Christmas pageants were my gateway drug into theatre.
I was a pageant queen, but not in a “Toddlers in Tiaras” way. No fake tans in our Episcopal Church. Over a decade, from age seven to seventeen, I tried my hand at some of the most iconic roles of western civilization. The Virgin Mary at age 9 with actual live infant as my baby Jesus. Terrifying but I didn’t kill her (yes, baby Jesus was played by a girl, this was a church in San Francisco, gender norms weren’t strict)! The Angel Gabriel at age 10, the first year a substantial script was paired with the pageant. Memorizing an intimidating monologue full of religious jargon, “The holy ghost will come upon you and the power of the most high will over shadow you”, for me that was easy compared to holding a baby. A wise man, several years of shepherding, the angry inn keeper, and finally, when I felt entirely too old for the whole thing, a narrator.
Christmas pageants will always hold a special place in my heart. Don’t worry, I wasn’t the lone
super nerd teenager amongst scores of little kids. I had a group of friends at church, for a while we formed “The Junior Choir”, we all grew up performing together. It’s funny, most of us became passionate about theatre, even to this day. Coincidence or did these pageants somehow shape our sensibilities?
When we were teenagers and the whole thing finally made sense intellectually, we liked to joke about ways to parody the script. Mary’s famous line, “But how shall this be since I have no husband?” “Well, Mary…” we used to say, our knowledge fresh from high school Health Class, “There’s this thing about the birds and the bees, honey…no ‘husband’ necessary.”
What Christmas Eve church-attending teenager doesn’t do that?
We never got around to writing our parody of your classic Christmas pageant. Surprise, surprise, it wasn’t exactly an original concept. A decade after my final Christmas pageant bow (just kidding, we never actually bowed in church, it’s frowned upon), I was introduced to a delightful and provoking play with the longest title you’ve ever seen: The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut, & The Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree. Guess what: it’s a fresh re-telling of the old Christmas pageant story written by a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright! Creative and humorous, it addresses the doubts of believers and non-believers alike, while still maintaining reverence and wonder. The play manages to be its own unique piece of theatre as well as a cheeky homage to the Christmas pageants of our youth (at least if you’re a WASP nerd like me- anyone? Anyone?).
Usually one must wait until Christmas Eve to behold the wonder (and inevitable/unintentional humor that is small children attempting performance) of a Christmas pageant. This year however, NYC is in luck! The comedy ensemble [By the Mummers] is taking on The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut, & The Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree by William Gibson, performing the play in its entirety! This holiday season! This week in fact! At the Secret Theatre in Long Island city, shows start at 8pm December 11-13 on December 14th at 7pm. Directed by Frank Cardillo with a cast of “comic knockouts” (to quote Backstage!), it is sure to be a funny, festive, fearless production.
A play is the perfect pre-Christmas party event, let’s be honest. It’ll give you a perfect conversation starter and a great excuse to be fashionably late! Plus with tickets at only $15 it’s truly win-win-win all around. For more info and to buy tickets check out their website at www.bythemummers.com
Maybe I’ll even see you there!
Okay, seriously, if anyone else has Christmas pageant stories or memories, please share in the comments!