Circular seating creates a more intimate feel in community presentations. Circles have long been customary to telling stories, primarily because it lifts the listener into more a participatory role. When we know that we can see others and they can see us, in the midst of the story’s telling, we become part of the story.
Yet, there is a much more fundamental reason for circular seating. That is because it creates a larger front row and a larger second row. This is important when we have younger, smaller members attending. For one thing, they can’t see very well over the backs of others and will be much less enthusiastic if they are asked to try. Second, younger members are much more sensitive to the energy of a presentation and when they can feel excitement of the action and movement and expressions, the presentation has a greater impact.
Circular seating can be a challenge and a blessing to the presenters. It means that, as a presenter, you will always have your back to someone. AND, you will always be able to face someone new. The trick is to try and constantly change the direction that you are facing so as to engage the different people around the circle.
I find that seating in a circle dramatically increases the amount of interaction possible between presenter and worshipper. The best kind of presentation is one where there is a detectable diaglogue going on under the presentation. When a presenter can sense when an audience needs more energy or when they are ‘with the action’ then he/she can respond appropriately by changing their movements, expressions, inflection, tone volume, etc.
This is often a fun, engaging way of inviting the younger members (who feel safe away from their parents – or parents can join them) to be more part of the action. Of course, this will only be possible when the circumstances of the presentation allow. Yet, there are many situations where you will have an opportunity to set up part of the stage as a place where children can stay and watch.
For instance, in the ‘Velveteen Rabbit,’ part of the stage was devoted to the little boy’s bedroom. There was a blanket and toys and pillows and comfy things to sit on. In ‘A Peaceful Song of Protest,’ we invited younger members to sit on old blankets and be part of the villagers of Sarajevo. This also helps bring the younger members into the drama and give them a role, which they generally enjoy. Oftentimes, they can add to the plot development in very interesting ways.
Another great idea is to set up a ‘grandmother’ or ‘grandfather’ section. This is where you set up a row or bring in a couch or something and have an elderly person in the congregation volunteer to sit beside the children who want to watch away from their parents. This is good for both the grandparent and the children. It also creates the opportunity for the very effect intergenerational worship is trying to achieve.
It is inevitable that someone, of the many people who come to church, will have a bad day. Intergenerational worship is no exception. Younger members won’t always understand etiquette when they are feeling anxious or bored, or fidgety or distracted. Having someone in the service who isn’t able or interested in the presentation is not a bad thing. It is only bad if we assume such an absolutist position and insist that they conform. It is best for everyone involved to offer an alternative option for the people who need one.
Yes, it is often a bit of work to plan one of these services, and coordinate it and make sure it works well. But all that effort and brilliance doesn’t guarantee that some people present aren’t experiencing severe anxiety about something important – having nothing to do with the presentation or the effort to make it work well. Also, it is possible that someone present is right in the middle of experiencing the very same issue the presentation is exploring. That can be stressful if we are overly sensitive to the topic.
When we’re talking about younger members, it is always best to take our cues from the parent. If we have concerns we can ask the parent what they think. Most children’s anxiety within worship is centered around feelings of safety and familiarity. Often, having a parent nearby helps enormously. And sometimes there is something the presenters can do to build trust and offer reassurance.
Microphones are a key issue for intergenerational services. It is quite important to remember that there are two ends of the spectrum in ‘intergenerational’ and the taller end sometimes isn’t able to hear as well as the smaller end. This can be especially true and frustrating when a drama is going on. Sometimes, people with hearing aids will have trouble distinguishing the direction that a sound is coming from. Especially if that sound is coming from characters who are moving around the floor. For people who sometimes depend on seeing someone speak in order to understand, it makes it even more important to make sure the voices can be heard clearly. This is even more true when you consider the background noise that is inevitably part of a younger crowd.
This is one of the key reasons that I recommend having characters pantomime the movements. When the characters have other people reading their lines for them, not only is it easier to make sure the lines are spoken clearly and into the microphone, but it creates the opportunity to use interesting voices and to attach voices to characters that are humorous or poignant. Mostly it is important that everyone can experience what is meant to be conveyed.