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Cutting Production Costs: Church Play Edition

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

Many churches love planning events. These events can be anywhere from a community outreach, free carwash, to a full on theatre production. I've been there - I've been there with many resources and very limited resources.

Let's dig in today on plays, dinner theatres and musical productions. I write in a very conversational method, take that in mind and don't analyze my sentence structure! HA! One of the first things I wished someone would have told me was ... don't look at your props UPCLOSE! As I began to go to different shows, secular and sacred, I noticed that unclose the props were beaten and banged up, or were put together with foam and tape. But when I sat out in the audience, I thought ... man .... they paid a good price for someone to design that. Later on, when I became the director of a performing

arts center, I noticed when I helped unload the semi trucks of props ... the same thing. Banged up, spray paint, foam, stings and ropes, battery lights, and the list goes on and on. Having an administrative heart in my church jobs, I always wanted GOD's house to have the best and be the best. We would strive to have groomed landscaping, exceptional signage and wall art. Clean bathrooms were a must, and learning that some church use companies that even create a specific smell to use within a church facility. I say all that to say this, we learned to create great looking walls and room scenes out of foam walls, a coat of paint, covering old furniture with fabric (using pins). We used LOTS of thrift store finds!

Look at this picture below from a production I wrote with a Grinch twist. This room was 2 pieces of 4 x 8, held up with two 2x4s behind it. We had a great painter that did this from within our church, a lady that sews made a little curtain, and look at this living room! I used my office couch and they covered it with bright clothes! All this was probably less that $50, especially since this "wall" was being reused from the last year (it had wall paper on it!)

Let's me move on to costumes. Again, using the picture below, 90% of what you see was thrift store finds that we sewed, stapled, glued and cut apart! The dads jacket had coat hanger wire in the back to make his tales curl out! Be creative, and use the people in your church that are crafters, imagineers and makers!

Wigs and make up all were from amazon or party city. Remember this - "planning ahead saves money." Many times we plan last minute and it runs our budgets up. I always had confirmation from "above" about the theme of the next year, BEFORE we finalized and started dress rehearsal for the current year. This let me get wigs, costumes, props, and things when there were reduced or on clearance. Specifically with the Grinch, halloween the year before and the year of was great in knowing what we were looking for, and watching for it to be marked down. Having trips out of town for vacations or little getaways, I always had my open to thrift stores and special places for upcoming shows. One of the best trips we had together was taking a Saturday and going thrift store shopping. It gave us time to talk about the play, the scenes, the vision, and also gave us time to get closer as a team. We had lunch, we laughed, we told stories. It set the tone and the excitement to finish the task and get to the fin stages to start working with the cast and people involved.

In coming blogs, I will talk about saving money in revenue costs, contracting, total set design, backdrops, storage, special effects, FLYING, tickets and marketing. There is so much to cover, that I want to keep each blog just a nugget of the big picture.

The last thing I want to talk about with this article is YOUR TEAM. I can't tell you enough how important a team is. This team is not clones of you, they are people that do what YOU CAN NOT DO. I had a wonderful lady that was my drama director in one of my churches. Her mind was in a different world from mine in that she always had the eye for the position the actor was standing, who could see the actors face, when and when the entered and lots more that I dont even think about! She was a great character developer, and would take the scripts I gave her and put more color and depth into the character. This was beyond me. I was thankful for her gifts and tried my very best not to micro manage but let her have her vision and I just gave the big picture in the script. I had a gentleman that was an exceptional set designer. He is an elementary school teacher and who knew he could take $500-$1000 and make a stage look like a million dollar touring set. He saw ways to hang and string lights, took beach balls and made them look like large funky ornament in a WHOville stage. If you look below COLOR was the main concept he went after in the Grinch set. They led our costume people to go super colorful and as a team - we all latched on to that and every area began to shine! Now let me tell you- my team was 100% volunteer, and I had very little help from paid staff at my church because they had their own things going on. This church team was from a small town, everyone was factory workers, teachers, people that learned trades in their jobs. LET THEM USE THIER GIFTS. Appreciate them. Meet and communicate with them. Make schedules together to meet goals. Celebrate reaching goals together and debrief, move on and learn from your failures.

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