Friday, June 19, 2009

Shoestring Stage Design - Part 6

6. We’re a church not a night club.

I’m gonna be frank here...the Holy Bible (and by holy I mean the KJV of course...or any other version) doesn’t say a word about stage design, lighting, audio being to loud or church having a certain look. It is something that the bible doesn’t touch, nor would it have a reason to because the church wasn’t confined to a physical building while the scriptures were being written. The confines to a traditional building wasn’t created until a few hundred years later. Today the stigma comes from a time when the piano and organ were the only things allowed on the stage. You lit the room so that people could see the Bible, the equally as important hymnal and the pastors face. Audio reinforcement was only for the pastors voice if you were lucky enough to have it and media itself was non-existent. Unfortunately that is all wrapped in tradition. Some churches are so steeped in tradition that they condemn you for putting on an appearance of “the world” in using lighting, and media in your services.

Paul is a huge influencer of the modern church, he wrote a large chunk of the New Testament and most of his thoughts that were injected into the body of Christ, were radical. The immediate church, the Jews, thought that only they were the body of Christ. Then it opened up to the gentiles. Paul began to bridge that gap, but preaching the Gospel to the gentiles opened up a whole new can of problems. (1 Corinthians) The gentiles had so many gods that they followed that they were just adding one more into the mix (sound familiar to today?). So Paul had to find ways to preach relevant unwatered down gospel to the gentiles in ways that they could comprehend. Does this relate directly with stage design? No, but it does come with the term “relevant”.

Most churches are not relevant because church is supposed to be “church” and not a night club. The stage is a place to preach from not a theatre platform. I’m not necessarily sure I see the difference between a performance of Le Miserable and a reading from Proverbs. Both are supposed to engage and evoke emotion. Both are supposed to have a meaning and a purpose to the audience and both are supposed to leave you walking away saying WOW. In fact, the Bible should always leave you walking away saying WOW and if it’s not then maybe you need to re-evaluate some things.

Isaiah 43:18-19 “18 Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. 19 Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

This stigma of the church tradition is something we are cautioned about repeatedly in the Bible, the Bible that so many try and use to support legalism at its finest. A pastor friend of mine once said something to this effect:

“We need to be grateful to and acknowledge the accomplishments of the church in the past, and move on to do greater things in the church.” - Jason Mahr

I talked about the MTV generation in a past entry. The church has got to be able to be culturally relevant enough to reach the kids who are consistently bombarded with an anti-biblical message. Sorry but the Bible as it’s presented by door to door evangelism and tiny tracts printed on fake 1,000 dollar bills doesn’t grab people any more. They had their time and place, and the church would not be where it is today without that.

I worked in a restaurant where this type of evangelism was used by Christians. I would see a tract laying on a table with the tip (or in many cases they would leave it AS the tip, shame on them). Instead of watching a fellow server pick it up and immediately laugh and make fun of God, I picked it up and threw it away. I’m not ashamed of my Christ, but I am ashamed of people who think that it’s about a piece of paper asking “ARE YOU GOING TO HELL??”. People I worked with knew I was a Christian and respected my relationship with God and even asked questions, but it’s because of how I lived, and my relationships I built with them. Church has to be on a much more personal level. Cultivation of relationships and discipleship need to take place in order for people to grow deep, but you have to grab them initially. A dead stage with limited presence isn’t going to draw anyone in. You need to be able to create that sense of intimacy, energy and captivation in order for people to pay attention. You don’t need strobes to be culturally relevant but you might want to open yourself up for a bit of color and design.

This swings the other direction and one can do way to much to go the other way and make it seem like church is a party and end up distracting from the gospel or worse, not preaching the gospel at all. There are many churches across America who in effort to become culturally relevant have swept the gospel under the rug in exchange for some flowery words that make them feel better about themselves and their sin nature. So there is a balance that you have to keep in order to be true to Christ as well.

