No Budget? No Problem! (Part 2)
By Carmel Garvin Hearn
If your drama budget falls short when it comes to sets, props, lights, sound, and costume requirements, there may be some simple and inexpensive answers to your drama dilemmas. These are probably the most critical and, unfortunately, potentially the most expensive drama budget items.
Lighting: If you're presenting skits during morning worship services, you probably have to deal with a problem that's prevalent in most church sanctuaries: lots of windows. Achieving any kind of lighting ambience is nearly impossible. But it's not a lost cause. Before you start painting the stained glass windows black and go out and purchase thousands of dollars of professional lighting equipment, remember the line from the old song: "Don't worry, be happy." Then, improvise! If the skit calls for the actors to be in place when the lights come up, have them enter (not in character) and assume their positions (yes, the audience sees this), then have the actors freeze for a beat (that's a short pause), usually with their head lowered, then have them come alive "in character" and begin the action. Reverse the process for the "blackout."
The most critical thing to remember is that the only really bad lighting is low lighting. It can be badly distracting if your audience cannot clearly see the actors. Remember to stage your action on a raised platform, if possible, and if your acting area is not well lit (either artificially or naturally), you must correct the problem. It's just as bad—or possibly worse—if your lights are hitting the actors from directly overhead or from behind. If your room's lighting is inadequate, you may want to consider some inexpensive track lighting, easily available at the home improvement store. If possible, have the lights installed on at least two different circuits so you can light more than one scene, and if you're using regular wall switches you should install wall switch dimmers. Make sure you consult your pastor and church council first, and then get a qualified electrician to do the installation. Track lighting a front platform may cost several hundred dollars, not counting labor, but it is a good investment that will be used again and again. And remember, it's a fraction of the cost of purchasing a professional lighting system. If you cannot install permanent lighting, look into purchasing a portable light kit from an audio-visual equipment dealer.
Sound: Sound can be the most expensive and extensive portion of your budget. Some rooms are acoustically poor or so large that microphones are absolutely necessary. If your church services are being recorded, you must "mike" your actors. Sound systems can be an endless money pit and, unfortunately, there are no cheap fixes. When investing in sound equipment, the money you spend is directly proportionate to the quality and life span of the equipment. If you buy cheap equipment, you are wasting your church's money. So plan wisely, ask the experts and shop around. If your church already has a sound system, make sure you consult your technician and purchase equipment that is compatible with the existing system. If your existing system has room for more inputs, start with one or two omnidirectional mikes. These pick up ambient sound well and are preferable for large ensembles. Individual wireless lapel microphones are probably the best choice for small casts.
Any dramatic presentation requires its audience to suspend reality and step into a world of make-believe for a few minutes. You don't have to devote a mega-budget to elaborate sets and fabulous costumes to get your audience to believe in what you're presenting…if your message is clear, your intent is honest, and you believe in what you are doing.