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The Last Word on Drama

When drama is used effectively in public speaking, there are many advantages. But all of us have been in a service or at an event where the drama didn’t play out quite so well. So, this week, we provide you with a few important things to consider when planning to utilize the dramatic arts! Also, see below for resources to get you started!

There are some disadvantages of drama in public speaking. Both the audience and the speaker may struggle with creativity in communication. When taken to the extreme, any of these factors can become disadvantages of the dramatic arts in public speaking.

  • Overuse – Drama should be used occasionally as a special feature rather than using it often.
  • Mediocrity – If used, drama should be well done. The only thing worse than no drama is bad drama. “Bathrobe drama” is the term for bad drama, implying drama by untrained performers using ideas and materials at hand.
  • Overspending – Expenses for dramatic productions mount rapidly. Avoid exceeding the budget and causing financial pressure.
  • Shock Factor – Dramatization should be used in good taste to avoid making the audience uncomfortable. Shock usually detracts from the message.
  • Special Effects – “Bells and whistles” as well as props and noisemakers should be used to enhance drama not distract from the message.
  • Embellishment – Drama should not alter the Scripture text or overstate the message. The truth should be creatively but accurately presented.
  • Manipulation – Emotions are a part of well-done drama. Healthy expression of feelings is recommended rather than extreme emotional control.
  • Camouflage – The point of the message must be clear through the drama, not lost in the creative expression.
  • Mismatch – The type of drama should be appropriate for the audience. Know the crowd and select drama personally for it.

Beware of these risks of dramatic expression. Adhere to the cautions and benefit from the advantages of drama.

One of the advantages for dramatic expression today is the availability of resources. There are many reference books, internet websites, and professional organizations for the dramatic arts. The most important resources for Christian drama are the Bible and life experience. The following resources for drama are helpful also. They offer general information as well as scripts, training, and networking.

Books

  • Actors Not Included: The Complete Works of Matt Tullos by Matt Tullos
  • Art for God’s Sake by Philip Graham Ryken
  • Christian Playwriting and Self-Publishing by Cleveland O. Mcleish
  • The Complete Guide to Church Play Production by John Lewis and others
  • Create a Drama Ministry by Paul Miller
  • Developing the Church Drama Ministry by Paul Miller
  • Devoted Through Drama: Monologues, Plays, and Skits for Christian Youth Groups by Kimberly Smiley
  • Drama: Church Drama for Church Folks by Barbara Dudley

Many children’s books and classic works of literature provide excellent scripts for drama.

Websites

  • Christian Drama Resources (www.christiandramaresources.com)
  • Christian Plays (www.christplay.com)
  • Creative Pastors with Ed Young (www.creativepastors.com)
  • Drama Share: Your Christian Drama Resource Center (www.dramashare.org)
  • Online Journal of Christian Communication and Culture (www.ojccc.org)
  • Wordspring Creative Resources (www.wordspring.com)

These drama websites were active at the time of publication. Other websites may be developed to provide resources for different forms of drama.

Drama and the creative arts have been a part of the church for centuries. In New Testament times, the church led the culture in developing the arts, specifically drama.[3] Though banned from the church at times, the dramatic arts have been powerful tools in worship when used appropriately. Dramatic arts in ministry today can reach the lost world with the gospel and the saved followers of Christ through discipleship. According to David Taylor: “Our emotions, bodies, and imaginations have a vital role, and the arts serve to bring them into an intentional and intensive participation.”[4]

            [1] “Christian dramatists form new association,” http://bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=4819 (cited 20 March 2013), Baptist Press, (Baptist Press, 2013).

            [2] http://www.wordspring.com/?page_id=1416 (cited 20 March 2013) Wordspring Creative Resources.

            [3] Julie W, “A Biblical Perspective of Drama in Ministry,” Online Journal of Christian Communication and Culture, entry posted December 11, 2011, http://www.ojccc.org/2011/12/a-biblical-perspective-of-drama-in-ministry/ (accessed March 20, 2013).

            [4] David Taylor, “Discipling the Eyes Through Art in Worship,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/april/art-in-worship.html (cited 20 March 2013),  Christianity Today (Christianity Today, 2013).

Go Ahead. Be Dramatic.

Drama captures the minds, the imaginations,

and the emotions of the audience.[1]

God is theatrical. It has been said, “All of creation is a theater for God’s glory.”[2] Numerous biblical accounts demonstrate that God is powerful and mighty in His actions and purposes. He created everything from nothing: the heavens and the earth, the sky and land, the birds and fish, man and woman. He continues to perform supernatural miracles, signs, and wonders to work in the world and gain attention from His children. His dramatic demonstrations of power are seen today in nature, during hurricanes, earthquakes, and blizzards. God is all–powerful; He is omnipotent in His being and His behavior.