So this is a major part of the creative process as well. You need to evaluate your design and your process to make sure that it isn’t detracting from the gospel or the presentation. There is also the element of making sure that you’re being relevant and adding depth to what is going on.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Shoestring Stage Design - Part 5

5. I need inspiration, HELP! -
Experiment, fall on your face, don’t be afraid.

Every body is uniquely gifted in some form of creative aspect. Whether you’re the analytical creative who is able to code his brains out to some significantly controlled creative beauty or you’re the type of person who is happier with a paint brush or piece of charcoal in hand doing you’re darndest to create the next big piece of artwork. But no one gets any kind of creative product unless they try at something and fail a few times. Edison definitely didn’t create the light bulb on his first try. Bell had to have a few attempts at the telegraph and phone. I can almost bet that the Sistine chapel has a couple spots with cover up paint from one goof or another.
"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Design is knowing which ones to keep"
Scott Adams
The point is even if your ideas are crazy or wacked out, or you don’t know how you’re going to accomplish them, go for it anyway. I can guarantee if you don’t know how you’re going to get it accomplished someone around you can figure it out. Or if you give them a round about plot of how to get it done, they’ll improve on it. The first thought I have for your inspiration is to surround your self with other people who can do things. Other creative people to help inspire your process, other analytical creatives who can help streamline and shore up some of your inconsistencies in your process. These can be your most immediate and useful sources of inspiration.

Secondly start surrounding yourself with other creatives in your field and closely related through networking sites. You’ve got with a slew of techies and creatives and media pastors and the like that will help bolster your creative quiver. You will be amazed what insight and ideas you can come up with through reading some other creatives blogs or pictures that get posted of other worship services and or concerts that people are putting together. Sure you might not be able to recreate it exactly but you can pull elements and ideas from it. Go blog diving, most people who are creatives have their blog site in their twitter profile, and in their blogs exist a plethora of other creative blog links.

Gather resources that aren’t necessarily in your field. I personally love to browse through graphic design magazines. These magazines aren’t related to stage design but they get my creative juices flowing, and usually remove that creative block that comes up when im in a crunch. Surround your office with stuff that inspires you, pictures, colors, action figures etc. Most creatives do this in one aspect or another. Another resource kind of related is then industry magazines,,,

Take breaks. Go outside for a bit, nature is one of God’s most creative masterpieces and if there is one thing that can always initiate inspiration is going outside for a bit and looking at the natural architecture God put out there. The colors that flow so naturally together. The textures, the shadows the gentle chaos that exists. It truly is an awe inspiring masterpiece.

Here are a list of some blogs and creative websites that I enjoy using to get ideas from.,,,,,,,,,

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I'm sitting here in this youth camp just taking in the worship services this week and honestly just soaking it in. Yeah I'm not paying attention to the speaker because I wanted to type this out as it was fresh on my mind.

Worship is a lifestyle I've talked about it before. Worship, the music, the lyrics is an expression of worship but it is also a message. We can sing and speak the words and have no idea what were talking about.

Two songs that have stuck me are Mighty To Save and You Are Sovereign Here. The first the title says it all. Christ came to this earth to save the unrighteous into righteousness. 1 Peter 3:18. Unrighteous there is no one righteous. There is someone on your mind right now that you think it is impossible for them to be saved. The person I think of is my brother. He wants nothing to do with God. He could care less. He is unrighteous. BUT God is mighty to save. He came down to save him and he can and will do it regardless the state of his unrighteousness. I was blown away. Somewhere along the line I put him out of the realm of possibility of the reach of God's grace and righteousness, that same grace that is extended to me and I definitely don't deserve it.

Secondly is the song you are sovereign here. Stephen Miller wrote it and it's lyrics are amazing truth. In the midst of unrest and in the midst of your world falling apart he is in control. At the same time when. The sun is shining, the breeze is blowing and life is amazing. God is in control. HE is sovereign here.

No life won't go the way you want it. It won't be easy most of the time. The health and wealth message that is given most of the time along side Christianity is total bunk. Sin came in and ruined perfection. So were spinning our wheels most of the time to just make ends meet and stay on track with God. We can not do anything to fix it. Life got broken a long time ago so of course it's going to suck big ones. But in the midst of that HE is sovereign here. He is in control even though it seems like were crashing and burning. How can he allow it? Why would a good God allow such pain sin and death? It's because of the original sin of man. Adam broke off that communication with God and it's been a down hill go since then. God sent Jesus to bridge the gap. Not as a quick fix or a pick me up but as a promise of eternal life with him. So it's gonna be rough until the day He comes back to claim us, but he is sovereign here. He is in control and Mighty To Save.

Sorry if there are misspellings, grammatical errors or wrong word choices. This came from the iPhone.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

30 seconds from now

Sitting in an airport more often than not makes me want to write. What spurred this one was a girl missing her flight by ten minutes and then spriting off in tears. consider it a creative break from my current series.

