Anyone attending recent productions of school musicals, on our terrific Venables stage has to be blown away by the professionalism of the performances. Quite often the audience is brought to it’s feet in the appreciation of a job so very well done.
This takes me back to watching my own children or even my own performances in school productions.
How many of us have sat through the excruciatingly painful renderings of Christmas songs and carols as youngsters put their heart and soul into their role and sing with gusto, but not any particular talent.
My children attended primary school, in England, and the Christmas pageant was always presented to a hall filled with proud parents and grandma’s. As a mom of four, I was usually roped in behind the scenes and I, with more enthusiasm than talent, would help with whatever job was thrust in my direction.
The traditional Christmas pageant was always a bit of a problem outfitting the boys, girls were easy, some old curtain or tablecloth would easily be turned into a cape or wrap that looked fairly passable as Bethlehem attire, little boys were more of a problem. The usual shepherd’s robe was a child’s bathrobe with a multicoloured towel arranged on his head.
Crowns were usually assembled from corn flake boxes, covered with gold or silver paper scavenged from chocolate bars and glued on. The crowns were usually a “one size fits all” variety which, quite often, resulted in the headpiece slipping down over the child’s ears and eyes, during the performance. We had a similar problem with halos for the angels. Two wire circles were made, joined by about six inches of wire. One circle for the head, the other to form tinsel covered a halo to “float” over the child’s head.
The role of the Virgin Mary was always played by one of the older girls and quite often the application of lipstick and eye shadow was very liberal, giving the girl a none too virginal look!
Angel Gabriel always stood at the rear of the manger scene, quite often on a box or upturned bucket, for additional height. Gabriel’s wings were always a huge affair of cardboard and “feathers” cut from white crepe paper and attached to the child with a harness of string. The resulting wings were rather weighty and as the child fidgeted and wriggled from foot to foot, during the production, would gradually start to tilt to one side or the other. By the end of the scene, the wings would be hanging off one side at a perilous angle and the wire halo, would have a very un-angelic tilt!
Usually only a few lines of script were asked of each child and many of the kids would strive to learn their parts, but the resulting performances were, more often than not, given ad-lib. I remember one scene when the innkeeper, when asked if there was room in the inn, replied “yes plenty” and ushered the startled holy family inside. The next year, when the innkeeper had been told that he must remember there was definitely NO room in the inn, proceeded to admonish Joseph that he should have booked in advance as it was always busy at Christmas!
Another rather memorable scene was when Mary, determined to keep the Holy infant warm, lovingly wrapped him in his blanket. Unfortunately, while doing the job, the dolls head fell off and rolled under the manger. There was a mad scramble by Joseph and one of the Magi to rescue the decapitated head and shove it back on.
However, I think the year that the production was most appreciated by the audience was the year when the big cardboard and tin foil star, that hung over the manger, lost it’s moorings and fell onto the head of the unfortunate Joseph. His strong Lancashire accent reached every ear in the house as he ruefully rubbed his head and exclaimed. “Oh, Bloody ell”.