Plays, musicals, skits, pantomimes, drama, all are used time and time again to tell a story, share a message, and educate the masses about one thing or another. Churches have been using drama for centuries to tell bible stories and morality tales. A tradition that has not died, but fallen out of fashion. Except around Christmas, and sometimes Easter.
The Christmas Eve pageant was always something we children looked forward to every year at my church growing up. Two lucky girls got to play angels in the third grade, four or five fourth graders got to look forward to being shepherds, three special fifth and sixth graders were wise men, and a boy and a girl from the seventh and eighth grade Sunday School class could be Mary and Joseph. We did the same tableau every year until I was in the fourth grade. (You have no idea how excited I was to be angel that last year.) After that we did a few really cheesy musical plays that called for rudimentary dance numbers, costumes, and lines.
I’ve always sort of missed the traditional tableau pageant. My favorite Christmas book will forever be The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (I’m bummed I’ll never get to play Gladys Herdman); I even sort of like the movie with Major “Hotlips” Houlihan and the chick from The Craft. I love a simple Christmas pageant, with a simple formula, and a simple story. But the musical plays have their place and their purpose.
The performers’ intentions must be considered when choosing what sort of production to put on. A simple tableau is great for the church family to contemplate what happened the night Jesus was born and the miracle of His birth and the reason He came to us in the first place, but it doesn’t necessarily do much for a person who doesn’t know what’s so important. If the performers are looking to educate people about the birth of Christ, then a cheesy, musical performance that details the message in the simplest of terms as a Scrooge-like character learns about the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ is the way to go.
My parents’ church this year put together a production of ‘A Time For Christmas’. We went to the final performance the other night and it was cute. Bearing in mind it was an amateur, church production, my expectations for quality were not high. The musical numbers and the singers were mostly excellent (something these people do well), but the rest of it was a little less dazzling. The story itself was a bit much, a Christmas Carol ripoff, that follows workaholic Bill who is prepared to spend Christmas alone, working, his dad having split when he was young and his mother long passed, no siblings to speak of, or, apparently aunts, uncles, or grandparents. A colleague, Mary, is the only person he even remotely cares about and she puts up with his petulance due to a naive, Luke Skywalkerish believe that there is still good in him… somewhere. A single mother, whose exhusband is already married to someone new, Mary tries very hard to not let her frustrations weigh her down, or affect her daughter, especially around the holiday; and even though she knows it’s a long shot, she holds out hope for Bill and invites him over for Christmas.
Bill’s heart is mostly cold, however, and while he’s flattered Mary would invite him, he is determined to stay home and get his work done. That is, until some obscure Christmas Spirit, who styles himself Bartholomew, appears in Bill’s dreams and takes him on an historical tour of Christmas celebrations. You can figure out what happens next.
The play was cute. I’m always slightly startled at how beautifully the man playing Bill can sing. In his real life, he’s so nice and unassuming, but he really has the potential for greatness. If only he knew what to do with his hands while on stage. ‘Bill’ is certainly the biggest role in the play, followed closely by ‘Bartholomew’. That man was unexpectedly good, except no one seems to ever have taught him how to cheat to the audience and his accent vacillated between a bad Dickens character and Ringo Starr. And he too had some errant gesticulations. But unexpectedly impressive was his performance all the same.
Despite the accents I would have nixed, some scenes I would have reblocked, missing acting exercises and character development on the part of the actor, a few poor lighting choices, and a couple of periods that kept the audience in the dark for a little bit too long, the play, I would say, was a rousing success. (Remember: it’s being put on in a church sanctuary that used to be a basketball court.) It was definitely cute, the children were enthusiastic, only one line was obviously (and hilariously) blundered, but the message was clear, and people responded to it. The show ain’t hittin’ the road, but that was never the intention.
Unfortunately, some of my friends know me a little too well and were wondering what my critical mind must have been thinking, but I know better than to expect the quality of the performance to be high; and, I don’t think it matters. In this production of ‘A Time For Christmas’, quality isn’t important, what’s truly important is heart. And this production was overflowing.