LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Steve Broyles: Storytelling the Oldest Art Form

Steve Broyles wears many hats: actor, teacher, screenwriter, and more. He is currently Director of Middle School Drama for Wesleyan School in Norcross, GA. In addition to directing two shows each year, he teaches music and drama to grades 5-8. Steve is also a member of Atlanta based Art Within, whose vision is to develop, produce and distribute scripts for the stage and screen that are relevant to contemporary culture and that explore Hope and Truth from a Judeo-Christian perspective (www.artwithin.org). Steve graduated from Regent University in 2001 with an MFA in Script and Screenwriting where he received the Outstanding Graduate Student Award of Excellence. Prior to entering graduate school, he managed the Foothills Playhouse in Easley, South Carolina, and directed large scale musicals for Covenant Presbyterian Church in Easley.

Steve has designed sets as well as designed lights and sound for over 40 productions. He has also consulted on theatre construction projects. He has toured the country with drama and music groups and directed high school and college drama teams. Steve has acted and directed in community, church, school, college and graduate school theatres. He was a commissioned writer for Art Within in 2003 and is a graduate of the MTI Broadway Classroom in New York and a member of the Thespians Society and SETC. Steve is also the regional director for the CITA (Christians in Theatre Arts, http://www.cita.org/) south region.

LeAnne: What is your background in acting? Why do you love theatre?

Steve: My theatre background is scattered. My first play was in the 10th grade—I was a sophomore in a senior play. I played Earnest in The Importance of Being Earnest. Theatre, though, for me, didn’t really kick in until after college. I began to make a name for myself in the local community theatre. When we moved to South Carolina in 1989 I began to look for new connections. Eventually I found two. Besides directing large scale musicals for my church, I hooked up with the Foothills Playhouse and soon began managing, directing, designing and acting. It didn’t take long for me to realize a door was opening and that walking through the door was going to be a huge step for me and my family. So, in the spring of 1998, we sold our house and many of our possessions and moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, where I attended graduate school at Regent University.

In many ways it would be arrogant for me to say I was making conscious decisions all along the way. As a child who grew up with undiagnosed learning disabilities, all I knew was that I, somehow, understood the world from a perspective I couldn’t seem to express scientifically or mathematically. For me, story telling is the oldest art form—when it is done well, it activates all the senses and intellectual faculties to get its meaning across. That is Theatre. Naturally, my Creator didn’t give me an option. One way or the other, I was going to come back to theatre at some point in my life.

LM: You are a drama teacher. Why do you believe students should be involved in theatre?

I always remind the students that, whether they want to do theatre ever again, a theatre class can change their life. It is a proven fact that a person’s level of success in whatever field they choose bears a direct relationship to their skill in public communication. In theatre we ask students to overcome their stage fright and get on stage. We show them that they communicate with their whole body. We ask them to memorize a script and perform it. We ask them to write a script and perform it on our main stage. All of this prepares our students for times when their performance up front will be for much greater stakes.

LM: What made you decide to teach? What do you like most about it?

Teaching, for me, was an acquired taste. I think I finally got to the point where I understood that teaching was just another form of telling a story—albeit a very structured, organized one in which the student has to learn to tell your story before they tell their own. When I made that transition to telling my own story is when I realized that I wanted to teach. I enjoy the discovery of teaching. To watch a student realize they have a comedic side or to hear a student learn to speak clearly and with power is a rush.

More from Steve Broyles on Monday.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dancing in the Park

Saturday was a beautiful blue-sky, puffy-white-cloud, cool-breeze kind of day. My husband and I went to the park—Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta. Not only did we get to spend part of the afternoon in a pretty park, we had the special opportunity to go to a dance concert sponsored by Project Dance (www.projectdance.com). “Art should reflect the beauty of our Maker,” says founder Cheryl Cutlip, “and Project Dance is committed to the art form of dance and its significance in society as a vital part of the human experience.”

The mission of Project Dance is to bring hope and healing to culture through the universal language of dance. The Atlanta event took place over the weekend, with classes for and performances by participants, who came from all over the country to dance, to learn, and to be inspired. This year, Project Dance events have also taken place in New York and Sydney, Australia.

