The WHAT & The HOW

In our creative and production process I’ve noticed that there is a distinct “WHAT” phase—where an idea or creative concept is dreamed up and put forth. Then there is a “HOW” phase—how do we take the WHAT from the drawing board and turn it into a creative experience? This HOW is where my primary focus lies as a Production Manager.

Switching from touring to church production about 6 yrs ago, it’s been interesting to note the wide variation with which churches tackle the HOW. Some churches have a near-perfect scenario with a distinct separation between a creative team determining the WHAT and a production team staying focused on the HOW.

But what to do if this isn’t the case? Perhaps you have only a few people who are tasked with doing it all or maybe you’re a one-person-show? Whatever the case may be, we all still have to accomplish the task at hand, but I’ve noticed that sometimes basic production principles and most importantly, safety, is usually completely disregarded. Reviewing some of the more popular websites and blogs here and there I’ve noticed that most safety and fire-code restrictions & regulations are rarely addressed or mentioned. Although this blog isn’t the proper forum to try and address all of this, it’s imperative that we all exercise due diligence to cover the bases so safety guidelines are followed to the letter. We owe nothing less to the churches and congregations we serve. Over the past 20 years, these guidelines became the mainstay of my career, as non-compliance with a safety guideline or a fire-code here or there could be the kiss of death for a show or event.

This may be the first time this safety topic has come up for some or for others it might seem that it doesn’t really apply to your specific situation—but hang in there with me! Here’s a few examples that may be of interest:

  • It’s rare to find a church that doesn’t have some type of soft goods and/or curtains in use as part of their production and stage setup—check this out:
  • Most of us employ some type of audio rig—some small, others quite massive—how well is it rigged?
  • Stage lighting of some sort is something else almost all of us have in common: large or small, complex or simple—the safety issues are elementary. Look at this:

I could go on and on with example after example of safety and compliance concerns but I’d wager a guess that with very little investigation, most of us could find several areas that need improvement. Becoming adept at the correct way to accomplish the HOW of your WHAT is an art and there are some of us that have spent our career cultivating what we do, however, have hope as it can certainly be done on any level as long as you are willing to cover all the bases.

With this in mind, hear me say: If it can’t be done safely—it shouldn’t be done at all. There is no middle ground. You MUST commit to either acquiring the knowledge personally, consult someone credible AND knowledgeable or adding someone to your team or sphere of influence who possesses the knowledge.

Most of us are investing real dollars into real gear resulting in real safety concerns to factor in—if not taken seriously, structures can be damaged, services can be cancelled, money gets wasted, and people can get seriously hurt. Investing a bit of time to acquire a base of knowledge on the HOW can be remunerated many times over as it will distinctly affect the development of the WHAT you are planning. Over the years, Whit and his creative team have started to really understand some of the basic principles of what is realistic in regards to HOW we can go about making their WHAT a reality and a success. It is a continued learning process amongst all of us but it only serves to make our team stronger and more adept at how we look at our future.

Although it’s easy to get great production ideas and such from this and other websites and blogs—some ideas and suggestions are simply that: an idea or suggestion. They may need to be taken with a grain of salt as everyone has built their production based around their own specific needs and situation. Take heed as what you see on the web may be (and most often times IS) completely different than your situation.

Check out a few resources that might steer you in the right direction:

The “2009 International Fire Code” and the “2009 International Building Code”—I’ve given these guides quite a workout over the last several years especially when it comes to working with architects and building designers—have been told this is pretty much the holy grail for them. Do not be afraid—dig in!

Also the “Backstage Handbook” is a great but simple reference book that provides a bounty of info for basic stagecraft—from building a scenic flat to tying perfect stage knots (please learn how to properly tie a bowline—perhaps the world’s most perfect knot)—it lays it out. This should be a staple for anyone needing solid stagecraft answers or just a reputable reference guide.

A final note that everything we do at COTM is applicable to our situation only. It remains the responsibility of all of us to determine what is safe and right for our particular buildings, environments, and locales. This premise is paramount as you take into account your own specific context, needs, and limitations in the pursuit of your own version of production greatness.

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Andrew Stone
Production Manager
Andrew Stone is the Production Manager and Audio Director at Church on the Move in Tulsa, OK. His 27 years of touring experience have brought a unique, and sometimes unorthodox, perspective to his approach towards production in the church. He has been a key part of changing the culture behind COTM's live events and he loves sharing his knowledge with other churches. He's been married for 20 years, rarely wears anything but black, and genuinely loves to rock. You can find him on Twitter (@stone_rocks), Instagram (, and is a blog contributor on Seeds, COTM's free resource site.