30 seconds from now

Hey girl I see the pain in your eyes
The way you try to hide
But you can't hide it any more
It's about to all spill out.

If you think no one notices
If you think no one cares
I do
If you think it's all over
If you think you can't pull through
I do

The world is over thirty seconds from now
Tomorrow is they day that will never come
Just one more breath and it will be ok

Hey man you think no one sees you cry
That you don't wanna fight
You don't know what's in store
And you want to her

If you think there's no answer
If you think it can't be real
I do
If you think it's going to end
If you think no lights comin' through
I do

The world is over thirty seconds from now
Tomorrow is the day that will never come
Just one more breath and everything will be ok

Put aside the tears and grab out to something bigger than yourself
Hope in something more than the fear in your heart
Because I do

The world is over in thirty seconds from now
Tomorrow is the day that will never come
Just one more breath and everything will be ok

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Shoestring Stage Design - Part 4

4. Where do I find materials???

Your local hardware store. No seriously. Lowes or Home Depot are a great resource for throwing something together for your stage at a decent price, especially if you have someone in your church who’s handy with a hammer and saw. More than likely you have someone in your volunteer team who fits that description, and if you don’t maybe it’s time to start broadcasting that you need a volunteer to fill the shoes. I bet if you offer it you’ll get someone. Put it in the bulletin (a concise but explicit description of what you’re looking for) or on your website.

"Design is in everything we make, but it’s also between those things. It's a mix of craft, science, storytelling, propaganda, and philosophy."
Erik Adigard
Second depending on your need you may find local distributors of products in your area. In Houston I found a warehouse distributor that sells corrugated plastics and other sheet materials of the like. This stuff has no bounds for creative uses. It’s cheap too, $10 for a 4ft x 8ft sheet, and it lights really well (previous entry with the heart is what it is made from). Most of these places have a will call for you to come in and pick up whatever amount of material you need, and they work with tax exempt organizations too. Call around, ask when you find a place on line if they have a local distributor to you

If a local resource is impossible or hard to find there are always the big wig companies. See if you can deal direct though rather than through a re-distributor. Usually going this route will shave a few bucks off of your end cost because you’re cutting out the middle man. Get you’re own personal representative within the company that you deal with directly. Form a relationship with the person during your phone calls for orders (a working relationship people). Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. I don’t know how many times people get on the phone and just take face cost. Most of these companies can fudge a little bit in your favor. Don’t be afraid to ask “what can you do for me here” or “what options do you have that could cut the cost down”. Unfortunately the phrase “in today’s economy” works in your favor a lot of times because these companies are just eager to have business, especially if you’re project is a little on the larger side (yes price negotiation is possible almost anywhere, you don’t know until you try).

Are you looking for lighting gear? this is a good time to start shopping around. Don’t go to a place necessarily because it’s local. Some of these places especially for tech needs like lighting, or simple consumables like gaff price gouge you. Same deal goes for sound gear, or any other gear or consumables. When you’re looking for materials such as plastics or wood, look at it’s reuse possibilities.

Don’t throw scraps away unless there is no possible use for them. Buy in bulk if you can help it and see a use for the left overs in the future. Bulk usually gets you a hefty discount in most arenas. Your church budgeting council (whether its one person or a whole team) will thank you later even though the bill might be a little more daunting to hand them. Also with most companies you can create terms with them for payment, kind of a credit with the company. This ensures you get your product quickly and they bill you for it later. It makes for ease of future purchases, and potentially can help with costs later down the line assuming you pay on time according to your payment terms.

Finally, look around your church. Someone is usually a pac-rat there are always scraps of this or that, in the youth building i found scraps of corrugated metal that I used to face that platform and podium pictured above. That helped tie it into our stage well. There is usually scrap wood, material and various odds and ends that can be used to piece together some creative stage stuff. A little gaff tape or solder and viola....a unique work of art you can be proud of. 

Shoestring Stage Design - Part 3

LIGHTS, action, camo.

You can do a lot of things on your stage to give it some presence but if you don’t have it lit right or well you can ruin the look. Light has multiple functions, first is to give light on the subject so that the audience can see what is going on. This is incredibly important if you’re doing IMAG (image magnification). You want your subject to be well lit, no shadows or hot spots, and you want them to pop off of the background, especially if you’re against a black or dark colored backdrop.

