November 24, 2005

Christian School Theatre Teachers Commiserate!

I recently attended my fifth ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International) Convention.

They are usually the source of intermittent boredom and frustration. Christian schools tend to be fifteen years behind the curve in cultural trend-spotting, and VERY lacking in content when it comes to the arts (especially the theatre arts.) This year, however, there were FIVE seminars that dealt specifically with my classes and areas of interest. Because I taught them.

I lead two seminars on Improv, one on God and the Arts, starting a Theatre Department at a Christian school, and one on Film Appreciation.

They were enormously successful and I met so many wonderful people. I connected with about two dozen similarly frustrated teachers and we all encouraged each other and shared ideas. Here's some outlines of a few of the seminars feel free to peruse.

God and the Arts
Imitating the First and Greatest Artist

I. Principles
A. God is the First and Greatest Artist (Gen 1)
o Father – Creator
o Son – Storyteller
o Spirit – Inspiration

B. Imitating the artistic God does not need justification.
o The arts don’t need to illustrate a sermon, fill seats, or “win the lost” to be

C. All truth is God’s truth
o If something is true than God not only knows it, but had everything to do
with making it so.
o There is no rock we can pick up that will have under it something large
enough to eat our God.
o Common Grace – God can speak through non-Christians as well as Christians. Example: Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2)

II. So, What?
o The Christian Schools should be leading the way in their arts education because they have the greatest understanding of the first and greatest Artist.
o As Christian Educators, we need to be modeling and equipping students with proper attitudes about the arts as a vital aspect of imitating God, both as artists and audiences.
o Creating or appreciating creativity are acts of worship and should be valued as such.
o There should not have to be a measurable outcome to efforts put into artistic expression.
o Arts education should be giving all people the opportunity to explore the arts, not just the talented or those who have a “future in it.”
o We should be encouraging the exploration of Truth from a broader base than overtly “Christian art.”

III. Resources – What started out as a collection of a dozen or so Christian Film Critics has expanded into the best and most active online discussion of the spiritual significance of Film, TV, Music, Novels, and much more.

The Liberated Imagination – Leland Ryken – A Wheaton professor who tackles the subject matter on a level you might find in an undergrad college course. Ryken is concise and erudite. It’s the most methodical look at these issues you’ll find.

Reflections on Water – Madeline L’Engle – Beloved children’s author, L’Engle employs a more left-brain approach faith and art.

Addicted to Mediocrity – Franky Schaeffer – Seasoned with a healthy dose of vitriol the son of Francis Schaeffer wrote this clever little book nearly 25 years ago, but its diagnosis of the Church’s attitude toward the arts is still spot-on. He has a number of cartoons poking fun at the attitudes of the church, and prophetically he has a cartoon of theme park called “Holy Land.”

Christian Theatre Arts Department;
Excellence with Nothing

I. Keeping it about the art
A. Just say “No” to skits
1. The difference between theatre as a tool and an art
2. Setting boundaries for your group (Don’t let other people’s needs dictate your departments focus.)
B. Just say “No” commercial training
1. We should be about getting students to fall in love with the art. Not the
trappings of the trade.

II. Cast a Vision
A. What are the primary values of your department?
1. Excellence
2. Exposure to various forms of the art
3. Audience education
4. Truth exploration / relevant issues
5. Acting and character analysis depth
6. Other?
B. How will your classes / productions reflect that?
C. Educational vs. Excellent – Sometimes one has to suffer for the other - YOU decide which is the focus of each effort
D. Have a “mantra” or “slogan” for your department

III. Classes
A. Start with one or two offerings. Expand down to increase interest.
B. Middle School students should be REQUIRED to take a short drama course,
then get them to fall in love with it.
C. Understand the “matrix” or master schedule at your school so you can make offerings that will be helpful
D. Dream up other electives you could teach that are nearby the performing arts (Improv, Speech / Debate, Creative Writing, Oral Interpretation, Exploring Films)

IV. Productions
A. Selecting a play
1. Pre-existing considerations
a. Space
b. Talent Pool (musical or non)
c. Past productions
2. “Safe” plays
a. Must maintain integrity to authors (DON’T CUT!!!)
b. Why do we want to be safe? God isn’t safe!
c. Legitimate considerations
· Audience distraction
· Endangering / Labelling Students
3. Trolling – look at what other companies with similar concerns are
producing. (Christian Colleges, Other Christian schools, Christian theatre
companies - Taproot, Lamb’s Players, Pacific Theatre)

