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4 Questions to Clarify the Artistic Sensibilities of Your Community: What is “Appropriate” in your Christian Plays and Musicals?

Unlike the Math or History teacher, you, the Theatre teacher, have the unique opportunity to create communal experiences for your people. Those experiences are largely defined by the plays and musicals you choose to produce. Title choice is a powerful decision, and there are, of course, many factors to consider. One important factor is your ability to appeal to the artistic sensibilities of your community. In other words, what is viewed as “appropriate”?

At its best, your offering will take your audience on a journey. For that journey, you naturally want to extend an inviting “on ramp,” and eliminate any stumbling blocks. Once again, we find the word “appropriate” useful.

Actress sings solo in WORD POWER. Chalkboard, behind her says, “What Does the Bible Say About the Power of Our Words?”
"...decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” Romans 14:13

Since we know that Christian communities vary widely in their definitions of “appropriate,” here are 4 key questions to help gain insight:

1. What is Their General Level of Exposure to Theatre? 

Right or wrong, good or bad, as we are exposed to theatre, our expectations, and even our definition of appropriate, sometimes evolve. Hence the age old tension between the Christian and Artistic communities. Often, those of us in the performing arts professions have earned a reputation for “pushing the envelope.” 

To serve with humility and empathy, position yourself where your audience lives. How much theatre have they experienced? Do you live in a metropolitan area with lots of artistic offerings? With a regional theatre? National tours? A symphony? Or maybe you’re in a rural area with a community theatre? Maybe your people are highly sports-minded, and care very little for theatre. Sit for a while where they sit.

2. Does Your Audience Expect “Convex” or “Concave” Repertoire?

By this we mean, how much intellectual work is your audience expected to do in order to “get” the rep you’ve selected? Some people are more willing than others to engage deeply, listen carefully, stay open, search for metaphor and meaning, etc. They appreciate concave work…work that does not spoon feed, but rather draws them into itself. They consider it a show of respect for their intelligence. For example, INTO THE WOODS compels us to focus in, and search for meaning. 

Other audiences might require more convex repertoire, especially early on. This work would be described as “coming toward the audience.” It is less subtle, more “served up.” They might expect a light, fun family night, and are not prepared to do a lot of intellectual work. This group will likely prefer familiar pieces, so that their effort is minimal. There’s a reasonTHE LITTLE MERMAID and ANNIE are produced over and again…we already know what’s going on. If this describes your audience, you might want to start with a show like Presentation Day: WORD POWER. There are hidden treasures of irony and metaphor in the story, but for those unprepared to seek that deeper layer, there is also an overt application of scripture served up to the audience.

Whether your audience prefers convex or concave rep is OK either way, but it's a definite “need to know.”

3. Do Your Stories Have Risky Themes?

Some communities will be OK with producing CINDERELLA, PRINCE CASPIAN , or THE WIZARD OF OZ,  all of which technically feature magic and witchcraft. But many of those same communities will not want to see a piece about a person dealing with a substance problem, or a financial problem, or depression. They might not want to see a marriage at risk, an extended family in conflict, or a scene with prostitutes.  

Or they may be fine with most aspects of our humanity, as long as it's all in service of a story of redemption. Again, do some homework, ask questions, learn their history, put yourself in their shoes.

4. In What Setting Are You Sharing Christian Plays and Musicals?

We offer 2 slogans here: “Timing is everything.” And, “Location, location, location.”

As to timing, there’s likely an expectation, based on your community’s history, about what happens during your regular ‘gatherings’ – whether it be Chapel, Worship, etc. Consider this time of gathering ‘their’ time. You don’t want to impose a completely different experience during what they’ve come to value as “their” time. If the time has been gifted to you, think of it as such. Receive it with grace and gratitude.

If you’re introducing a new medium or form or look, such as dance, consider presenting it at a special time, separate from their regular community time.  Maybe it’s at a family night, or special occasion. Be creative.

As to place, be creative with the environment you choose. A classroom, a cafeteria, a fellowship room, or the outdoors can create a much different expectation than what might be considered a more “sacred” space, traditionally. Again, think of yourself as a guest in their home. You would not show up as a guest in someone’s living room with your trumpet in hand. 

Three dancers moving across the floor, in dance class, with Faith Based Student Musicals instructor coaching from the front.
"Do nothing from selfish or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." Philippians 2:3-4

Artistic sensibilities vary widely, even in the Body of Christ. We hope these considerations help you discern the best Christian plays and musicals to produce for your community. 


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