CHC’s dramas are a highlight of Christmas, Easter and other special church days. Directors Sandy Yeo (left) and Jaslynn Khoo share the “drama” of running the ever-exciting Drama Ministry.
Contributed By Dannon Har
Sandy Yeo: During the early years, we only had a small team, and it was often a two-man show. The first big-scale production we ever put up was for Easter at the Indoor Stadium, many years ago. I remember feeling totally inadequate, and we had to depend a lot on the lecturers from the School of Creative Arts which CHC had back then. From them we learned hands-on how to pull a show together.
Over time, we’ve had chances to link up and work with professionals in the theater industry. We have a much bigger team now, a few of them professionals but mostly volunteers. I believe we have achieved some improvements over the years—more effects, wiring, stunts or pyrotechnics—but we’re certainly not sitting on our laurels.
What are the key considerations when producing a show?
SY: It must serve the purpose of the occasion—for example, if it is for an evangelistic meeting, the drama has to clearly communicate the storyline of Jesus, so that the audience can understand and grasp the message. Also, we need to straddle the two kinds of audience we have—those who go to the theater and the masses who don’t, so we’re careful when it comes to experimenting with the more avant garde stuff; it might be fun to explore, but it may not necessarily serve the purpose of that occasion.
What is the biggest creative challenge that the church drama team faces?
Jaslynn Khoo: The messages of Easter and Christmas are constants, so the biggest challenge is coming up with new concepts to present them differently. For example, telling the story of Christmas through the eyes of different people like the innkeeper, the three wise men, Mary or Joseph; or incorporating contemporary elements into the age-old messages of salvation and redemption.
Often the inspiration comes from the movies, plays and musicals we watch—LifeBook (Easter 2010), for instance, borrowed elements from The Devil’s Advocate. It also comes from consciously trying to do things differently every time. We once put up an interactive murder-mystery drama set in 1940s Shanghai where a patriarch was killed and the audience got involved in deducing who the murderer was.
How do you help your actors overcome stage fright? Most of them have no professional exposure yet have to perform before crowds numbering tens of thousands especially on big days.
SY: Firstly, if you like acting and being on stage, you’re in your element so it’s not really a major issue. Yes, we do get jittery at times, but what can we do when we are on stage and forget a line, even after all the rehearsals? We pray, and hope another actor rescues us (laughs). We always remind each other that we’re not just up there to show off our own talents; we pray for the anointing and for the Holy Spirit to be with us, so we’re never really going it alone.
How long does it take to put up a production?
JK: From conceptualization to the actual day of the performance it usually takes about three to four months. We start rehearsals two months before; things get more intense a month before the actual day.
As a church drama team, you don’t have to sell tickets for your shows. So where does the challenge come from?
JK: We are always striving to break boundaries in terms of creativity and acceptability to the audience and therefore, we want to educate and bring the whole congregation to the next level; we can’t just introduce an artistic or abstract concept into a drama and confuse the audience. Yet, bit by bit, we slowly try to bring in some of these artistic elements. That’s the expression of an artist—to challenge both yourself and the audience with new things all the time.
What’s on the Drama Ministry’s wish list?
SY: I hope that our stage can be more theater-oriented in future. Right now we have a strong technical crew who help to make things happen. For example, in Heroes Of Faith (Christmas 2010), we flew down the chandeliers and the paintings; it was a good touch. But while theaters outside have the luxury of space—their backstage area is larger, the ceiling is higher, for us currently, set-wise at least, there are not that many things we can build behind and bring on stage. We definitely hope to do better shows at Suntec, though! We also want our current team of actors to get more exposure and be involved in professional theater, TV or films.
What is the vision for the Ministry as a whole?
JK: The general perception is that church dramas are usually substandard to what people see commercially, given that it can’t be overly artistic or take that much creative licence. What we hope to achieve one day is for our work to be recognized even by those in the industry outside the church.
The Hits List
A lookback at some of the Drama Ministry’s most memorable productions.
Title: Heroes Of Faith
Occasion: Christmas 2010
Synopsis: Set in the prestigious Heroes Of Faith Academy, a group of elite students embark on a perilous quest to look for a few special items to be presented on the eve of the Savior’s birth. Risk, danger and betrayal plague them at every turn, but a surprise turn of events toward the end brings love and reconciliation to all. The big wow-factor: “magic tricks” a la the parting of the Red Sea performed by one of the students.
Occasion: Easter 2010
Synopsis: Combining the social network elements of Facebook with the Lamb’s Book of Life as found in the Book of Revelations, LifeBook presented the New Testament in an intriguing 21st century format, melding the timelessness of Jesus’ life story with modern-day costumes. The character of Jesus himself was wearing a handsome white suit instead of the usual white robe.
Title: The Final Solution
Occasion: Easter 2009
Synopsis: Containing elements of sci-fi, The Final Solution explores the beguiling possibility of morally perfect humans, when the scientist Silas creates a potion that removes any desire to commit sin from the human heart. Trouble was, unwanted side effects surfaced when the potion was injected into a patient … The thought-provoking storyline puts into perspective the cost of salvation and the futility of man trying to attain perfection on his own.
Title: The Christmas Story
Occasion: Christmas 2004
Synopsis: A poor orphan working in an inn and constantly abused by a tyrannical innkeeper finds himself to be the instrumental link in leading Mary and Joseph to the manger where the Savior is birthed. Through this, he trades in a damaged self-esteem for self-identity and significance. Accompanied by a touching song that moved thousands to tears at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.