Saturday’s dance concert in the park was open to the public, and a crowd had gathered in the amphitheater facing the stage. After we spoke with Katherine Gant, the Atlanta Event Coordinator (I featured her on my July 30th and August 2nd posts) and Cheryl Cutlip, we sat down to watch. Every group’s performance was different from the last—from a traditional ballet piece using an instrumental rendition of "Amazing Grace" to an edgy contemporary retelling of the death and resurrection of Christ.

At one point, five young women wearing college t-shirts took the stage. We were too far back to read the name of the college. Early in the song, the CD skipped a few times so the audio technicians started it over. When the CD skipped again, the young students proceeded to dance without music. Occasionally we could hear one of them singing or humming the notes to keep time as they calmly went through their movements. A moment later, Cheryl Cutlip, founder of Project Dance, took the microphone and explained that this group of dancers was from Virginia Tech—their piece was a tribute to those who were killed on campus last year. Cheryl said that perhaps the dance being done in silence would allow us to reflect more on what the piece meant. As the girls danced, we all shared a moment of silence for the victims whose lives were lost in a moment. It was very moving, and the girls received applause and cheers when they finished.

As I watched each group perform, I felt encouraged and inspired. I felt grateful that dance overtly glorifying the Lord Jesus could be seen and enjoyed in a public park. Kudos to Cheryl for her vision for Project Dance and to her, Katherine Gant, and the rest of the team who brought it to Atlanta.

On Thursday, I’ll be featuring Steve Broyles, actor, teacher, screenwriter, and CITA region director (www.cita.org).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Artists are…

“Artists are the antennae of the race.” Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading (1934)

“In all my work what I try to say is that as human beings we are more alike than we are unalike.” Maya Angelou, Interview in the NYTimes (Jan. 20, 1993)

“…this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, as my friend Dale puts it, How alive am I willing to be?” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

“The greatest thing in style is to have a command of metaphor.” Aristotle (384-322 BC)

Coming soon: an actor, a photographer, a classical musician and more

Monday, September 17, 2007

Paxson Jeancake, Part 2: “King of Glory”

Today I’m concluding my interview with Paxson Jeancake, Director of Worship and Arts at East Cobb Presbyterian Church in Atlanta (www.ecpca.org/worshipmusic) author of The Art of Worship: Opening Our Eyes to the Beauty of the Gospel, and founder of Rhythm of Worship, a ministry that seeks to serve the church and cultivate the creative process by offering musical resources, foundational teaching and practical training (www.rhythmofworship.com).

Earlier this year, Paxson issued a Call to Artists at his church to create works based on the theme of the Ascension. The work that resulted was fascinating and meaningful for the church as a whole.

LeAnne: Let’s talk about the submissions themselves. There were paintings, collages, photography, poems, essays, and more. Describe one or two pieces that stand out in your mind as particularly powerful or compelling.

Sally Apokedak, one of our newer members, wrote a parable called “The Kingdom of Heaven is Like a Pregnant Woman.” She used a dialogue between the woman and her quadruplets in her womb. They asked her questions about the world and told her how comfortable they were in the womb. She said to them, “Oh, but you don’t know what you’ll be able to experience here—or how much more wonderful the things are that you’ll be able to see, taste, and touch.” Sally’s parable showed the tension of living in the world with the presence of Christ (and with darkness too) and the longing for our final home. But one day the King of Glory will be with us!

Another example was of a poem by Linda Drummond, who recently became a Christian and is filled with the newness of that relationship. She was going to encourage her son to write something for the literary arts category but she started reading the scripture texts herself and before she knew it, the words to a poem came almost faster than she could write. She only made two changes before she submitted the poem, which she titled “You Choose.” She had planned to encourage her son but ended up submitting something herself.

LM: Would you say that you have a large number of artists in your church, perhaps more than other churches of similar size?

We may have one or two professional artists, but for most of the people who participated, this was a way to express something latent in them, a passion that they have not had the time or the focus to reach back and pull out. I love giving people the opportunity to express themselves and a theme to work with. It’s a way that we can all value and celebrate the arts.

For Sally Apokedak, it was encouraging that her new church home holds the arts up as a high value. It shows that we have a place for creative people to use their gifts to edify the body. We’ve been intentional about trying to draw them out. These are small steps. We have also bought paintings and commissioned photographs that we have hung in the narthex.

