas? A good start is the Bible, you can write a contemporary adaption of one of the parables. The newspaper is a great source, especially the Educational Page (comics). Use the same techniques as writing a novel; listen in restaurants, on the bus, doctor’s office. Christian drama is about life! Good Christina drama depicts all types of people in all types of situations. Sometimes playwrights face opposition from church members who misunderstand or have difficulty accepting the depiction of these situations within the context of the church or religion. Many churches are not equipped to or choose not to address serious topics as a part of their mainstream religious ministry or programs. This doesn’t mean that the subject shouldn’t be addressed. We have to write to please God and not to make others feel comfortable.

Presentation: The Who, How, Where and When of Christian Drama

In most instances, the playwright is often also the director or works closely with the director. Writing needs to be concerned with at least three areas: Audience appropriate (age, culture, education, saved, unsaved), Occasion/Season appropriate (Christian, Easter, Mother’s Day) and Place appropriate (Sanctuary, fellowship hall, community or theater).

We need to keep in mind where the play will be performed, who will see it, in what setting will they see it. Keeping in mind that no subject is off limits, to be effective the issue of presentation appropriateness [to who, location, method, speech] has to be considered. For instance, you would not present a topic on child abuse to group of elementary age children in the same way you would to a group of adults. Neither would you present the Christmas story in August. A scene depicting drug use (needles or drug paraphernalia), alcoholism or promiscuity would not (in most cases) be presented in the church sanctuary. You don’t want the audience to focus on the wrong thing (Christmas play in August!?!?)

What writing Christian Drama IS and IS NOT!

Christian drama’s purpose is: To glorify God in all its aspects content, theme, and rehearsals. It provides a method of reaching those who don’t regularly attend or don’t always ‘get it’ from more traditional methods such as sermons, Sunday School, bible study or personal study time. It is a training tool to demonstrate how Christian doctrine can be applied to everyday life.

Christian drama’s purpose is not: To serve as a replacement for church attendance or fellowship. It doesn’t replace the preached Word. We still need to be under the covering of the arc of safety (local church) and pastor. It is not a substitute for teaching. Personal time is still required for bible study, church school and personal fellowship with the Lord. Christian drama is not designed to give a platform to or excuse for sensationalism (sex, drugs, abuse, etc.) without consequence. While these things are a part of life, they are not to be glorified or used as a shock factor to garner interest or attendance. The negative consequences of sin must be clearly identified or shown by the conclusion of the play. Christian drama is never to disrespect the holiness of God!

The End Result…

The bottom line is that Christian drama is a ministry that delivers the same message but in a different medium…the development a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.


Shelia Goss said...

This was a timely post. I was asked to write a church play. I've written the "traditional" church plays, but they want something more on the lines of Tyler Perry. I've been praying on this topic and waiting to see what angle to take with the play.

Linda Beed said...

Like many books tauted as Christian, but are not, how do you feel about plays being marketed in the same manner?


maxxgrl said...

are there specific guidelines a christian fiction writer must follow when writing a novel?

Jeanette Hill said...

Sheila, asking you to write more like Tyler Perry, who while not a Christian playwright per se, is definitely a gifted and prolific inspirational playwright who is also a Christian. What may be being asked is for you to write about topics relevant to today’s issues. My suggestion would be to talk to the person(s) who are asking you to write the play to get a clearer understanding of their expectations. Is there a theme? Is it seasonal or for a special occasion. This will help you move in the right direction.

Jeanette Hill said...

Linda, it seems that when it comes to marketing anything with a Christian title, tag or character creates a problem in discerning the difference between a Christian writer and Christian writing. The ultimate goal in writing Christian fiction is to bring readers or viewers to a deeper understanding of Christ. My real issue is with writers who take advantage of the current Christian fiction trend. Reality Check: A semi-erotic novel or stageplay with characters doing drugs, bed-hopping and participating in assorted other ‘S’ activities from chapter to chapter or scene to scene, it is not practical, plausible or probable for the protagonist to suddenly proclaim that he or she has ‘found’ Jesus after wiping off the dust from the coffee table bible and then call it Christian fiction. I’ll get off of my soapbox now. Take care!

Jeanette Hill said...

maxxgrl, I don't write novels so I hope that you are going to participate in the conference calls this week, starting tonight with Linda and Maurice. I've been told that Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide is a good source for obtaining information on guidelines if you are interested in mainstream publishing. I'm sure the other writers in this conference can give you more targeted information on novel writing. All the best!

Ty said...

Great workshop, Jeanette!

Jeanette Hill said...

Thank you, Ty.

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