The Old Testament records numerous wonders of God. Moses experienced the dramatic work of God when the angel of the Lord spoke to him from the burning bush that was not consumed. When the Israelites fled Pharaoh’s army, God manifested His power in dramatic fashion by parting the Red Sea, allowing His children to cross safely to the other side. Balaam’s donkey talked. The walls of Jericho fell down. The widow’s son was raised from the dead. Elijah was carried into heaven. The widow’s oil was multiplied. Elisha’s bones were revived from the dead. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were delivered from the fiery furnace. Daniel was protected in the lion’s den. Jonah was saved from the belly of a whale. God demonstrated His mighty power in dramatic miracles in the Old Testament.[3]

The New Testament also contains many accounts of God’s dramatic intervention, often through the ministry of Jesus. Though Jesus refused to give a miraculous sign on command to prove His authority, He performed miraculous signs during His ministry. Jesus changed water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. He healed Peter’s mother-in-law. He calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. He healed the woman with a hemorrhage, and raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. He fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, and He walked on the water. He healed a stooped woman, and He raised Lazarus from the grave. Jesus demonstrated His mighty power in dramatic ways in the New Testament.[4]

God has exhibited His power through wonders and signs, and Jesus performed many miracles in His ministry. These dramatic demonstrations accomplished divine purposes, met human needs, and evidenced the truth of the gospel. As God’s instruments, Christian communicators may use dramatic presentations to convey a biblical message or illustrate a spiritual principle. Consider how you may be able to integrate drama into your public speaking as you continue reading!

Drama is the “compression of human experience into a story we can view on the stage.”[5] The word “drama” actually comes from a Greek word meaning “to do.”[6] It implies action, involving a performer and an audience. Drama is a form of literature and can be prose, verse, or dialogue. It illustrates a message and can be presented from a script, by improvisation, through mime, or spontaneously during a speech. According to Lewis and others in The Complete Guide to Church Play Production: “Drama shoots darts into the hearts of the audience and pulls them out with emotions attached.”[7] When drama is used by Christian speakers, it should be God-glorifying and Christ-centered. The message, not the medium, is the focus of a biblical truth presented dramatically.

Drama is a powerful method of expression. It speaks to the total person—physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual.[8] The body performs the actions of drama. The mind conceives and interprets drama. The emotions express feelings and portray passions. The spirit convicts through the verbal and nonverbal message. Christians can use drama to stimulate and persuade the audience to consider their personal relationship with Christ. Therefore, Christian speakers should be open to drama in certain public presentations.

Oral interpretation is a dramatic art, also called interpretive reading or dramatic reading.[9]  It is the presentation of a literary work with feeling and expression, for the purpose of enlightenment. Oral interpretation and dramatic performance are similar in public speaking though slightly different in academic contexts. Oral interpretation is taught typically in speech communication programs, while drama is taught in the departments of theater arts. Both are appropriate for public speaking.

Oral interpretation began 3,000 years ago with the classical Greek philosophers who used formal oratory to teach and persuade. Eugene and Margaret Bahn wrote a History of Oral Interpretation to document the development from the classical Greek through the ancient Roman, Medieval Period, and Renaissance as well as the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. The oral interpretation of literature has continued into the 21st century, though its nature, practice, and trends have varied.[10] Oral interpretation and dramatic presentation can be effective and essential tools for a public speaker!

            [1] Matt Tullos, Show Me: Drama in Evangelism (Nashville: Convention Press, 1996), 5.

            [2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. and indexed by Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1967), 1:6:2 (72).

            [3] Ex 3:1-22; Ex 14:15-31; Num 22:22-41; Josh 6:1-21; 1 Kg 17:17-24; 2 Kg 2:1-12; 2 Kg 4:1-7; 2 Kg 13:14-21; Dan 3:8-30; Dan 6:10-18; Jonah 1:1-2:10

            [4] Mark 8:11-12; John 2:1-12; Matt 8:14-15; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:42-48; Matt 9:18-26; Mark 6:30-44; John 6:16-21; Luke 7:11-17; Luke 13:10-17; John 11:38-44.

            [5] Alison Siewart and others, Drama Team Handbook (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 15.

            [6] John Lewis, Laura Andrews, and Flip Kobler, The Complete Guide to Church Play Production (Nashville: Convention Press, 1997), 277.

            [7] Ibid., 277.

            [8] Everett Robertson, The Dramatic Arts in Ministry (Nashville: Convention Press, 1989), 7.

            [9] “Oral Interpretation,” http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/oral+interpretation (cited 20 March 2013) American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 2009).

            [10] Eugene and Margaret L. Bahn,  A History of Oral Interpretation (Minneapolis: Burgess, 1970), 174.

Know Thy Audience

audience“Of the three elements of speech making – speaker, subject, and persons addressed – it is the last one, the hearer, that determines the speech’s end and object.” Aristotle

Public speakers quickly learn that “one size does not fit all” in audiences. Every audience and every occasion is unique. Therefore, every speech should be unique. In Speak Up With Confidence, Carol Kent suggests that a speaker answer four general questions in describing the audience: Who? What? Why? How? Ask some specific questions, such as the ones below, to gain more knowledge of the audience.

Who?

  • Can you describe the age, sex, background and nationality of the group?
  • Are there resource people, magazines, or books that could help you better understand the audience?

What?

  • What denomination or organization unites these people?
  • What topics have been addressed at their past events?
  • What speakers have they had recently?
  • What are their hopes, struggles, fears, needs, and questions?
  • What are their common interests?

Why?

  • Why did they as me to speak?
  • Am I an expert on the subject they want to know more about?
  • Why are they here? Are they a “captive audience” (university chapel), or are they here by choice?

How?

  • How will I get their attention?
  • Are there recent statistics related to their needs that will help me prepare?
  • What does the Bible say about the answers to the questions they are asking?
  • Is this group geared to visual learning (data projector, videos, power point presentations, and/or handouts), lectures/discussion, or straight lecture?
  • How much time do I have?

Answering these questions will help a speaker gain specific information about the audience. Background research is an essential step in speech preparation! What questions do you ask yourself when preparing to speak to a group? Comment below!