Re: Covenant Players Oxnard, CA Charles Tanner
J. S. Fugate
Date: June 28, 2010 01:48AM
Chuck Tanner founded the group in 1963 - basically starting out as a drama group in a Presbyterian church in Los Angeles. He was involved with films as a writer, producer and director - and decided to refocus his passion to serve God through drama. He started writing plays in response to specific requests by churches, and finding actors to perform them. Eventually he realized it was too difficult to do this work with freelance actors, and started asking for a commitment. The commitment was not to him or the organization - it was a "Covenant" with God to serve Him with one's creative gifts.
Teams were comprised of 2 to 6 people, and were sent out at first to cities to perform specific plays at specific churches - this grew to each team being assigned with an area (state or country) for up to 6 months at a time.
Chuck wrote the plays, and was the overall director of the company - but each unit was assigned its own director, given fairly autonomous control of their own tour, and sent out on the road to perform the plays for churches, schools, etc. However, Chuck was in charge, despite the fact that he was a little too much of a creative genius to deal with administrative oversight and the details of management.
At first there was very little in terms of administration - but the ministry grew to cover every state and some 83 countries at its height during the 1980's. So, administrative duties in a home office in Los Angeles were necessarily added as the year's progressed to coordinate the massive undertaking. However, the life of the ministry has always been which each individual team doing their individual tours.
This is where my primary difficulties with the group came into play - I felt very much on my own when I was on the road. We were responsible for making our own contacts, finding our own bookings, doing all our own PR and marketing, covering all our own administrative needs, doing our own vehicle maintenance, finding our own housing, etc. Quite frankly, I sucked at most of that. :-)
All I really wanted to do was direct the plays and perform them, and hold drama workshops - so, I had certain resentments that I had to be responsible for every aspect of each of my tours. So, unlike cults which control every aspect of people's lives - we were given TOO MUCH freedom and control to run our own teams, and most of the problems encountered were due to this freedom and responsibility.
This responsibility included every aspect of our own survival . . . if we didn't get bookings, which included meals and housing as part of our contract, then we didn't eat and had no where to sleep. I had some very rough times - but it was really no one's fault but my own. I was not particularly good at administration or PR . . . and thus, my teams suffered. Other individuals and teams thrived because they were extremely skilled at getting bookings - and thus, had very few problems.
I've discovered over the years that those who had the biggest complaints about their time in CP, it can be traced to the insecurity or inexperience of the person leading their particular team . . . or the weaknesses of individuals that caused the team to go through hard times. It would have actually been nice to have a strong overhead organization that took care of our needs . . . but, we were pretty much on our own. This brought about great growth in just about every area for those that stuck with it - but many left due to bad circumstances and their bitterness has caused disparagement on the organization . . . such as, rumors that it's a cult.
All the finances for each team were solely raised by performances booked, rehearsed, and performed by each individual team. Some people donate funds to CP which go to things like vehicle maintenance and summer training - but the majority of funds have always been raised through actual performances given by each individual team.
It is a "faith ministry" - meaning that every aspect of our lives was ruled by faith. There were no guarantees, or organizational support, for much of anything other than the opportunity to go on the road and serve God through drama. This can be faulted as poor administrative oversight - but Chuck believed strongly that God would take care of those that commit themselves to serve Him . . . and he was right. Even at the worst times, I knew God was in control and our needs were always met . . . although sometimes at the 11th hour.
Chuck suffered a stroke in 1998 and died in March of 2006 . . . and the ministry continues under the direction of his daughter. It is much smaller now than it was when I was there in the 80's - and policies are quite different as well. However, it's still just a touring theatre company that is motivated by the Gospel.