by Jane Harris
I travel around the country doing gospel routines on mission trips. Over the years I have developed a character named GG. (Short for God’s Gardener) GG wears overalls and bright colored T-shirts.
How does one develop a character?
First and foremost is what is the nature of the character. That is, what is the purpose and where will they be doing it? In GG’s case she rarely performs at the same venue twice. She goes in, performs and leaves. It occurred to us that the best I could do in a short period was to deliver a message and hope for a follow up. So we decided my character would be a seed planter. One of the things I do before every performance is identify the people that will be available to my audience after I leave. Somewhere during my performance I ask these people to stand. One time the local group on the ground had colored t-shirts for the staff, so if someone wanted more information about salvation it was easy to identify them the rest of the day.
If ones character is pretty much static, that is, will perform over and over at the same venue, the character’s purpose maybe somewhat different. Many characters are used to tell Bible stories or to convey a specific message. I know of a person that just does mime. The character shows up does a performance and leaves. It is pretty much seen as a live puppet.
What is the message?
In my case, I have anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes to deliver my message. We have decided that for the most part I deliver the salvation message in a variety of ways. So most of my routines are about having Christ in your life and living life as a Christian.
What does your character do?
GG does balloons. After a performance she may do balloons for children at a picnic or social event but when dressed as GG, her balloons stay consistent with the character. For instance at a church camp with a serious dress code (no two piece bathing suits, no exposed belly buttons) GG would not do any of the Disney characters with bra tops and belly buttons. There are many talented people out there that take a basic skill such as magic, rope tricks, or slight of hand that have used the skill as part of a character.
Dressing the character becomes an important part of that character. For some there might be a basic wardrobe while others have one outfit. I often travel in my mobile home and find traveling in my overalls quit comfortable. I have several pairs of overalls lots of colored t-shirts. Many times, I will arrive at the site and be performing within minutes. I can wash my face brush my teeth and I am ready to perform.
I find it useful to have a signature piece; a way to introduce my character to the audience. In the case of GG I do a simple routine where I make 3 simple flowers asking children to come up and help (hold the creations as I am working on them.) When I finish the routine I have a flower made of a heart, a happy face and stars-around balloon. I announce that I am here to plant the seeds of God’s message. I am here to spread the message of Joy (smiley face balloon), Love (heart balloon), but most of all the message of eternal life (the stars-around balloon).
It is at this point I tell the audience that, because I am a gardener, I may not be around to see the results of my planting. I ask workers to stand and add that if I am around I would be happy to share more of the word of God with you and the salvation message but if I am gone any of the people standing will be happy to share with you.
Following are some guidelines to developing a character:
1. Decide on what purpose your character has. Will it serve one audience or many?
2. What talents and skills do you bring to the character, are you a great story teller, can you do rope tricks?
3. What is the message or messages your character will portray? In some case like GG it is very much the gospel message where others might be storytellers, etc.
4. What resources do you have to support the character? In my case I make a substantial living performing balloon art and so we use the revenue to help support GG. My regular balloon bag is available to GG. 5. What additional resources do you need? Because GG travels, transportation is an issue. My church has provided GG with gas money for the camper. What equipment and supplies do you need?
6. What will your character wear? If traveling, will laundry be a problem? I recently flew to a site and realized I was limited to one pair of overalls.
7. What makes your character unique? Lots of people travel around and share the gospel. GG is unique in that she does it with balloons.
8. Who is your Houston? This sounds silly but you need a back up plan. My husband loves the space program and has been fascinated with the role of ground control in any flight. We have nicknamed him my “Houston.” He does not always travel with me but he is always there for back up. During a performance he may have extra balloons at hand or when traveling he can take care of the things that just come up.
9. Be well prepared and practice your character. When ever I have on my overalls, I am GG. In my case the main part of my character are the routines, for some it maybe how the character walks, talks etc. If you do routines make sure you know them well.
10. Remember the producer. As we do these things make sure we do them to the Glory of God.