Getting thrown in the deep end doesn’t necessarily make you a better swimmer but it definitely makes you learn to swim a lot quicker! My entry to the world of creative design / stage design was a giant leap into the deep end! Since then, I’ve reached out for every rescue aid that was thrown to me, overtime have learned skills to keeping my head above water and eventually developed some keys for thriving in the deep end.
Here are some of the aids, techniques and skills I’ve learned in the deep end and if they can assist to you as you start leading, or continue to build, a stage design team please grab a hold of them.
Open your church calendar
Every church has its own “seasons” within church life and planning new set designs around these seasons help build momentum and make set changes feel natural and expected. We have found as we’ve stepped back and looked “big picture” over the year, some of our designs have become even stronger and more developed because we waited for the right season to launch them. Not every GREAT idea is necessarily a NOW idea.
Become a collector
Take photo’s of shop windows, go to live shows, attend the theatre, read blogs, admire architecture, go to the movies, get out in nature, be aware of common threads and imagery that come across in messages over your weekend services, be attentive to what inspires your Senior Pastors and leadership, challenge yourself to spend a day without social media or Pinterest or blogs and see what creativity lies within you and challenge your team to do the same. If you continually gather ideas through the year, when it comes time to start designing you already have a lot of concepts to draw from.
Stop, collaborate and listen
Before you get too far along the design process take a pause and chat with your communication department and television teams. Find out what they are creating as the artwork / imagery / language for the event you are designing for. Does it all speak the same language or will your congregation be left wondering why you haven’t spoken to each other?
Also, collaborate with your lighting director on the best way to light your set to ensure it “pops” and doesn’t look flat and boring. (Lighting a design properly is essential to making it a win!)
Keep it functional
As a design team we exist to serve a greater purpose and we should never take for granted the honor of being entrusted to help create both a sense of “HOME” and “AWE” for our congregation from the onset of the service. A design can be the most forward-thinking, awe-inspiring work, but it if isn’t functional (i.e. allows no room for the worship team, leaves half the congregation without the ability to see or hear the preacher, etc.,) then it actually isn’t the best design. Take time to meet with your production crew on how to safely build and install your design; if you aren’t sure placing lights next to an amp is a good idea check with your audio engineer.
We are continually in awe of our volunteer team. They are the most fun, creative, hard working crew – and, like us, thrive on minimal sleep! What I have come to love most about working in stage design is the diversity of people and skills it takes to pull of a design. We have volunteers trained in architecture and drafting; builders who bring an incredible knowledge to construction; gifted designers, artists and creative minds who care about the finite details; electricians that ensure our set will in fact light up; and others who are still discovering their gifts/ talents and are up to do WHATEVER IT TAKES. We need them all, and as we continue to grow we are challenged to gather more!
To be honest, I have started so many days with a knot in my stomach wondering, “How are we going to get this done?” The clock becomes my enemy, and what seemed an awesome design earlier quickly becomes something I wished we never attempted. Yet, when I start to pray it’s amazing how quickly God will show me a solution for a problem; bring a team of volunteers to my aid; or orchestrate a corridor conversation that helps lighten my load.
Keep it fun
At the end of the day we are about people – not tasks. Jad (Gillies), who leads our production team, continually reminds us that we are ministers before we are operators and a church before we are a production team! I love being reminded of this because it helps me very quickly re-organize my priorities: PEOPLE… then tasks, deadlines, projects. The best thing about this is, when our team is healthy and happy, the tasks come with ease. When our priorities and focus are right the deep end becomes limitless and the most freeing place to be.