And we’ve recently issued another Call to Artists as our church is about to be immersed in the Gospel of John. The theme is “Signs”, which comes from the heart of John’s Gospel narrative found in John 20:30-31, which begins, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book…”

LM: This sounds like a great theme—there’s so much to work with, both graphically and otherwise. Before we finish today, tell me how we can listen to “King of Glory,” your song that kicked off the Ascension theme.

Our CD, Ascension, is on iTunes. Just search under my name and it should pop up. “King of Glory” is the second track on the CD. Also, the Ascension CD is available for purchase from our website, www.rhythmofworship.com.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Paxson Jeancake: Call to Artists

I don’t usually cover the arts within the Church but the topic we’re discussing today captured my imagination. I’m interviewing Paxson Jeancake, Director of Worship and Arts at East Cobb Presbyterian Church in Atlanta (www.ecpca.org/worshipmusic) and author of The Art of Worship: Opening Our Eyes to the Beauty of the Gospel. He is also founder of Rhythm of Worship, a ministry that seeks to serve the church and cultivate the creative process by offering musical resources, foundational teaching and practical training (www.rhythmofworship.com).

Earlier this year, Paxson issued a Call to Artists at his church to create works based on the theme of the Ascension. In March, he distributed a brochure outlining the idea and, to help artists get engaged with the theme, he included relevant scripture texts from Psalm 24, Luke 24:50-53, and others. The work that resulted was fascinating and meaningful for the church as a whole.

Participant Molly Blass, who introduced me to Paxson, had this to say: “The Call to Artists has been used of God in many ways in the life of our church. Chiefly, it helped showcase the creativity of our Creator God but it was also a great display of the way He has gifted His children. The positive reaction to my essay has been a huge encouragement to me to pursue writing, and to use it in a way to bring glory and honor to Christ.”

LeAnne: Tell me where the idea for this Call to Artists came from and how you arrived at your theme.

We had actually done a call to artists about four years ago based on the theme of images of servanthood. Fewer people participated in that one but it set a precedent for the one we did this year.

The Easter Season includes the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ as well as the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. But Ascension Sunday and Pentecost Sunday are often not as recognized as Good Friday and Easter Sunday. So, in order to help our church engage fully with the Easter season, we asked artists to submit creative works on the following theme: “Ascension: Setting Our Sights on the Realities of Heaven.” The works fit into three categories—literary arts, visual arts, and performing arts—and were displayed in the gym on Ascension Sunday, which was May 20th.

I’ve always wanted to celebrate the arts. Music is my first passion, but I also love photography, dance, drama, and the visual arts. My wife and I were finishing up our second CD worship project. On my way to the church one day, I had a chorus going through my mind which seemed to have some potential. When I got to my office I immediately began to craft what became the song, “King of Glory.” As I began to study and meditate on Psalm 24, the biblical foundation for the song, I was led to some interesting insights regarding the ascension of Christ, an often neglected aspect of His life and ministry. One commentator noted that, with respect to the ascension of Christ, the disciples saw His “going.” Psalm 24, however, is a view into his heavenly “arriving.” For me, this was a profound insight and I’m still thinking about its implications.

LM: How many people participated? How was it received by the church at large?

We had sixteen submissions which were displayed in the gym on Ascension Sunday. The worship service focused on the theme of Ascension and after that, people had a chance to explore and linger in the exhibit. The whole day was an immersion into the Ascension.

Our pastor called it a “win/win” because we were able to celebrate the arts as well as an aspect of the life and ministry of Christ that often gets overlooked.

LM: You provided a program for people to use as they walked through the exhibit, right?

Yes. I had asked each artist to include a brief paragraph about the creative process behind the work. I love the creative process, both mine and hearing about others’. I wanted to be able to educate our people on the creative process, to give insight into it, since a lot of our members don’t live and move in the creative world.

