Note to self – Never volunteer for anything. I need to remember this next Christmas before I go and volunteer my services as director of the Church Nativity pageant. Not I must add because I don’t enjoy it, I do, but the stress levels of others including our wonderful vicar leads me to wonder whether they might be better off with someone else.
Having been lucky enough to get the honour twice before I know the dynamics involved. I know although it still surprises everyone else that there’s not much point in over rehearsing. November is springtime in NZ and the start of good weather. Most parents are quick to recognise the sun and head for outdoor adventures. This means that while there are a lot of three and four year olds left anyone capable of speaking more than a word or two is playing sport, sailing or just enjoying being outside after the long winter.
So if there are rehearsals in November they must take on a more flexible structure. Every child will play every part at some point and you will never have an entire cast present. Having played a variety of parts the children will be totally confused and likely to forget which part they are actually playing on the day.
To overcome this I hold just two rehearsals. One to give out the parts, (knowing full well that these people will not be the ones playing the part on the day) they will with out doubt either be sick or away for the actual performance. The other, is a dress rehearsal the day before the performance. If I’m lucky for the dress rehearsal I will have roughly half the cast and maybe a shepherd or two. I might even have some musicians. If I’m really lucky the main characters turn up and not just one king and one shepherd. Try doing the nativity without Mary, Joseph or the angel Gabriel and see how interesting it is.
If I’m unlucky all I’ve got is a handful of cute angels and sheep and very little else. It then turns into a rehearsal for me. Which surprisingly I don’t need. I also don’t need lots of helpful suggestions as to how we might fill in the gaps created by the lack of cast. Of course I can give out extra parts so that the donkey also has to read and be a shepherd, but is that really going to help with the final performance.
Perhaps there’s a magical equation at work here that I am not aware of that means simply by doing a run through with the wrong people in the wrong parts at the wrong time everything will fall into the correct alignment on the day. Sadly my experience is that on the day we will do yet another change as the original cast turn up or the stand bys are now absent.
It looks like a chaotic mess, probably because it is exactly that but until someone works out how to ensure 100% attendance during November and the dress rehearsal it’s the best I can do.
I don’t stress. I know that somehow with a lot of prodding, hissing and hands on directing it will look ok. And I do mean hands on. But judging by the painfully pinched expression on the vicar’s face she’s not that sure. She makes some suggestions, clearly unaware that the donkey already doing three roles cannot dance as well even if it does look a bit static at that point. What does she expect? Swan lake? Even if I followed her suggestions it would all go pear shaped in the morning. I am much better sticking to my original simple plan. One verse sung by all the children. One dance by three girls and narrators reading from a script, cut into handy individual sections so a stand in can simply be given their part to read.
This year on the morning of the performance, just as we got ready to go up on stage Mary was sick. Literally. See how lucky I am. With a flash of divine intervention or desperation I allocated the part to the only child I knew I could without a doubt, hiss frantic directions at. My own seven year old, who looked a tad stunned to be flung into the main part but had at least attended all rehearsals and had been there at all my production meetings. These are meetings I have with myself as I plan what I’m going to do. I try not to communicate these ideas to anyone else and that way they can’t tell if the pageant went to plan or not. Cunning eh?
My other two girls were already strategically placed and briefed to prod and position the cast as necessary. One was the multi talented donkey and the other a slightly bigger angel.
It went well as always: despite the lack of rehearsal time, the impromptu nature of casting decisions and my laisse faire attitude. It was good because with a bit of structure, a touch of music and a heap of cute kids being watched by adoring parents how could it be anything else?
Any volunteers for next year?