In the first post in our team teaching series, we looked at how much fun it can be to pull in another person to act out the Bible story as you tell it. But today we’re going to go bigger and talk about what it looks like to add two or more actors to the story in a technique I call Cast of Characters. This isn’t nearly as complicated as it might sound and gives you more flexibility than just using the single actor we talked about last time.
Just to show you what I mean, here’s an excerpt from a story I wrote a few years ago about Elijah and the poor widow from 1 Kings 17:
Okay, so think about this. Elijah wasn’t just asking this poor widow to give away her extra stuff. This flour and oil was all she had.
You’re tellin’ me!
If she gave this to Elijah, she and her son wouldn’t have anything. Did she really believe God was her provider? Could she really trust Him to give her everything she needed? For this poor widow it was decision time.
(Elijah & Narrator hum Jeopardy music while Widow paces back and forth rubbing her chin.) Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm. (Humming stops. Elijah and Narrator look at Widow expectantly.) Okay, I’ll do it!
The widow went home, mixed the oil and flour, baked the bread, and gave it to Elijah to eat.
(Widow comes back wearing a chef’s hat, gives Elijah bread and he takes a bite.)
(mouth stuffed full) Mmm, that’s delicious!
And then something absolutely incredible happened. The jar of flour filled right back up (Widow holds up jar with exaggerated surprised expression.) And the jug of oil? (Widow holds up jug with exaggerated surprised expression.) Same thing. It was amazing.
Elijah & Widow
As you can see this technique can be a blast. You can use it for a wide variety of stories, but it works best with big stories that either involve several characters (like the Christmas story) or just have a lot of ground you need to cover like the Elijah story.
In this particular lesson we get to see Elijah confronting Ahab, being fed by ravens in the wilderness, helping the poor widow and having a showdown with Ahab on Mt. Carmel, all of which would probably be a bit much for a single storyteller to tackle on their own.
Here are a few tips to make the most of storytelling with multiple actors.
- Take a look at your Bible story and think about how you would explain it to the kids if you were just telling it by yourself. Then look for places in the story where it would make sense to bring it to life with actors.
- Keep the narrator in the driver’s seat. The narrator is still the primary storyteller who introduces the story, transitions from scene-to-scene, teaches along the way and wraps the whole thing up at the end.
- Use the actual dialogue you find in Scripture whenever possible but feel free to paraphrase or shorten it so that it makes sense to kids and keeps the story moving.
- Use actors to play multiple characters. Kids love to see actors appearing in different hats or costumes as various characters. The quick change element and all the silliness that comes with it are part of what makes this technique fun to watch. I generally like to use three actors if I’m telling the story this way because it gives me a lot of options.
- Create a temporary “backstage” area for your actors to enter and exit the teaching area, switch out costumes and props and participate in the story even when “off stage.” For example, in the Elijah story I had my actor who played Ahab toss plastic food at Elijah from backstage when the ravens showed up to feed him. You can create your backstage area using folding room dividers like these or by making one out of 2’x6’ panels of plywood with hinges or by hanging up a shower curtain on a clothes line.
- Keep costumes simple. In our example, Elijah wore a middle eastern style vest, Ahab wore a crown and a cape and the poor widow had a piece of fabric draped over her shoulders like a shawl.
- Rehearse! Practice is important when you’re teaching by yourself, but it’s mission critical when you have a cast of characters up there with you. You’ll need to practice entrances and exits and how characters will use costumes and props. Plus, rehearsals will keep things moving so unprepared actors don’t create dead space during the lesson that may cause the kids to tune you out. We’ll have more details on rehearsals a few posts from now.
If you’re a little nervous about trying this out, don’t be. Just give it a shot once and see how your kids react. Try it at a special event like a Christmas or Easter service or VBS. It’s sometimes easier to recruit actors for a big event rather than a regular Sunday lesson, but once they get a taste of it, don’t be surprised if you find them coming back and asking for more.