Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Are You Ready for Your Video Closeup?

Several contests recently were held to honor folks on church video teams who put together videos to promote their churches, highlight sermon topics or get the congregation thinking about subjects. Video is a regular part of many worship services and, it seems, our lives as we view video images in one form or another throughout most of the day.
What if this Sunday, God suddenly caused the thoughts of your mind and the ponderings of your heart to grace the screen in the worship service? What would that video look like? Would it include any thoughts about Him, about His greatness, about how thankful you are for what He has given you? Would the clips from your heart reveal love for your family, concern for those who don't know Him, compassion for those who are hungry and forgotten? Or would the movie star you, walking through the week thinking about what you have to get done, about the hurts you have suffered, about how your days are filled with just about everything but God?
As water reflects a face,
so a man's heart reflects the man. (Proverbs 27:19 NIV)

What are people reading on your face?
To edit your video, meditate on His word. Here are some great verses (the Psalms, the Message) for those of us in the arts (share with us others that are soecial to you). Let them be the scenes that play on your video:
"What a beautiful thing, God to give thanks, to sing an anthem to you, the High God! To announce your love each daybreak, sing your faithful presence all through the night." 92:1-2

"Come let us shout praises to God, raise the roof for the Rock who saved us; Let's march into his presence singing praises, lifting the rafters with our hymns" 95: 1-2

"Thank God! Pray to him by name! Tell everyone you meet what he has done! Sing Him songs, belt out hymns,translate His wonders into music. Honor His holy name with Hallelujah! you who seek God. Live a happy life." 105:1-2

News: Jeff Lisenby's CD "A Spy in Tortuga" featuring a creative mix of accordian and jazz (yes, that's accordian and jazz together)is generating a buzz during this year's Grammy voting. Jeff's one of the nicest Christian artists you'll ever meet (he was a pianist for one of our touring shows). If you're a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), make sure you give this CD a listen. I loved it. You can listen to selections from the CD on itunes or cdbaby.com

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Deborah Kerr: Thoughts to Share and Remember

Hollywood legend Deborah Kerr passed away last week at the age of 86. What has that got to do with thoughts on being a Christian in the arts? Well, everything, actually. I wouldn't be heading up a Christian performing arts organization or enjoying a ministry with Christians in the arts without the influence Deborah Kerr had on my life.
I "met" her when I was 7. Our elementary school presented "The King & I" as its Spring musical and my second-grade class was cast as the children of the King. It was my first exposure to the world of the theater and I've never been the same since. My enthusiasm must have been noticed by my teacher as I was assigned one of three speaking parts given to the "Siamese" children. Near the end, when Mrs. Anna is preparing to leave Siam, I was to deliver the incredibly moving line, "Please do not go away."
Finally the week of performances arrived and before a packed auditorium, I awaited my cue to get up from my cross-legged sitting position stage right center, walk up to Mrs. Anna, step out from behind her billowing dress, hit my mark and give my heart-wrenching plea for her not to leave us. My moment came and I delivered my line to uproarious laughter from the audience. I returned to my seat bewildered. "I must be a really talented actress." I thought, because I hadn't realized that line was supposed to be funny. Later I was told that my costume, hiked up to my waist to accommodate the cross-legged sitting position, had remained there when I appeared at center stage and that my line was delivered with my underwear displayed for all the audience and the court at Siam to see.
This curbed my enthusiasm for a stage career, but not for the "The King & I" and when I discovered that a movie had been made of the musical, I begged to be able to stay up and watch it when it was shown on television. And there I met Deborah Kerr, who starred as Anna in the film. I was in awe. I never had seen anyone so beautiful. She looked like a Dresden figurine to me and I wanted to be just like her. After that, I watched any movie in which she appeared. Some are among my all-time favorites, like "An Affair to Remember," with Cary Grant. I can't tell you how many times I have seen that movie, but it makes me cry every time.
One year, I found that "An Affair to Remember" was due to air on a Saturday afternoon and I begged my father to let me watch it instead of some sporting event (this was back in the days when households had only one television set and video options hadn’t been invented yet). “Why do you want to watch that again?” he asked. “You become an emotional mess every time.”
“I won’t,“ I declared. “I’ve seen it often enough that I can watch it without crying, now, I promise!”
He relented and we watched happily together—until the part where Cary brings Deborah his grandmother’s shawl.
For some reason, that's the moment that my emotions become unglued. I start to well up. It builds when Cary sees the portrait on the wall (if you don't know what I'm talking about, you obviously are not a fellow "Affair" lover) and the dam bursts when she says, "Don't look at me like that."
Well, there I sat with my father trying to hide the emotional dam that was about to burst. "I can't let a tear fall, " I struggled with myself. "I promised!" When Deborah said, "Don't look at me like that..." suddenly I was struck by a box of tissues my father had tossed across the room. The impact unleashed my emotions in one tremendous cry and I sobbed harder than I've ever sobbed in my life. And I don't remember my father ever laughing harder than while watching this spectacle.
At any rate, Deborah Kerr has been a part of my life for many years. And even though she had no idea who I was, she influenced me and I loved her. Every report I ever read about her was positive, from people in the industry saying she was one of the easiest stars to work with to fans reporting how gracious she was.
Her career sparked in me a love for theater, Rodgers & Hammerstein, great old films, how stars related to their fans, and the performing arts in general. Now those things have come together in a ministry that serves the Kingdom. Over all, she brought many hours of happiness to my life. What a wonderful legacy for Ms. Kerr and an inspiration to those of us in the arts who can be used in the same way to influence people, whether or not we know it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

