“Images of Easter” short Easter drama for children
There’s something very moving about children enacting Bible stories. It’s common at Christmas and Purim, but here’s an idea if you’re looking for a kids’ piece for Easter.
Or the piece could, of course, be done by teens or adults if you prefer.
It’s a fairly simple concept: frozen tableaux, occasionally with some movement – accompanied by Bible readings, which don’t need to be learnt.
There are no props (apart from a large sheet) or scenery – everything is pretended, or represented by the performers – and costumes should be very neutral (eg, blank T shirts and sweatpants or leggings).
When we did this at my church back in 2009, we had 8-10 year olds doing the movement (called the performers, in the script), and two or three older children / teens and me as the readers.
Ideally, Jesus should not be played by the tallest of the 8-10s; save someone a bit bigger to represent the cross.
(And you will need a strong, older one – ie, one of the readers – to be the cross later in the piece when Jesus is lifted, if you decide to do it that way. Practice it very slowly and make sure they are both comfortable and it’s safe, and if in doubt just find a different picture or stay still. That whole section can easily be a lot simpler than I describe. The lift is not intended to be very high, and only leaning over to a slight angle – but you don’t need me to tell you that safety should always be the first consideration)
Feel free to customise the performance to your church’s situation and skills. For instance, we had a trained contemporary dancer at the time – so between “When I Survey” and the covering of the performers in the sheet for the Resurrection, she danced to “Lead Me To The Cross” with the rest of us doing simple choreographed flags at certain points.
We have flexible seating, so we set it “traverse” style (long strips of audience on both sides, facing each other, with the performance space like a wide corridor between) which meant the trial tableau was very confrontational – Jesus and the soldiers at one end of the performing area, and the judges at the other. But it would work fine in a more traditional space – just make sure you set it appropriately (eg, with audience on more than one side, different performers need to take it out in different directions).
Because it’s very abstract there’s no need for performers to leave the stage – indeed, it would slow things down if they did; the piece should be fluid. They can remain in vision, possibly standing or crouched down around the outside of the performance area, watching – or possibly facing the side or the back.
I’d recommend you to experiment together with how you create the images, rather than have the director decide in advance. There’s a great exercise I love to use when devising a physical piece:
All stand in a large circle. Somebody shouts out an object or event – car; shoe; Eiffel Tower; TV; football match; whale – whatever.
Without discussion, everyone thinks how you could build that with your bodies; when someone gets an idea they go into the middle and take up a stance. Still without talking, the rest try to see what that person is doing, and join in to help create that idea. Eg, if someone is rolled up to be a car tyre, obviously you’ll need three more; others might then become steering wheel and windscreen wipers – or they might choose to be doors, or seats.
It works best when everyone watches and builds on each other’s ideas, rather than all piling in with excitement and bringing several ideas at once.
There’s no right or wrong way to make the objects – in fact it’s a great aid to creativity to then make the object again in a totally different way, and then again, and again.
Sounds are great – and once they’re built, the things can move (eg, if some of you have made a washing machine in the middle, one person still on the outside might then drag others over like clothes, push them in and set it going. Or if you’ve built a phone, a person might come and use it; if they’re alert, whoever’s being the buttons could make beeping sounds as the user dials, and the person who is the speaker end of the phone can talk back to them! Or be a voicemail message)
You can also do this exercise with emotions or abstract concepts – fear; triumph; boredom etc. And having got ideas for two contrasting ones, you can practice everyone melting together from one to the other and back.
Start off making things that have nothing to do with the piece, then when everyone has worked past any self-consciousness and the ideas are flowing well, bring in some of the images of the drama.
How will you form a tomb? Try different ways. Will the stone move to cover the entrance? Will it be static and Jesus be put into it, or will Jesus be laid on the ground and the tomb form around him?
Will you make the crown of thorns with your hands, as I’ve suggested in the script? If so, will you crawl in along the floor to him without any thorns, then all spring up suddenly and it’s there – or will you approach slowly from all round Jesus with scary, jagged hands which finally interlock? Or – will you make it with your whole bodies; a large, low circle with Jesus clutching his head in pain in the centre?
How will we immediately see the difference between those judging Jesus and the soldiers? What might their body language be? Maybe the judges are seated, with other performers as their thrones. Or you could just pick one of the men who put Jesus on trial – eg, servants could be holding a pretend bowl for Pilate to wash his hands.
Maybe show the children some classical paintings and church artwork of the Crucifixion, to inspire ideas of body shapes, facial expressions and overall structure for that tableau. Lots of possibilities.
Once the group has a good idea for how to do a particular moment, you as the director can step in and polish it to make it as effective as it can be: most tableaux work best when they are fairly tightly compacted, for instance; it’s good to have a variety of levels; make sure it favours all angles the audience will view it from; rearrange the order of the children if it works better for their respective heights – or helps them to get there from their previous position, or go to their next.
I have put in suggestions throughout, but you don’t have to follow them of course.
It’s a symbolic piece rather than literal, so encourage the children to be creative and think laterally.