50 Tips and Ideas for Church Musicals
Church musicals are a great outlet for creative expression and building community in a church setting. Here are some ideas and tips for making your next church musical experience one that is worship-filled and enjoyable for everyone involved.
Picking a Musical
- Keep the Goal in Mind - Approach the entire endeavor as an act of worship, not a performance showcasing individuals. This should be your overall approach to everything and communicated to every person who is involved.
- Review Content - This may seem obvious, but be sure to read through every script and song to make sure the content is theologically sound and agrees with your church's doctrine.
- Think About the Message - Think carefully about the moral lessons the musical conveys. You want it to have a message that is impactful but isn't too cheesy or filled with corny dialogue.
- Listen to the Music - After reading the text, consider the music and if it fits your choir, both in age and skill. If you will use a live band, make sure the instrumentation fits the volunteers you have available or if pre-recorded, the accompaniment is done well.
- Involve the Congregation - You want this to be a positive experience for everyone, so find ways to creatively use those who want to be be involved. Do you have special instruments or a hand bell choir that can be used? Also, think about how people can play a role in technology and backstage needs.
- Do it Yourself - It's not unheard of to create your own musical, especially for a holiday production. Mix songs, carols and instrumental music for a self-created Christmas play and use scripture readings.
- Start Scheduling - After you have picked your musical, determined a date and secured a facility, it's time to consider your rehearsal schedule. Work backward, thinking about how many times you will want to run through the whole musical — how many practices it could take — and break up the scenes so you know how to schedule rehearsals.
- Set a Timeline - If your choir is not a yearlong program, plan on picking or writing your own script by January, holding auditions in March and scheduling two to three days per week for musical rehearsals (similar to what would happen at a school).
- Plan a Quick Turnaround - Another option is to schedule a musical over the summer and have a weeklong camp. Cast the project in one day and have workshops where students paint the set, spend time in choral training and rehearse scenes.
Recruit for your church's musical programs with an online sign up! SAMPLE
- Divide and Conquer - Go through your script carefully beforehand and make a breakdown of characters and what qualities you will be looking for. Also take note of roles that could be split among a small group or divided for more participation.
- Get Help - Have one or more adult audition assistants who will read through the script beforehand and watch and take notes during auditions to help with casting.
- Play it Again - Record your auditions so you can go back and have another look, along with your audition assistants, to make final decisions. Some auditions may run together after a while, and this is a good refresher.
- Emphasize Character - Since your church musical is an act of worship, emphasize that competitive or "diva" attitudes have no place. Start your auditions by praying for the group.
- Be Positive - Be conscious of your facial expressions during the audition process. Smiles and encouraging faces mean a lot to younger singers and actors!
- Gather Information - Have those auditioning fill out a short page (with parents) that gives their best contact information, preference for speaking or singing role (but not a specific part), an emergency contact and which adults have permission to give rides home from rehearsal.
- Set Age Requirements - It's great to get young children involved, but remember you will need lots of crowd control for younger ages. Consider making it a privilege for older elementary students and something younger ones can look forward to.
- Thank Everyone - Be sure to say an encouraging word to those who comes in for an audition. Be specific about where and when roles for the musical will be posted.
For Singing Auditions:
- Keep it Familiar - Do vocals first and have them choose a song that is not from the musical. Auditions will go better if it’s something they are comfortable singing. Listen for their vocal range and quality of sound. Genius Tip: Schedule auditions with an online sign up.
- Think About Age - Just an opinion: Save solos for older students and use trios and quartets for first and second graders, duets for third graders.
For Acting Auditions:
- Keep it Simple - Have everyone line up (or divide into small groups) and say a simple phrase or verse back to you with as much as energy and projection as possible.
- Keep an Open Mind - Again, an opinion: Use third through fifth graders (or older) as your character pool, and for auditions, mix it up and have them read different parts. If you think you might have characters already that will fit, have them read those roles — but keep an open mind.
- Prioritize - Cast your most difficult parts first — like the person who needs to speak with an accent.
- Recruit Help - Don't try to do it alone! With a musical, there will be acting and singing, and you are wise to recruit other adults with strengths in those areas (and who work well with and enjoy kids!). Have them run "sectionals" for the choir parts or run lines and go over solo parts.
- Begin with Prayer - Consider starting your rehearsal with a devotion. It’s especially great when you can pick a theme that is emphasized in your musical.
- Break the Ice - All work and no play can make church musicals hit a sour note. Incorporate icebreakers and musical games to help build relationships with your cast or choir. Prepare some games for early arrivals or those waiting for rides at the end of rehearsal.
- Make Extra Time - Consider scheduling soloists or small groups for rehearsals 30 minutes before the entire group gets together for extra practice.