News and Reviews in the World of Christian Performing Arts

Halloween and how or whether Christians should observe it has been getting a lot of play on the internet this week. Christian comedian Robert G. Lee offers some interesting thoughts at

Another Christian comedian, Anita Renfroe, appears on Good Morning America today. Her "Total Momsense" song of things mothers say to their kids set to the William Tell Overture has been making the rounds on the internet and led to the Good Morning America gig as well as interviews on Inside Edition, Dr. Phil and the CBS Early Show among others. Click on the video link at right to view this clip.

Lillenas (publisher of some of the best Christian drama and music) has announced some changes for its Drama Arts Conference. The drama conference no longer will be combined with the music arts conference and will be held in April instead of February as it had been in the past. Save the dates of April 24-26. The conference will be held in the Kansas City area. For more details as they become available, check this blog or sign up for email updates at info@lillenasdrama.com.

Today is Blog Action Day for the Environment. Let's take a moment to remember the environment in our prayers. God did put it in our care.

Paul Kuritz, an acting and directing professor at Bates College, has written a book with an interesting perspective. "The Fiery Serpent" (Pleasant Word 2007) examines theater and film making from a Christian perspective. The author's first prayer as a newly converted follower of the Lord was "Dear God, please don't make me a born-again evangelical Christian." God declined and one of the results is this book. Some might be intimidated by its erudite nature (he quotes Aristotle and delves into the laws of thermodynamics) but the investigation of the nature and art of movies and plays is well worth the read.

Mr. Kuritz creates the image of God as a playwright and director and offers the stories of the bible as evidence of God's flare for the dramatic. We come to see that all of the creative process isn't really all that new, but a recreation of the internal conflict within man to choose to follow good instead of evil. And in the end, it's all for God's glory. There's some great practical advice for Christian artists like: "In making a play or a film, the theater artist encounters many people giving him instructions, making demands on him, planning his days, requesting compliance, issuing orders, presenting temptations, and rationalizing and justifying all sorts of things. For the Christian, all of these human messages must be filtered through the cross of Christ and found consistent with life in the kingdom of God. To order the book online go to http://www.pleasantwordbooks.com

Due to the wonderful response we're receiving to this blog, we're considering expanding it to two posts each week, one for news and reviews and the other for inspiration and devotion for artists. We'd like to hear from you on what you'd find helpful. What topics would you like addressed? Which day would be most helpful for you to receive the devotional posting, Thursday or Friday? Please send your comments to masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Truth About Celebrity: Someone is Always Watching

Are you a celebrity? In the performing arts world, that's usually an easy question to answer. If you have fans paying to come see you perform or to buy your CDs, videos, etc., you're probably a celebrity. In the Christian performing arts world, it's a little harder to define and you might be a celebrity without even knowing it. (Tom Curley's recent article "I'm With the Worship Team" gives great insight into how the band model can influence worship teams and how there needs to be a distinction between privilege and service. (Read the article at http://www.verticalmusic.com.)

If you're in the arts, there is one thing you can be sure of, whether you've attained "celebrity" status or not: people are watching you and will be influenced by your example.

I worked for years in the secular performing arts world and enjoyed meeting and working with many famous people. Overall, I formed the opinion that, with a few exceptions, the most famous stars were the nicest and most considerate and those who wanted to be stars (the ones who were just starting out or just beginning to get a taste of fame) were the most demanding and hardest to handle. One singer, who believe me, you never have heard of, seemed to think I was her personal slave and walked around bellowing "hot water, hot water!" which was her command that I should bring her tea (and stir it for her) so her marvelous (at least in her opinion) voice could be nurtured.

When you're around celebrity regularly, it loses its ability to awe you because you come to realize that these people, no matter how famous or adored, still are people. It really comes down to their character--what kind of people are they and how do they conduct themselves?

