Low Tech Endings: When You Don't Have Lights
When you stood on the stage for your fifth-grade Christmas pageant, chances are you were at one end of the school gym. And there, hanging with long-forgotten aplomb, were the tired curtains that signaled the end of the annual ritual. When the curtain closed, you knew it was over. And sometimes they closed to the relief of those on both sides of it. The curtain served not only as a visual barrier, but as a visual signal that it was time to applaud.
Churches don’t have curtains that open and close. So, unless you’re renting a school gym for your service, you probably don’t have that option for ending a sketch. As a substitute, many have found that a well-timed blackout has the same overall effect. Not only does it bring closure, it also affords the actors an easy exit and escape from audience scrutiny.
But what if you don’t have curtains or lights? How do you get out of the sketch and on with the rest of the service?
First, try adapting the blocking to have people exit while still in character. If they finish their last lines while sitting on a couch, see if it might work to have them stroll off the stage during those same lines.
You might have to insert a line or two to make things work, but most scripts can be retrofitted to move the actors toward the edge of the stage for inconspicuous exit.
Sometimes they'll need to continue the lines even after they’re off stage to give the right feel. As they exit, begin the next song or event so the audience’s attention is immediately diverted elsewhere.
Second, use the freeze. If it’s impossible to get them off gradually, use a well-timed freeze. But be strategic about it. For a freeze to feel like a freeze, the actors have to stop doing something. So, if when the last line is delivered they’re staring at each other, and then they freeze, it won’t look like a freeze. It will look
like someone has forgotten the last line.
For a freeze to work, all actors must be in the course of some bodily action
that can actually be frozen — a turn, a gesture, a step, something. Then, you must coordinate so it happens simultaneously. It takes a few minutes to get the timing down, but when it works, it really works. It clearly signals “conclusion” to the audience.
Just as before, begin the next item on the program immediately at the freeze, so attention is diverted while the actors exit. In fact, don’t have the actors unfreeze until the next event begins.
Third, try overlapping events.
This is where you actually begin the introduction of a song while the actors finish their last few lines. For this to work, you must have a script and a song introduction that fit each other. You must also carefully balance sound levels so the music doesn’t drown out the lines.
And, you must time it perfectly so the lines of the script finish before the words of the song start. But if you’re up for that kind of synchronization, it creates a very nice effect. The actors don’t really need a point of closure because the song takes over the momentum and grabs the attention of the congregation.
But don’t wait till Sunday morning to figure out the ending. If you mess this up, you risk stranding your actors onstage for interminably long periods of time, and nothing makes them feel more awkward. But a nice closing gets them off the stage and out of focus without interrupting the momentum of your service.