On Monday, Paxson will talk about two of the pieces submitted.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Madeleine L’Engle: Heaven’s Gain

In case you haven’t yet heard the news, Madeleine L’Engle died on Thursday in Connecticut. She was 88 years old. L’Engle is probably best known for A Wrinkle in Time, which won the Newbery Medal as best children’s book of 1963 and is still going strong. Although I’ve read and enjoyed many of her novels, my favorite book of hers is Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, a work that inspires me every time I pick it up. When I think about her life, I feel both sad and glad about her passing: sad for us, glad for her. As a good friend of mine said on Friday, our loss is heaven’s gain.

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from L’Engle.

“What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint or clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter what our vocation or how we earn our living.” Walking on Water, pps. 89-90.

“Too much concern about Christian art can be destructive both to art and to Christianity. I cannot consciously try to write a Christian story. My own life and my own faith will determine whether or not my stories are Christian. Too much Christian art relies so heavily on being Christian that the artist forgets that it also must be good art.

"When we write a story, we must write to the absolute best of our ability. That is the job, first and foremost. If we are truly Christian, that will be evident, no matter what the topic. If we are not truly Christian, that will also be evident, no matter how pious the tale.” The Rock That is Higher, pp. 199-200.

And here’s the obituary in the NY Times:


On Thursday I’m featuring Paxson Jeancake, a worship arts director who conceived of and organized an art exhibit at his church based on the Ascension. The results were fascinating. You won’t want to miss this.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Dena Dyer: Who Has Called Us

Several years ago, I met fellow writer Dena Dyer (www.denadyer.com) at a speakers’ conference and liked her immediately. In addition to being a speaker, author, wife, and mom, Dena also performs several shows a week with a professional music theater company in Texas. These shows have been wildly successful, even thought they include a hymn and message of faith. I wanted to know more...

LeAnne: Tell me about these shows.

We are employed by a 375-seat professional music theater company named Rockbox in beautiful Fredericksburg, Texas. We do a 2 hour, family-friendly music variety show 4 times every weekend for locals, groups, and tourists. (Fredericksburg has about 1.2 million tourists a year.) The music changes week to week but we perform oldies, country, rock n' roll from the "golden age" of that genre, comedy, and gospel/patriotic numbers. It's a great mix...and it's always G-rated!

We do "Amazing Grace" at every performance, along with an original song that thanks our country's veterans and servicemen. The Rockbox staff-- from the administration down to the concession stand workers--are all committed Christians and see the theater as a marketplace ministry opportunity.

LM: How does the audience react when you perform “Amazing Grace”?

At times, we've had people who were offended by our rendition of it and our confession from the stage (during the song) that our faith in Jesus gives us eternal life. But more often, we've had people thank us because we take a stand and confess Him before men.

LM: Have other Christians criticized you for performing what could be called secular music?

Yes, at times (though rarely, thankfully!) we've had Christians who don't "get" what we do. And we just thank them for their opinion and move on--because it's God who has called us, and we have to answer to Him. We try not to take it personally, though it's hard. Not everyone is going to understand our calling, and that's okay. But you know, if we did a two-hour gospel show, it wouldn't be a marketplace ministry. We are able to speak the name of Jesus to so many people who might never, ever step inside a church. It's amazing!

LM: In addition to your singing and acting abilities, you're also a writer. Tell me about your books.

I was inspired to write Grace for the Race: Meditations for Busy Moms after searching for a devotional for young moms and not finding what I was looking for: one that was funny, inspirational and didn't talk down to me. The forty-five meditations in Grace offer true-life situations, humor and a practical life principle, and they each close with "Notes from the Coach"--scripture that ties it all together.

The Groovy Chicks' Road Trip to Peace and The Groovy Chicks' Road Trip to Love are both compilation books I put together with a friend. We like to compare them to "Chicken Soup meets Laugh-In"--but with a Christian twist. Some of the pieces are hilarious and some are moving, but all point to the true path to peace and love--Jesus Christ.

LM: Is there anything you'd like to add?

God is so good to call me into something I enjoy so much. It's a privilege and joy to share His grace and peace with others through writing, singing, speaking and teaching. Thanks for letting me share a little bit of my story with your readers. I hope it encourages them.

Coming soon: a sculptor, a photographer, a composer, an arts enthusiast, and more.

Monday, September 03, 2007

On Labor Day

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Colossians 3:23-24, NIV).

Coming soon: a sculptor, a photographer, a composer, an actor/singer/writer, an arts enthusiast, and more

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