A good friend of mine from college days E-mailed me this week. He’s recently stepped into a worship pastorate with a full-grown program and wanted to know if I had any advice about Easter productions / passion plays.
“Have you ever done them? Apparently several thousand people attend this event at this church and I want to do a good job with it. Thoughts and ideas???” he asked. It got me to thinking as I moved through my day. Yeah, I do have some thoughts and ideas. Here they are, edited slightly for a broader audience.
We’ve done productions in just about every church I’ve served. They bring a strong sense of community to those involved, they provide an evangelistic outreach that unifies congregations. And they’re a great “excuse” for your creative people to be exactly that. Creative.
1. As you approach the planning portion of the production, ask “What are we really good at on these things? Let’s make sure we keep those things intact.” If you always chase after the stray duck at the end of the line, you’ll risk losing the great little ducks at the head of the line and you’ll never have your ducks in a row. Identify what you’re good at and max it out.
2. Find out if the last two or three productions met their objectives. If not, or if you get deer-in-the-headlights stares when you say the word “objectives”, make sure your leadership team discusses how this year’s event can do what it’s intended to do. You might be surprised by what you hear – that’s OK – As the Worship Pastor, yours is to ask the questions, then guide them toward excellence. Did we ask God for a specific number of first-time decisions? Re-dedications? Life-changes? If not, make sure that happens this year. Make sure what you ask for is big enough that God has to show up for it to happen. If the reason you do these is because you always have, don’t can the production, but let your leaders know you’ll be asking some tough questions as things progress, and may re-tool after you’ve seen and directed this one.
3. Don’t try to do it all. If the previous guy called all the plays and did everything, gently point out that’s a fast-track to insanity at your age :-Þ and you’d rather not. If he had teams in place (which is my guess if they still love doing them) learn the system, lead the leadership team while you heavily rely on their expertise this first year or two. Once we got our momentum going in Delafield, I was the “executive producer”, making major choices early in the process, but the nights of the performances I was the choir director, nothing more. Team captains had all the other facets in control, and working together toward excellence made it FUN.
4. Don’t be afraid to re-visit a successful production from three or four years ago if it was effective and well-received. Sometimes the community remembers and says “oh GOOD”. Your musicians will learn it quicker, since it’s review for some of them. Excitement will come sooner because they remember. You don’t have to do this every year, but once in a while it’s a good idea, and it might be a good approach this, your first year there.
5. Find out if previous productions over-ran their budgets. If they did, make it crystal clear that will not happen in your administration. You’ll earn additional credibility and respect with your leadership, and your budget will probably more accurately reflect what you need/want in coming years. Discipline is always good, and it keeps the Easter-tail from trying to wag the dog.
6. Your promotional team is key, but even more important is your follow-up team. If you can get names/addresses/email etc. as part of the ticketing process you can mail or email to those people once in a while, telling them of major events and emphases that may be of interest to them. Constant Contact is a great Email program for this, because people can easily opt-out of receiving future updates if they’d rather not get info from you all.
7. Ask: “Is there money in the budget for my wife and I to spend a couple weeks in the psych ward after this is done?” If they laugh and say “No” then you can say “Then we need to work to simplify, streamline and standardize so our productions don’t outgrow our ability to manage them.” It would be wrong to spend so much time and energy on an event that you have to put a couple staff people in the hospital or hire a marriage counselor for people who were in the play. (I exaggerate a bit, but you get my point).
8. Agree as a leadership team that once you reach a certain date, all new ideas will go into a binder or envelope marked “Next Year”. Last minute changes, though good ideas, can suck the energy and life right out of a production because you forfeit direction and momentum to last-minute change. I’ve had people quit over last-minute changes. It’s almost as bad as when the mother of the bride comes up with five new ideas the night of the rehearsal. Yikes! You’ll save yourself and your leadership team some very real headaches if you say “Once we get to ___(date)___ no changes or additions.” Then hold each other to it.
9. If you have computers controlling things and volunteers staffing your tech team, schedule your tech rehearsal several days before your dress rehearsal. It takes time to make adjustments, even re-program, and your tech volunteers need adequate time to make those adjustments before dress rehearsal. It’s likely that time will come after a regular day at work for them. You need Dress Rehearsal to really be Dress Rehearsal and not Tech Rehearsal #3 or 4. If you can make this happen your whole troupe will come into performance feeling prepared, more relaxed and ready to spend it all. Rush/push/cram to the end and you’ll lose good volunteers when next year rolls around.
10. The MOST important of all of these. Make sure prayer is your first resource in planning, rehearsing and a vital part of each performance evening. If God’s not in it and if God’s not blessing, it’s all just so much lights, color and sound.
- Put the prayer segment at the beginning of each planning meeting.
- Take roll at rehearsals (choir, drama, orchestra, tech team, etc.) so everyone is there on time, then pray before you do anything. I mean Pray. Like for 10 or 15 minutes or more. When you pray at the end, urgency will almost always crowd it out and you’ll end up with just a closing prayer – ineffective by comparison.
- The nights of performance schedule “call” early enough that everyone can come, get through make up, costume, level checks, etc. in time to pray together 30 minutes before the performance, techs included. Let the techs leave a few minutes early if need be to start the pre-event music and video if you use that, but the rest of the cast, crew and musicians should come out of prayer and into performance. There should be a quiet “hush” in anticipation of opening curtain.
- When cast and others are back-stage during the performance, they have one job once they’re ready for their next cue: Pray for those in the audience. They should not feel free to talk, chit-chat, compare stories about whatever… their job is to pray for those who are hearing this story for the first time and need to make a spiritual decision.
So there ya have it – my 10-cents worth.
Use what applies, file the rest.