By Tori Rodgers
Chancel Players, or simply Chancels, is a theater drama team of six talented students: Christian Sanko, Samantha Hudzik, Tyler Kirker, Savannah Pew, Jaren Baer, and Megan Raines. They were selected at the end of the 2019 spring semester based on their hard work and involvement in the theater, regardless of their majors.
“Chancels is a drama ministry outreach team… out on the road sharing two very important things: drama and, more importantly, the gospel, with churches [and] high schools,” Hudzik, a senior creative writing and communication arts double major, said.
“It’s a great way of telling stories to people that would never encounter theater,” Sanko, a junior communication arts, said. “It [does] all the work that a sermon wants to do, in a very different format that I think reaches people’s hearts in a different way… in a way that they’ve never heard before.”
Instead of putting on a more typical theater performance on campus, like a full-length musical or play, Chancels performs short sketches at bookings outside of the university.
“We go to both schools and churches,” Raines, a sophomore social work major, said. “For our schools we do theater workshops where we work with the kids and we show them [basic] exercises… we answer their questions about Malone, and we perform little sketch for them.”
At churches, the sketches are selected based on the time range provided, anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour and a half. Three Sundays a month are dedicated to church bookings and there are at least three per month during the week for the team to visit schools; Chancels has 21 bookings in total just this semester.
Before and/or at a booking, all six of them have their own role. Though Chancels is overseen by director Tammie McKenzie, the team is almost entirely run by its members.
Christian Sanko is the only returner from last year’s Chancels team, so he is able to offer help to the other five members with his own previous experience.
“It was really good to be sort of a mentor to the group,” Sanko said. “I’m not a leader by any means, but nobody else has done this before and it’s an intensive process… So it’s good, I think, that the team… wasn’t all just new members.”
Sanko is also the booking coordinator that sets up the places that the team will visit and perform for. A lot of his work is done before the day of a booking.
“I began calling, sending out notecards and emails and reaching out to potential booking contacts right after school ended,” Sanko said. “When we actually get there [to a booking], my job is to make first contact with the person who I talked to over the phone or emailed… It’s very important that they get a concrete idea of who I am so that if anything needs to be communicated, they know who to talk to.”
Megan Raines does a lot of behind-the-scenes work as well; her role is largely financials and public relations.
“My job is treasurer,” Raines said. “I go request a voucher from Tammie, she gives it to me, and we use that for food money… If we don’t have time for breakfast here, then we get it on the road, or if we’re not going to make it back in time for lunch.”
Raines also runs and regularly updates the Chancels and theater social media accounts: the Facebook pages for Malone University Chancel Players and Theatre at Malone University, as well as the @theatreatmalone Instagram.
Savannah Pew is the van manager and admissions rep, who, like Raines, is tasked with promoting Malone wherever they go.
“I answer any questions that potential students might have,” Pew said. “We have a table full of pamphlets, brochures, various handouts, signs and all sorts of information on the university that we give out to potential students.”
Tyler Kirker is team’s chaplain and tends to the their spiritual disciplines, ensuring that God remains Chancels’ focus.
“Before every booking, I do a devotion, I do a reading from scripture, and then I elaborate on it and open it up for everybody to discuss,” Kirker said. “I’m the one that leads the prayers [too].”
Jaren Baer deals with the sound tech the team brings to the bookings and makes sure everything is set up.
“I am in charge of getting our soundboard and our mics all in place, and our speakers,” Baer said. “That’s all my job: making sure all the wires are in the right place [and] making sure the microphones are well mixed… [and] at the same volume.”
Another crucial part for performances are the props; Samantha Hudzik oversees the prop boxes and made a list to keep everything organized.
“I’m the prop master for the team,” Hudzik said, “which basically means that any and all props that we use, which are a lot, are my responsibility to keep track of, and if they break I’m in charge of replacing them.”
With so many responsibilities to go around, teamwork is crucial. Chancels knows that well, thanks to the ten days spent before the semester started, dubbed Chancels Week.
After getting familiar with each other and shopping for the team’s outfit and props, they chose their scripts. Each member found ten over the summer and together, they narrowed it down to twelve they wanted to perform (making a rep of thirteen with a triennial script).
The remainder of Chancels Week was spent rehearsing and memorizing those thirteen scripts non-stop, until they knew them by heart in just one week. Popular scripts among audiences are “The Complete History of the Old Testament in Twenty Minutes” by Tom S. Long and the comedic “Water Foul”, written by Chancels’ own Jaren Baer.
As such a close-knit group, they have a lot of memories; Baer recalls the script selection process, with which he brought three of his own making.
“I really liked hearing people read my scripts out loud for the first time,” Baer said. “I loved seeing my scripts come to life like that… and watching [them] develop too.”
Sanko also enjoyed Chancels Week and the group dynamic produced because of it.
“Shopping day is like a challenge that becomes a team building exercise, with the added bonus of being a day for picking out our nice dress clothing that we’ll wear for the rest of the year,” Sanko said. “I love watching groups form and how they develop… there’s all these different dynamics going on and it’s just interesting to watch.”
Hudzik loves the bond created over the last three months too. “We have this podcast that we listen to called Cabin Pressure,” she said. “It’s just so much fun sitting in the van with six of us just listening to this podcast, while we drive anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours away, and laughing with one another… It helps us to loosen up quite a bit.”
Raines enjoys the community of the bookings themselves. “I really love meeting all the different people anywhere we go,” she said. “There’s always a different vibe… [I like] seeing how theater connects to all audiences and how we can use that to glorify God.”
“I think my favorite part [of Chancels] is just seeing that we’re actually going out and doing something in the world, like in the real world,” Pew said. “We are out there delivering the message [of God] in our own way… and seeing how that impacts people in a real life setting.”
Kirker enjoyed one particularly successful church booking, where he really saw that impact first hand.
“We had such a massive audience, we had family members come, we had Dr. King [speak] on our behalf,” he said. “It was an amazing day. I really felt the Holy Spirit working.”
Family and friends are certainly invited to church bookings to support and interact with the team and that church’s community. The next booking is November 24th at Ragersville Zion Church, roughly a 40 minute drive from campus, at 10:30 am.
More local performances are coming up soon in December that the team highly encourages students to attend.
“Our biggest thing that we’re really excited about is Light Up Downtown that’s coming up December 5th,” Raines said. “We’re going downtown to the Salvation Army and we’re participating in their live nativity scene… for people to come up to us, talk to us about it and to build that community.”
On December 2nd, Chancels is performing a few different sketches in the Stewart room, bringing the excellent work they do out on the road to their peers on campus. As an added bonus, it’s an SFO credit!
“Chancels is open to any major and theater experience is not [a] necessity,” Sanko said. “You just have to be an earnest person, a hard worker, and appreciate the stories you’re telling. So if you’re interested in being a part of Chancels next year, start getting involved with the theater, be a part of the community, and Chancels will find you.”