Every year, churches are seemingly thrust into the seasonal maelstrom from Thanksgiving through Christmas without warning or preparation. As soon as the air turns crisp, there are seven programs on the docket and at least 20 rehearsals jockeying for performance space. Worship techs are asked to provide dozens of channels of simultaneously wireless body mics, several spotlights, a series of pre-production recording sessions, and rows of moving-head lights by next Thursday. Worship leaders must find soaring vocalists, flying dancers, and disciplined children willing to endure weeks of practice during the busiest time of the year. The ensuing chaos can be enough to sour any leader on the holidays, but here are some ways to make the season more palatable than a fruitcake.
A realistic production schedule and equipment list is essential to a smooth Christmas season. While the play may call for elaborate lighting, the budget may not support its inclusion. In this case, it is best to scale the lighting design to the core elements and eliminate any ancillary portions. The techs must be included in any pre-production meetings since it will fall to them to “make it happen.”
The time to discuss details is before any performance date is set due to the nature of rentals. Determine if production needs are going to be high or low and plan accordingly.
Any media system with a single point of failure is trouble waiting to happen. Redundancy and backups are part of any successful production plan. In church production, redundancy means placing a second body mic on the lead actor in the play and having a spare wireless handheld mic just out of sight for the soloist to use.
If the performance is dependent on video imagery, a stacked projector can be connected to the primary unit and ready to go when the bulb burns out three minutes into Act 1. Just as actors have understudies, A1s must have A2s. An A1 is a lead audio tech and the A2 is the assistant or apprentice. The A2 calls cues, checks batteries, and fixes cabling issues but should be prepared to step into the mix position should the A1 fall ill.
Infrastructure is critical to the success of any event. An occasional glitch on the video patch panel becomes a severe issue during the Christmas play, so tend to small problems now before they cause big problems later. If the church has been putting off rewiring the stage, do so now before the rehearsals begin to avoid the embarrassment of cable chasing in front of the entire team.
Check safety issues prior to any performance, including the security of speaker hangs, projector down pipes, screen clips, and lighting clamps. Use a circuit tester to verify the electrical connections are solid, especially in light of the fact that more demand will be placed on the AC system as rental equipment is brought in and connected. Ground loops and hums should be dealt with via correction at the source, not through breaking off of safety grounds.
Inaugurate the Newbs
Christmas productions involve actors, musicians, and vocalists unaccustomed to proper mic technique, standard lighting spikes, and correct video procedures, so spend some extra time acclimating these people to the conventions of the trade. If someone is not shown how to hold a mic, where to stand or how to move, it will reflect poorly on the entire troupe, so assign a veteran player to assist a newcomer during the initial rehearsal. For new techs, allow them to operate the camera or switcher before stage personnel arrive when there is no rebuke for a mistake.
Production season does not need to be met with trepidation but can be pursued with excellence if logic and order are brought to bear. Here are a few things to remember and think about when planning:
–Preplanning is necessary to lay out the best time to hold performances based on the availability of equipment and personnel.
–Care should be given to include the technicians in meetings to prevent overreaching the goal and ending up with a frustrated crew.
–Maximize the rental budget by holding the event earlier in the season and seeking equipment from smaller firms outside the local metropolitan area.
–Redundancy should be included for any “mission critical” aspect of the service, such as the sermon and solo.
–Each major part of the play should have an understudy, and the supporting techs need to be ready to step in to the primary role if circumstances dictate.
–Safety must never be compromised, and time should be allocated to make certain the venue and props are safe and secure.
Finally, the entire proceedings must be centered on evangelism, edification, and celebration, so that the result is a truly successful event.
Kent Morris is an editor and writer for several magazines including Worship Leader, Your Church, Church Sound, and Technologies for Worship. He has been a member of the Audio Engineering Society for twenty years and teaches for NAMM, NSCA, NAB, LDI, and NRB on church technology issues. As an engineer and instructor for Integrity Media and Maranatha! Music since 1996, he has taught thousands of worship techs how to provide “Audio Worthy of Worship.” Kent resides in Atlanta with his wife Melani and their two sons.