CHILDREN ARE THE STARS IN KATHLEEN CHAPMAN’S LIFE
by Joyce Scherer
“Drama was in the air she breathed,”
speaking of Ethel Barrymore, first lady of the American Stage
Kathleen Chapman bursts onto the stage in a rainbow of electrifying colors and fabrics. Her flashy ties and glitzy earrings captivate the young audience, bringing instant smiles to their eager faces. When she steps up to the microphone to teach children’s theatre, it is easy to see that drama, too, is in the air she breathes.
“When a child steps on stage, there is a standing ovation in heaven,” Chapman says. “Drama is the most powerful teaching tool we have. In fact, maybe some preachers should stash their suits and ties and don a costume.”
Drama, Chapman said, can accomplish twice as much in half the time as a sermon or a Sunday school lesson. “When done well, it has the potential to hold audiences spellbound, impart knowledge, tell stories, teach life-changing lessons and entertain, all at the same time.”
A pioneer and trendsetter in children’s theatre for more than 30 years, Chapman’s dedication and commitment keep her busy year long writing, directing and producing children’s dramas, along with writing original scripts for numerous musical theatre groups (400 children weekly) and writing, directing and producing educational musical theatre for public schools. To date, she has written more than 300 musical plays and 1,000 original songs.
In addition, she is the author of “Teaching Kids Authentic Worship,” a comprehensive study on how to “glue a child to God for life.” Her insights, peppered with humor, make her a popular speaker throughout the world.
Born and raised in Southern California, Chapman fell in love with the arts and God at a young age, according to her sister, Susan Anderson.
“All kids dress up and put on plays for their parents, but Kathleen was the only one I knew who wrote them so they had a gospel message and ended with an invitation to accept Jesus. Oh, and she also charged to become a Christian,” recalled Anderson.
Chapman says the drama bug bit her in the third grade after she won a first-place trophy in a speech contest.
“I loved being on the stage as a child,” she said. “And after experiencing the first audience applause, I was convinced stardom was in my future. Of course, I was sure to dress for stardom every chance I had.”
By the time she was in fifth grade—when she actually viewed a stage play—and later met her first Christian playwright in high school, Wes Hardy, Chapman knew her future ministry would involve drama.
“I saw every play or musical Wes Hardy created,” she said. “He was my inspiration when I wrote my first musical play in 1970, “An Angel’s Story.” The premise of the story—which took place in heaven the week before Christmas—was that all the angels in the choir were scheduled to fly down to earth and notify the shepherds about the baby to be born in Bethlehem. The only problem: the angels came down with laryngitis!”
Chapman, the mother of three adult children, grandmother to ten, and wife to Duane Chapman, says it was her children who prompted the inception of her summer drama workshops. “When they were young, I wanted to be involved in their lives during the summer,” she said. “Little did I know, that during those years, my children would actually be my teachers!”
Chapman said she learned from daughter Nancy, today a professional choreographer and minister to parents and children, how to give a child a choice on stage.
“They will, indeed, find their own niche, whether it is in singing, acting or dancing or lighting, designing or sound,” Chapman said. “Nancy was drawn to dance, something we may not have encouraged. She has reached many a child for Jesus through dance.”
Chapman says son, Mark, a pastor at St. Mary’s and All Angels school in Aliso Viejo, is the child most similar to her comical personality.
“He was a true, natural ham as an actor,” she says. “However, being the class clown at school created problems in his studies. Drama taught him discipline, such as memorizing lines and learning choreography. Because on stage, if you flake on your part you just don’t go on.”
It would have been easy, according to Chapman, for son John, a missionary in Lima Peru, to get lost in the shadow of his older siblings.
“John was our singer on stage. I remember thinking how great to have found something he does so well. Something that makes him feel like a star, a star which God created,” she said.
According to Chapman, if she had it her way, she would put every child on stage.
“Mainly for two reasons: First, every child should have any opportunity to experience applause, to know how talented and special God made them; and secondly, as a Christian, they are being obedient to God, using their gifts and talents in the church’s ministry.”
Throughout the years, Chapman has been blessed with confirmations that God has used drama to touch the lives of children in many different ways.
Sally’s father never showed up for any school functions, not once to a sporting event. But he came to a non-threatening musical production and she was able to perform on stage for her daddy. “She wrote me a long letter thanking me after she had kids of her own,” Kathleen said. “Sally is just one of the many stars in my life.”