Can the hymns we sing be reflected in dramatic form in worship? Kit Harbottle believes that they can.
What connection can there be between drama and singing the faith?
Dance or mime – yes. Movement, whether watched or shared, can express praise, yearning or repentance in a way that complements the lyrics and tune. “You shall go out with joy” (StF 487), “Just as I am, without one plea” (StF 556) or “Jesus, be the centre” (StF 441) are among many possibilities. Not just “Our God is a great big God” (StF 61)!
Drama, with characters, dialogue and a plot, is another matter. Even in the form of a three minute sketch, a play or sketch poses questions and explores differing viewpoints. They work best with an element of conflict – whether comic or gripping. By contrast, congregational singing is a collective affirmation of faith or commitment, whether through “What a friend we have in Jesus” (StF 531) or “Let us break bread” (StF 592).
In ArtServe we promote the use of all creative arts in worship. Drama and hymns can work together to build the life of the church.
Drama can be used to tease out the meaning in a hymn, and challenge how real it is for us. Not the drama group doing silly walks to “We are marching in the light of God” (StF 483), tempting though that might be – but as complementary parts of a service. Good intentions are easy to sing about, but a comic sketch about church life can get people to think about what they ask in “Christ from whom all blessings flow” (StF 676) or “Brother, sister, let me serve you” (StF 611). Characters in a drama are permitted to question – whereas sung expressions of doubt seem odd. For example, “Over all the earth, you reign on high” (StF 63) or “Great is thy faithfulness” (StF 51) can contrast with a dramatised outburst about the turn a life has taken.
Hymns can also inspire longer dramas. Our bicentenary play for the Methodist Tavistock Circuit took its title “To Serve the Present Age” from Charles Wesley’s “A charge to keep I have” (StF 658) and explored what this meant in 1809 and 2009. (Ed. It is now available as an effective audio drama – see below.)
Perhaps the most powerful approach is to weave drama and hymns together to explore the mystery of God’s presence, as in Les Ellison’s play “Redemption Song”, which presented the Easter story with interludes for worship response.
Kit Harbottle is on the Board of ArtServe and, writing as Kit Walkham, has a number of drama scripts published through Twelvebaskets.