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Children and Drama

Drama?

Black plimsolls. Being partnered up with an intense hippy who wants to interpret the book of Ezekiel from the point of view of a seaslug. In mime. Accompanied by Jean-Michel Jarre. On rollerblades...

To my surprise, many adults cringe at the thought of taking part in anything dramatic. Possibly still in need of therapy from the seaslug experience. Or more probably because we're so self-conscious and imagine we have so much face to lose.

But children... now, children have the key to the kingdom. They're good at letting go of everything that holds them back. Drama is what children do spontaneously each time they play Spiderman, march all their dolls off to a grisly fate in their bedroom hospital, or re-enact exactly what he said to her round the back of the bike-sheds last Friday. And while there are children who don't like performing, I have yet to come across a child who doesn't like playing, which is what the best drama, and arguably the best expressions of faith are all about.

I don't want to look at the 'drama in church services' issue here. Nor do I want to list the Biblical examples of drama - prophets who buried their underwear and so on. I'm exploring the question of using drama with children as a means of inviting them to come closer to God.

Why might you use drama with your children or young people? Sure, it helps social skills, extends vocabulary and builds confidence, all of which is highly commendable. But for us, these are side benefits rather than our main aim as Christian leaders, which is surely to enable children to walk more closely with God. (A dramatic image if ever I heard one!)

GUTTURAL VOICE: Drama reaches the parts other methods cannot reach.

Drama appeals simultaneously to so many intelligences - kinaesthetic, auditory, visual, creative, spiritual, communal... Put another way, using drama brings together the right - and left - brain with a healthy dollop of the limbic system, thus leading to accelerated and holistic learning. Gosh, that sounds impressive.

Basically drama taps into what being human is all about.

So why use drama?

Drama can help achieve four aims most of us in children's / youth ministry hold central:

To answer the question 'How do you use drama?' it's best to give a few examples of ways I've seen these aims being met through drama.

I've never understood (in my head and in my gut) as much about the glorious freedom Jesus can bring as when an eight year old playing the part of the paralysed man in an unscripted roleplay of that scene burst out spontaneously in jubilation: 'I can walk! I can walk!' and danced her way round the church.

It was heart-stoppingly moving to see a child take a globe in the context of a story circle drama game and offer it to another child as a present. The receiving child had so many options as to her response and we were all on tenterhooks: what would she do? What better way to express and understand the responsibility of humans towards the planet and its Maker?

And we were covering the familiar story of the Lost Sheep, but what energy, urgency, deeply personal commitment and even desperation were revealed in that story when eleven year olds were given the imaginary task of hunting for a lost mobile phone. Even writing this down, I'm aware that words aren't enough to describe the insight into Jesus' desperate love for us that this hilarious scene revealed in the acting of it.

You don't need to be an expert to use drama. You're just giving children space to play in the presence of Jesus. You do need to believe that what you're doing can change lives. A nine year old told me, 'Drama's good because it's fun and you remember it.' Sums it up really.

Easy Drama Ideas

If you're not confident or feel you don't know enough games, ask the group! They probably do drama at school and have a wealth of brilliant games they're itching to play.

It always helps to start with a warm-up activity or game of some sort. I find it helpful to think of them in four categories: physical, group, concentration and imagination warm-ups.

There are oodles of drama games around - here are a few starters:

Exploring Bible stories and characters

Hotseating
The easiest game has to be hotseating. So effective! Such fun! The most straightforward way to do this is as follows:

'Here is a chair. This is the hotseat. When someone sits in the hotseat, they stop being themselves and they become someone else. The rest of us can ask that character any questions we like to find out more about them or about a particular event from their point of view. They might choose not to answer a particular question and that'll be interesting to see as well.

Now who would like to go in the hotseat first?' You could invite them to be a particular person eg Zacchaeus. Several people might go in the hotseat as Zacchaeus one after the other. Or you might say, 'Choose a person who might have been present at the events in this passage.' Then they might choose to be Jesus, Mrs Zacchaeus, a poor widow or a grumpy Pharisee. It's amazing how much you can find out about the story and people by hotseating. And because the questions are so important, everyone's involved, not just one person on the hotseat.

Play with the story: When everyone's familiar with the story, ask them to play it again, but this time from someone else's point of view. You might suggest a few ideas: perhaps some nosy gossiping neighbours or a private investigator, or even from the point of view of an object - a lost coin, a fatted calf, a picnic basket...Gets a whole new breath of life into a familiar story. Good for pairs or small groups.

Freezeframes
Freezeframes are still pictures made up of people - tableaux or snapshots if you like - showing a moment of a story. Great for Bible study without them knowing they're doing Bible study. You can say, 'Make a freezeframe of the scariest moment in the story' - they then have to decide in their groups what they think is the scariest moment, then how to show it effectively. Of course, they could do the most interesting, the most puzzling, the worst or best moment, whatever the story lends itself to.

Forum Theatre
Forum Theatre involves acting out a situation with strong characters and an obvious dilemma at its heart. The audience then has to try to solve the dilemma by taking the place of one of the actors and trying out their solution within the drama. If it doesn't work, someone else from the audience can try out another solution. A thought-provoking way of dealing with contemporary issues.

There are stacks of drama techniques around which are as effective as these. Ask your group for more ideas.

Enjoy.

Where to go next?

View all drama ideas

This article first appeared in CY Magazine published by CPAS.