Drama is a means of expression that may be used to build up or to bring down, to heal or to hurt. Drama can be a powerful tool in church. It can be used for worship, evangelism, or Christian education. As with any means of expression, it is necessary to determine the audience and the message in order to be effective communicators. The audience and the message will be different when the purpose is worship, evangelism or Christian education.
Drama is also a language with multiple dialects. It offers a variety of dialects or techniques from which to choose, such as comedy, pantomime, musical theater, children’s theater, reader’s theater, experimental theater, improvisation, and more. Knowing the audience and having a clear picture of the message will help you select the appropriate technique for the occasion.
In the context of Christian education, the audience is usually people who attend church regularly. The ages of the audience will vary and this needs to be considered when selecting the techniques to use. The message may also vary from lesson to lesson. However, the purpose of Christian education is to help the students grow spiritually and learn how to live out their faith. In general, drama can be used effectively to teach by bringing the biblical story to life for the students or by allowing the students to rehearse what the lesson of the day means for their daily lives.
Let’s apply these principles to a concrete example. If the lesson is about the story of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33), the participants may enact the story. For the early childhood class, provide fabrics or robes for them to try on and play the characters. We could have a boat made of cardboard or boxes and other objects they can use as props. The teacher might ask them to act out the story as it is read. Younger students will probably have to be told what to do. For older children, assign the roles and let the students read their own parts. Teenagers may build the boat first and then perform the story with minimum direction.
The emphasis from that story may be on trusting Jesus when we experience difficult times. With the students, the teacher can discuss what it means to trust Jesus through difficult times. The students can offer examples of difficult situations they have experienced. Then they can enact the situation with two different endings, one in which the main character trusts Jesus and is able to stay afloat and another one in which the main character takes her or his eyes off Jesus and sinks. The particular situations will vary according to the age of the audience and that is why it is important to ask them what they consider to be difficult situations and in what particular ways they think they can trust Jesus or look in other directions.
Another way that a story from Scripture may be brought to life in the Christian education classroom is by asking someone to portray a character in the story. Using the same story as an example, you might ask a church member dressed like Peter to tell the story from Peter’s perspective. Students enjoy this experience even more when they are allowed to ask Peter questions. Peter may be the one sharing with them the main idea of the need for the students to trust Jesus when living through difficult times. Peter may even ask the students to tell their stories of when they felt as scared as the disciples did.
However you decide to use drama in your classroom, keep the following tips in mind:
- Select a technique appropriate to your age group.
- Research the particular technique you want to use.
- Allow the students to use their particular skills (allow the artists to draw for the play, the singers to sing, the musicians to play, the writers to write a script, etc.).
- Keep the focus on the message, not on drama.
- Enhance the experience and provoke their imagination with fabrics, poster boards, cardboard, and other objects.
- Try various techniques and theater genres.
- Use prepared scripts or create your own for or with the students.
- Have fun.
Drama is a great teaching tool. Do your homework and encourage the class to offer God their best. Then you and your class will be worthy of an Oscar.
Lis Valle has a B.A. in education with a major in theater. She has used drama to raise awareness on social issues and challenge audiences to make decisions leading to a better society. Before she enrolled in the M.Div. program at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, she was a drama teacher, actress, theater director and producer, curricula designer, and president of Ministerio Enseñándoles, an organization that develops Christian education materials for children and middle school youth. Contact her at [email protected]