I recently read an article in a national periodical by a famous artist. He and his wife both have achieved fame in the secular and Christian markets. I was excited to see him featured so prominently in a secular publication, hoping he would have an opportunity to share his faith with fans who might not hear it anywhere else. Instead I was a rather disappointed as he justified beginning his relationship with his current wife while both still were married to former spouses by saying that "when two people click, there's not much you can do about it."

I don't know the details of their relationships and don't presume to judge them for divorcing, but I do have a problem with telling people that it's OK to get involved with someone else while you're married because God himself tells us that's wrong and if you feel yourself becoming attracted to someone who is married, you certainly can and should do something about it. But people who don't know the Lord will read that and take it as permission from a Christian they admire that they can pursue adulterous relationships. What a lost opportunity to use celebrity for God's glory.

One exception to my "don't get excited any more" about celebrities is actor John Cullum. I have loved his rich baritone voice since I first saw him in "Shenandoah" on Broadway more years ago than I'd care to admit. I recently saw him in "110 in the Shade" and literally swooned (well, as much as it is possible for a middle-aged married woman to swoon). Let's just say he's the only person I ever have waited at the stage door for, and it was well worth the experience. During a longer run of a musical in which he starred, Mr. Cullum consistently stepped out of the stage door after every performance and greeted fans, signed autographs, chatted with mothers telling tales of their sons who want to be Broadway stars and in general, was just a very nice man. I've known others, with less stature and who haven't had people waiting at the stage door for half the number of years Mr. Cullum has, who blow by their fans without even a quick hello.

Again, it comes down to character and if you're a Christian in that situation, it comes down to Christ's character too, because your actions reflect on Him and your ability to witness through Him.

If you lead worship, do you greet people after the service and take an opportunity to get to know them? Or do you brush past saying "I'm with the band?" I was told about one church who hired a new worship pastor and Washington, DC itself couldn't hold a candle to the politics that went on as people lobbied to be on the worship team. They showered him with gifts, dinners and compliments because being on the worship team holds such prestigious celebrity at this church.

Do you enjoy this kind of celebrity in your church? If so, do you encourage a lobbying effort of the best of the best to win your favor or do you use it for God's glory? Take time to get to know the people who look up to you; find out what gifts they have to offer; pray about how you can develop those gifts and build their relationship with Christ. You'll set the example and it will be seen. Because remember, someone is always watching.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Making Worship a True Experience

When we think about going to church to worship, what comes to mind? For many of us, images of praise teams or choirs singing, musicians playing, people praying, videos rolling and handclapping and dancing come to mind. All of those may be part of a worship service, and if prayerfully planned by those leading the worship ministry at church, can be effective elements to enhance worship, but they are not worship in themselves.
Worship, by definition, is bowing down, feeling and expressing deep love and closeness for God. The church part, is simply a bunch of Christians doing that together. Without meeting God on that personal level, attending a worship service can be a lot like attending a great party. You can enjoy the music, mingle with a bunch of friends, but never see the host giving the party through all the noise and crowd. (I have attended a couple of services where the music or other elements of worship were great, but I wondered where God was in the service).
Before you go to church this Sunday, make a promise to meet Jesus there. If you're responsible for leading worship, make a promise to make Jesus so visible in all that takes place that the people in your church can't help but see and be drawn to him.
There is a great resource available to worship leaders to help make this happen. It's Rory Noland's newest book "The Worshiping Artist" (Zondervan 2007). The author of "The Heart of the Artist" comes through with another excellent resource to help worship directors and teams lead others in worship.
The book is divided into three essential parts:
"Worshiping in Secret" and the need for continued personal worship all week, not just on Sunday

"Worshiping in Truth" making sure we know who God really is and what it is to make everything come together to worship him

"Learning from Ancient Worship Leaders" some history for what we tend to think of as a modern tradition.

There are terrific questions for group discussion and some personal action steps.

Daily Inspiration

The Blind Side

Read about the real life mom from "The Blind Side."

Lifeway: http://www.lifeway.com/article/?id=169816

Guideposts: http://www.guideposts.com/story/sandra-bullock-blind-side-football?page=0,1

Read Matt Mungle's review of the movie at http://www.buddyhollywood.com/.

Lauren Yarger, Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

In 2008 she was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater with a Christian perspective for Reflections in the Light (http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/) and is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection. She also is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com

She also reviews books for Publisher's Weekly and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She formerly was Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp, a national theater web site bsed in New York and a reviewer for American Theater Web.

She also served as Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

She is a freelance writer and member of the Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and The CT Critics Circle.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger lives with her husband in West Granby, CT and has two adult children.

Copyright Notice

All contents copyright © Lauren Yarger 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

Scripture from THE MESSAGE Copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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