My Foray into the Theatah

Well, that’s a bit of a high brow title to describe my community theater experience last month, but it was an experience to be celebrated, and what better way to celebrate than with a fake British accent.  (Just ask Madonna…or Esther).  Sometime in November, my roommate, who teaches children’s music classes at the local community center, was asked to be the pianist for the community theater’s production of  "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."   She was already singing in another production, but after being assured that it just involved playing some hymns during the pageant, she suggested that they contact me.  I was a bit skeptical, because I’m more than a bit stage shy when it comes to playing the piano (more on that later), but I figured it was just a couple of hymns, and I really could use the money….so voila.  I got the job.

It was a bit of a shock when I showed up on my first day of rehearsal and found out that I wasn’t the pianist, I was the musical director.  I was handed a stack of music–some familiar hymns, and two songs I HAD NEVER HEARD BEFORE, and told I had the next two hours to teach the music to the children.  The bouncy, bright, precocious drama stage children.  Well, if there are two things I’m good at doing it is "faking it" and  yelling at children, so I jumped in as if completely un-phased.  To keep a long story medium length, we kept rehearsing, I got a little more confidence, and then the theater magic gripped me and I had one of the most enjoyable experiences ever.  And in keeping with BCC’s mission statement to mimic the Ensign wherever possible, here are the two lessons I learned:

1.  Don’t let mean kids who point and laugh at you keep you from doing things you love.  No, these theater kids were not the mean kids I’m referring to.  (In fact, I kind of fell in love with the Christmas Pageant angels and sheep, especially after they said, in a whisper in the green room, "you’re kinda fun.")  I’m referring to some mean kids in SLC circa 1991.  The last time I seriously played the piano in public.  After participating in a piano competition, I was asked to play in a kind of "honorable mention" recital.  I forgot my Chopin prelude right in the middle, and had to stop, open my music, and resume.  After I finished, I sat down in the audience, mortified as some apparent musical savants turned and pointed and laughed at me for the rest of the recital.  Pretty soon I left for college, got focused on other things, and thought that playing the piano wasn’t worth the butterflies and panic that I inevitably experienced.   I think I’m cured now.  I LOVED playing on stage.  I loved playing Christmas music and facilitating the spiritual experience that I knew the audience was having.  I regained a confidence that I forgot I used to have. 

2.  Participating in a theater production allowed an amount of artisitic and spiritual pondering that I found exhilarating.  For those of you who have forgotten, or never read the book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is about the family of mean kids in town that hijack the church Christmas Pageant so they can get refreshments.  Throughout the story, they start to learn the language of Christmas, and bring their own touches to the show that remind the audience of the meaning behind the story.  Repeating the same lines and same music performance after performance allowed my mind to wander into an evaluation of the Christmas story that deepened and heightened my spiritual appreciation of the account in Luke.  (In between some of the performances, I was reading the excellent Newsweek article on the nativity…which also spurred my imagination.)  I suppose that seeing each child act out a different part of the pageant allowed me to focus on each individual character and how their presence affects the Biblical account.  I think I was most struck by the wisemen.  In the play, the rowdy boys leave home the very impractical gifts of frankincense and myrrh, and instead bring the ham from their welfare basket to the family of refugees.  I thought that in a way, the wisemen (and the shepherds too) were playing the part of the first Christians, giving up their time and precious goods to follow only a spiritual promise (evidenced as a star) and eventually worship at the feet of Christ.  Maybe we are all following the spiritual footsteps of the wisemen and shepherds as we re-enact that same journey of faith everytime we are given the opportunity to provide Christian service or display our faith. 

Comments

  1. My kids saw a community theater production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” early in December, and our whole advent season was punctuated with the refrain “Shazaam, unto you a child is born!”

  2. Yeah, the Gladys in our production (aka Shazaam!) was too cute for words. She was constantly making fists and threatening the much larger children…completely stole the show.

  3. I was asked to play a Clementi sonatina at a school production when I was in middle school. When I got on-stage in front of all those people panic set in. I played through as fast as I could, messed up a time or two, picking up wherever I could remember. That poor audience. I don’t recall too many people talking to me afterwards. I kind of blew it off but I was really very embarrassed.

    I had the calling to play piano in priesthood a year or two ago. The first times I played I was very nervous and my hands were shaking. I’d forget parts of hymns that I’ve had memorized for years. After a couple of months though I learned to make mistakes without fear.

    Now if I could just learn to prepare a little better … I think learning to play all the hymns would be a semi-realistic goal if I give myself enough time.

  4. I’m glad you had a wonderful experience! This has always been one of my favorite Christmas stories.

  5. Thanks Lizzy. It’s now a favorite of mine too. I need to find the book and add it to my Christmas traditions.

    Dan–so sorry about the piano in jr. high angst–you have a fellow and empathetic sufferer here. There’s something about the hymns that makes them do-able for most of us. I think it’s the repetition, and the basic chord progressions. It gets in your blood. As President Monson once told me: “Keep practicing…someday you’ll get it.”

  6. We had a discussion on T&S a few weeks ago about family holiday traditions and favorite Christmas books. I didn’t pipe up then but I can’t resist here: our *only* family Christmas tradition was my Mom reading The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever from cover to cover the last few nights before Christmas every year. In our minds, we WERE the Herdmans (but with a father and without the smoking). Which led to an unfortunate incident with a pussy willow, but that’s a story for another time.

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