B. Auditions / Casting
1. Give students the opportunity to be prepared, but leave enough room for
the “toe-dippers”
2. Remind students your choices are about the roles, not about talent
3. Use your school’s size to your advantage, go after kids who think
they’re not “drama people”
4. Don’t focus too much on being nice to everybody – cast the people that
make the most sense to cast. Use “personal” considerations when it’s a

C. Producing
1. Read-through – make it special – letters to chaacters
2. Contract – no athletics simultaneously
3. Rehearsing - 7 weeks - 3 3 4 4 4 5 5-(till 9)
4. Respect your actors’ time with your scheduling, try to group scenes
depending upon who’s in them
5. Double up all student positions. AD’s, Lights, Sound, Make-up, House Managers. Put a rookie with someone experienced.
6. Getting adult volunteers (ownership) – Don’t give them simple tasks to
make their life easier. Get them on the team! Props / Costumes / Cast

D. Promoting
1. Your show
a. Audiences matter to your kids and the future of your department
b. VIP tickets – Pastors, Headmaster and family, etc., give
discounts to faculty members.
c. Go after focused groups outside our school
*Other schools
*Assisted Living Facilities
*Groups for whom the content is relevant
d. Take good production pictures!!!
2. Department
a. T-Shirts
b. Your face – let them see you at shows, and congratulate you
c. EVERY Newsletter

VI. Obstacles
A. Space – Make a fantastic show, in a horrible space. Watch the parents respond
B. Budget - Use minimalism effectively
C. Ticket sales – Be sure you’re charging at least $6 adults / $4 students
Early on – sell out a show! Turn people away!!! No video!!
D. Goal – break even on your shows

VII. Brainstorming
A. Plays
B. Fundraisers – Christmas, Summer camps / Arts Boosters

Plays Worth Checking Out for Your School

All My Sons – Arthur Miller
The Foreigner – Larry Shue
Judgment at Nuremberg – Abby Mann
Harvey – Mary Chase
Dial M For Murder - Fredrick Knott
God’s Favorite – Neil Simon
Steel Magnolias – Robert Harling
Cyrano de Bergerac – Edmond Rostand
The Last Nights at Ballyhoo
Antigone – Jean Anouhl
Afternoon of the Elves
Anne of Green Gables
Welcome to Justice – Dan Buck (write me) J
Talley’s Folley
Arsenic & Old Lace
Fools – Neil Simon
The Nerd – Larry Shue
The Diviners
Our Country’s Good
Beau Jest

Big River
Smoke on the Mountain (small)
The Fantasticks (small)
The Music Man


Respect for Acting – Uta Hagen (get the Video series as well)
Notes on Directing – Frank Hauser & Russel Reich
Truth in Comedy – Charna Halpern (improv book)


Josh Sandoz said...

You're a great one Dan Buck!!! No, make that GREAT ONE!!!!! That you did this makes me so happy!!! No, wait, make that SO HAPPY!!!!! Thanks man. No, I mea -

Seriously, this is so beautiful what you are doing.

Thank you.

MLE said...

Dan--thanks for putting all that information up. I find many of the same frustrations over how many Christians approach the arts, and feel like we are often fighting to prove ourselves or convince our audience. I appreciate your reading selections--I'm always looking for more to read! One article that I always return to is "The Dramatic Arts and the Image of God" by Norman M. Jones. Have you read it?

DanBuck said...

Is it the Norman Jones of Gordon College? I worked for him for a while.

Chris Dinger said...

Dan, everytime I read your thoughts (those that you've written, not those inside your head), I am more and more convinced that you have a skill that will take you far beyond where you are now, so that you can have a greater impact on more people.

I always see you as a teacher though, in some sense of the profession. You're still a young guy (I remember those days). I can't wait to see what you do in the future.

Gaffney said...

Dan - Nicely done. Ah, the joys of convincing our own people that the Creative G-d isn't Creative for nothing...


SZPT said...

Hey Dan, just saw this post. Where was the ACSI conference that you went to located? I went to one around the same time in Dallas. Next year I hope to be leading a seminar or two as well.