In my last post I encouraged you all to breath in the nuances of the Easter season in order to come up with writing ideas for next Easter. I mentioned writing skits, reader’s theaters and other presentations. So for those of you who have never waded into the waters of writing for the performing arts I’ll share some tips to get your brain drifting over to this wonderful creative outlet for your words.
Due to my decades of experience (I’ve been doing this since high school) I’ve learned a lot about what works. Writing skits was my first love for many years. Often I was the go-to gal for all sorts of dramatic productions for church, homeschool groups and women’s retreats. Writing them myself was less work than searching through volumes of skit books. It was more fun too.
My first tip. A skit doesn’t always have to be funny. But it absolutely has to have a point the audience can grab hold of—an ah-ha moment. More importantly it needs to be performable and understandable.
Theme is the key. No theme equals no point. Humor for humor’s sake without a clear take home message will distract from the rest of the worship service. So be sure the funny story in your mind speaks to a need of the heart. Consult the pastor on upcoming themes. Your skit might serve as the introduction to his sermon.
Themes need to relate to where the church is at the moment. I will never forget watching a mission team of Eastern European young people who toured the US. Their gospel skits were outdated. One of the performers told me these were professionally written skits dating back to the 60s, but their 21st century American audience was bored and unmoved. So sad. If they had sought out a fresh source for sketches, those actors might have made a wonderful impact.
Who is your audience
What is the age of the audience you are targeting? Is it a women’s group, a retreat settings youth group, MOPS or perhaps unbelievers? Again, you can ask the group leaders what their meeting focus is before writing your skit. Weave their theme into your skit.
Check your heart before you write. Avoid the thing that’s bugging you about someone or something in the church. Stuff written from a heart of hurt and judgement tends to miss the mark. It is wonderful if you’ve already traveled the road and have learned the lesson. Your desire to help others avoid your pitfall is always more powerful than finger-pointing prose.
Be sure there is a scriptural base for your skit. It isn’t necessary for the verse to be recited by a character. Especially if it is a lead-in to a pastor’s sermon. But the point of the verse has to be very, very evident. This is not like your literature classes back in high school where the class analyzes the play to discern it’s true meaning. Even with a clear theme and scripture reference the Holy Spirit will speak different messages to various people through the performance. Which is awesome.
Write to your cast
More people will volunteer to be part of a funny skit than a serious one. Trust me. People would volunteer before I’d even written a skit and ask for a funny part. There were a few who wanted to be the serious character. It was important to them to deliver the key message. So take the time to consider their requests.
This brings me to the point of writing for your own church family. Many sketches I found as I searched through the Christian bookstore called for a large cast, professional lighting and a stage. If I purchased any of those, I usually had to rewrite to fit our need. It was easier to write one myself. My church family was small so my cast had to be as well.
Making it performable
I’d pray, and let the theme ruminate in my mind for a while. When an idea crystalized, I looked around the church and considered who was willing to perform and what their talent level was. This is why so many wanted to be in my skits. I made the characters easy for the performer to relate to. I gave the more complicated characters to the better performers and the newbies smaller parts until I became comfortable with what they could do. Mega churches tend to have a wealth of talented people. Which means the little guys I write for would never get a chance. If I write for the lesser experienced thespian, I have a greater chance of selling my work later to a publisher. A skit that is simple to cast and perform sells better.
Small cast and highlighting talent
Less is more when it comes to cast. It is easier to find two or three people to perform than twelve. Adults are not as willing to act as children. And who says all church skits must be delegated to kids only. You’ve been gifted with words, others gifted with acting. Just because they aren’t professionals doesn’t mean that particular gift dies with puberty. These actors can be inspired to hone their talent with wonderful scripts from you. Sharing their gifts with the congregation together with your words creates an offering of worship to Jesus.
Names of characters can help eliminate the need to explain who the character is. Mrs. Rambling Words, Holly Holyroller, Grandpa WiseOne. Can you see the characters in your mind? So will the actors and audience. This is pretty common in humorous skits. But serious fare can have names that speak to character. John Bunyan’s character names were fairly pointed in Pilgrim’s Progress.
Setting your theme in the familiar is often the easiest way to get your audience’s attention. It’s also a great way to start skit writing because you already have a template to follow to a conclusion. I’ve done parodies of game shows. Below are some ideas I used. You can customized any game or TV show to your theme.
- The Price Is Right pitted characters with various erroneous ideas of Christianity as they tried to win the grand prize.
- Who wants to Be a Millionaire had my contestant knowledgeable in myths about Christmas traditions but not about the true meaning.
- My daughter wrote a wonderful skit for her youth group to perform based on the characters from Gilligan’s Island.
- My family performed a TV newscast complete with interviews. I even wrote a newsflash based on a humorous story a member had told the church.
- I stole some movie cast members when I wrote a “What if” play for the teens focusing on if Jesus were born today. We had the Men in Black make an appearance to protect the holy family.
- I had a lot of fun creating a parody of What Not to Wear for a women’s retreat. “What Not to Put On” focused on a Christ-like attitude make-over. We decide to film it ahead of time so we could be more creative. What I learned from that experience added to my writing toolbox and showed me just how naive I was about working in the film media. (That’s for another post.)
Times the thing
Don’t draw the skit out too long. Five to ten minutes is enough time to make your point. Unless this is a full length play or your sketch is the entire program for the day, keep it short.
- Monologue: one person telling a story or giving an account of an incident.
Examples: Mary reflecting back on the life of Jesus, Peter’s account of walking on water, Teenage boy feeling left out, Overwrought Mom shares her day.
- Reader’s Theater: Two or more people doing a dramatic reading.
The characters can be one individual or a few actors changing their voices to be more than one character. Sound effects and lighting notes add to these performances.
- Choral Reading: Three or more people reading in unison as well as individually, creating a choir like quality that ebbs and flows.
Those who love to write poetry will find this less of a challenge than those who don’t.
- Skits: Two or more people performing a slice of life or literature to make a point.
Scripts: Skits or plays written in specific format to perform before a camera.
- Radio Scripts: A scene written for audio performance only.
The need for fresh material is out there. Someone writes these and gets paid. Someone writes them to enhance worship. It might as well be you.
Check out these site for wonderful examples.
Any of you found your niche in skit writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
In future posts I’ll get into the nitty gritty of skit writing. So if you are not a regular subscriber you might want to go over to the right column and sign up so you don’t miss out.