By Dawn Wilson

RANCHO SANTA FE – Margie Wood’s vision for dramatic arts in the church began with an unexpected visit to a worship arts conference at the outreach-friendly Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. Wood took the place of someone who couldn’t attend.

“It was an epiphany experience,” Wood said. “I was doing theater and arts administration in secular organizations when it seemed as if God put His finger on me and called me to do performing art in the church."

Wood is the director of the drama ministry at Village Community Presbyterian Church and has been the instructor and director for Village Church Community Theater for seven years. The theater ministry produces family entertainment focused around morally inspired messages honoring Judaic-Christian traditions for the church and local community.

The theater just finished its third production for season five (2010-2011), “The Robe”, and will present “A Little Princess” beginning May 13.

“My passion for church drama ministry is to redeem the arts from what the secular culture has done with it,” Wood said. “I believe strongly that the church must reclaim the arts. Drama is a powerful communication tool – we communicate now more visually than verbally, so what better way to present the gospel than by using the communication tools of our culture, to present the gospel in new and exciting ways that are transformational.”

Wood says the church theater is set apart from secular groups by the plays they produce, whether from the Bible or great works of literature.

“We present the joy of a good story and song within a Christian context for the enjoyment and enrichment of a family audience,” she said. “Egos are left at the door.”

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Wood’s journey into theater arts, which began years ago in northern New York, seems scripted by God. When the Woods moved to San Diego, they attended Village Church, and Wood noticed their large stage and jumped at the opportunity to use it.

She loves to incorporate drama into weekly church services, coordinating dramas with the message themes. She said she would love to discover and meet with drama directors from other churches to share with and learn from each other.

Her ministry includes instruction. This will be the sixth summer Wood will lead a summer music/drama camp in August with 100 youths as young as the third grade in collaboration with children’s music director Katy Lundeen. They present two musicals at the end of the camp.

Wood also taught an acting class last fall, teaching basic acting techniques, monologue, scenes, voice projection and other techniques.

Knowing she would need a number of girls for the upcoming production, she coached the girls in class on monologue presentation for auditions, but then hired a casting director to make casting decisions for the play – “to keep it fair,” she said.

Her work with the theater reaches outside the church, and cast members are not always believers. Two Jewish girls will appear in “A Little Princess,” Woods said, but their parents understand the Christian foundations of the group and that they will pray during rehearsals. Secular actors and unchurched individuals appear in productions, but again, they understand the group’s mission statement and Christian core.

“Seed is being sown here, and lives are changing in increments,” she said. “We’re not banging people on the heads with the gospel, but we are being God’s light to them.”

Cast members invite the unchurched into their homes. Some cast members – children and teens – come from broken homes, and Wood said adult cast members “offer a loving, caring, supportive place” for many of the young people.

 

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Real-life dramas

One would expect that lives have been touched in the audience, and they have, Wood said. But God’s moving within the cast might surprise people.

Chris Marshman, who played the part of Corrie Ten Boom in “The Hiding Place,” said the drama was a spiritual journey for her.

“I’m more open to God, and my problems seem to be not so overwhelming, because I know God will take care of me,” Marshman said. “As Corrie said, ‘God has not problems, just plans.’ I think I’m putting my faith in him more than ever before, because I played this role.”

A young girl who was cast in “The Secret Garden” said she was struck by the difference between the church’s drama group and those she viewed at a school play – actors who rushed through lines and a rowdy, rude audience. She told Wood, “I feel incredibly blessed to be working with such a dedicated and professional group of people…who are all very talented and respectful.”

Touching Hearts

This year, a young man named Nick Noetzel joined the cast of “The Robe,” and Wood later learned that he had autism. The boy’s mother, Vivian, helped him learn his few lines, and “the entire cast embraced, encouraged, and supported him,” Wood said. Vivian said Nick’s heart was touched by the message of the drama.

“Typically, people with autism have a hard time making social connections,” she said. “By being part of the cast, he had instant friends and truly felt closer to God. In essence, the cast members and story served as missionaries to help him embrace his faith.”

It also benefited some of his peers.

“Quite a few of his friends who have high-functioning autism also went to the play and were able to capture the message,” Noetzel, his mother, said.

Wood said she believes Village Theater is “a model for the body of Christ, and our desire is to glorify God with our excellence in drama.”