The next, and most important responsibility of light is to paint the canvas of the stage with color. Color evokes emotion and so you must pay particular attention to how you color your stage. Here is a link to a site discussing color and emotion please forgive the post modern spiritualism crap weaved in. I don’t want to get into art 101 here, and im pretty sure you can google what emotions are evoked with each different color, and what colors go together with other colors. Also, match your backgrounds. Either choose a complimentary of lighting with your slides/lyrics used in worship or a matching color. You don’t want to end up with a puce on stage (a visual equivalent to the color of puke...). You can cover your stage with objects meant to be lit but until you add those strokes of color your stage doesn’t really become engaging or active to the worshiper.

Creating action in your lighting doesn’t necessarily mean using moving lights or chases programmed to timing of the music. While you can create motion using these effects you can create motion on your stage using static lighting. What I mean is highlighting the action points on your stage. Use solo lights. Use back lighting to create shadows. If you’re not using IMAG you have potential to do some very cool lighting effects during worship by back lighting your entire band and dropping out the front light. These silhouettes can create some amazing action on your stage and you didn’t even spend any extra money to get it. Just a few dimmer channels. 

The reason I said camo in the title is that camo has depth. In order to create a great stage look you need to create that depth look with your lighting. No one wants to be bored or disinterested with what they’re looking at and most artwork that is extremely flat is not any fun to look at. It doesn’t evoke anything and does not engage. I’m not saying you need to have 500 colors on your stage, but having multiple colors and depth of shapes helps create shading and dimension. Speaking of camo, have depth to what you light. Layer fabric and texture for a unique look. I found a roll of shrink wrap backstage the other day and the thought occurred to me, why not hang that, pull and stick it together and then light that for a multi dimensional stage look. It’s all about lighting, texture and using what is available. If you want to use literal camo, do that too. go to an army supply store and buy up some of the tent camo to light (the white stuff preferably, or paint the green/tan stuff white). 

Lighting can add a lot to your stage design with out adding any or little cost but is definitely something you need to go into with planning and purpose. Things can of course be done on the fly as you’re putting it together. Most of my genius inspiration comes on the fly ;-). But a game plan works wonders in saving time while you’re setting stuff up.

...still to come
  • Where do I find materials???
  • I need inspiration, HELP!
  • We’re a church not a night club.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Shoestring Stage Design - Part 2

2. Projection is your friend.

Something that is coming up into church production is projection. If you’ve got the equipment to do some cool projection in your environments you have an inexpensive way to add some engaging worship elements. Of course the cost here is time in producing unique elements but you’re able to taylor each piece custom to your need. There is a whole new market of creatives that have begun to open themselves up to the church world. Worship VJ, video jockey - yes this is a throw back term to radio days...a disk jockey. This person is one who creates visual worship environments using projection in a space.

"The visual image is a kind of tripwire for the emotions."
Diane Ackerman

One growing form of this is environmental projection. Taking projectors outside of the confines of the screen and projecting on walls, sides of buildings, on people, across platforms, etc. A couple of people who are doing this well are Cameron Ware check out his blog on visual worship at or Greg Dolezal & Stephen Proctor over at

VJ (short for) :: Video Jockey (meaning) :: One who creatively captures and effectively communicates a specific message using a wide range still and moving imagery.

If you’re worried about creating a variation of staging elements, cost of materials or lack of creativity on the stage, but you’re knocking it out of the park on the video elements why not consider taking your strong point fully into the room. Imagery can help engage and enhance worship, and it is also a good idea to have the input of your worship leader/pastor. You don’t want to do something that detracts from the spirit of the song or moment. At the same time you may run into some pastors who are either not entirely creative or what you are trying to accomplish goes over their heads. In that case take care not to offend, but also take care to mold and shape their suggestions into something they can own during the set. I have found myself sitting during many worship sets across quite a few different churches where I scratch my head at the background selection. I don’t think that was the intended reception for it, but that is certainly what came across.

This is something you can chance regularly without much effort or expense so get creative with how you project and what you’re projecting. has a couple pieces of worship software for the mac that has many different applications for the worship environment including a way to split images across multiple screens. I am by far no expert in this area, but am continuing to explore new ways to engage the worshipers in new ways.

"Designers can create normalcy out of chaos; they can clearly communicate ideas through the organizing and manipulating of words and pictures."
Jeffery Veen
to come...
  • LIGHTS, action, camo.
  • Where do I find materials???
  • I need inspiration, HELP!
  • We’re a church not a night club.