- Stick to a Schedule - Be sure to make a plan for your rehearsals so there isn't a lot of down time where goofing off fills the empty space.
- Break it Down - For a large cast, it might work best to create a rehearsal schedule and only call certain groups at certain times (for different age groups, speaking parts or script sections).
- Practice Anywhere - Check to see if the musical you have chosen has the option to buy a rehearsal CD so cast and choir can rehearse music on their own.
Create a youth choir schedule with an online sign up! SAMPLE.
Preparing for the Performance
- Make a Backstage Plan - Create a document for your tech crew, and go through the script noting all the visual cues, microphone cues and lighting cues. Meet with your tech person two to three weeks out to clarify how many microphones will be needed along with any lighting or other tech needs.
- Communicate with Parents - Schedule a parent meeting or send out an email after your cast is finalized to clarify expectations, hand out schedules and ask them to volunteer for any ongoing and performance needs. Genius Tip: Organize a snack schedule with an online sign up.
- Be Safe - Get a list of any food allergies if you will be serving snacks or meals during the rehearsals. Genius Tip: Use an online sign up to help you organize volunteers for any food or childcare needs you have during rehearsals.
- Check Facility Schedules - Schedule the rehearsal space as far ahead of time as possible after picking your date and check with church office since there may be some logistics involved if the space is a multi-use area. Make sure you have a place the kids can gather “off stage” and some rooms for a dinner afterward if you plan to have a post-production celebration.
- Respect Inboxes - Be very mindful of how much communication you are sending out to parents and participants and KEEP IT BRIEF.
- Assign Duties - If you have families that have not volunteered, don’t be afraid to assign them a job such as teardown and clean up that take little or no preparation.
- Keep Costumes Simple - If you use a choir or lots of extras in your musical, consider making a cast T-shirt and having that be the costume. Use accessories to differentiate between scenes.
- Enlist Skillful Hands – If you have someone who will take on the sewing, you can afford to be a little more creative. First, see if you have a budget for the church to contribute for materials.
- Keep the Set Simple - Go through your script with an eye for detail and see what your set needs will be. Work backward from your production date and have set-helping parties. Delegate this to a handy volunteer and keep it as simple as possible!
- Plan Props - As you begin rehearsals, it helps to have a "detail" person who reads through the script and is in charge of picking out props and gathering everything. This person can also think through where on stage props will need to be placed once final run-throughs begin. Genius Tip: Ask parents or members of the congregation for help in collecting items. A simple list on a sign up will help!
Planning Performance Week
- Make a Master Checklist - Know where props and set pieces need to be at any given time, as well as sound needs and cues. Give copies to all volunteers noting the "go-to person" for problems with props, costumes, set or sound.
- Do a Run-Through - Before the dress rehearsal, hold a tech run-through. Make sure to start scenes, practice light cues, run musical cues and get kids in place.
- Do it Twice - One option: Consider having a dress rehearsal AND a final run-through so that you have one more opportunity after the dress rehearsal to fine-tune anything from your notes before show time.
- Review Notes - Meet with your volunteers and go-to people after dress rehearsal (before final run-through) and talk about what could have made it go more smoothly.
- Keep Costumes Together – Make sure costumes are kept at church so there are no lost pieces during final rehearsals.
- Remember Touchups - Keep a bottle of fabric spray and a steam iron on hand for freshening and keeping costumes tidy. Have actors bag and/or tag their costumes pieces, especially if you are working with a large group with similar costumes.
- Think of the Extras - Make sure you have extra batteries for microphones, headsets and any other technical equipment. You never know!
Plan a musical worship service with an online sign up! SAMPLE.
- Charge Admission - To make it an event, consider having attendees pay a small amount or bring a donation for admission. (Make sure it all goes to a good cause.) The cast can have a celebration afterward with an easy meal together with families. Genius Tip: Sell tickets with an online sign up.
- Organize Volunteers - This is your key day for parent volunteers to keep younger cast members quiet backstage, help choir members and assist with costume changes if needed. Encourage volunteers to show up 10 minutes before when the shift begins and be sure to post expectations clearly so each person knows her responsibility.
- Round up the Cast - Have cast members arrive for sound check a minimum of one hour before. Test mics and headsets. Get costumes and props in place. Build extra time into the schedule to account for misplaced items or questions that come up.
- Plan the Curtain Call – One option is to call cast members forward as groups, not individuals. This will keep the focus on the worship aspect, rather than performances.
The most important tip is to have fun! The memory you want your church musical participants to come away with is that it helped them grow to love God more and love their church community.
Julie David is married to a worship pastor and after 20 years in ministry together with three daughters, she is still developing the tender balance of thick skin and gracious heart.