For the first time in some fifteen years of worship ministry, I am producing a full scale Christmas drama at my church with shows this Friday evening and Sunday morning. Nearly all of my productions in the past, and throughout the calendar year, have been worship services, not even considering the 52 times per year responsibility. Worship nights like our most recent, “Elements,” have been what I get most excited about. And whereas some churches, including mine before I arrived over three years ago, offer grand productions on Christmas Eve, I prefer a worship service — either highly energetic featuring a full rock band (“Joy to the World”) or toned down with acoustic instruments (“Silent Night”).
A few months back, my worship arts team met and discussed our plans for Christmas and they felt strongly we needed to produce a play of some sort, especially since we wouldn’t be offering a children’s musical as we’d done in the more recent past. Well, I wasn’t sold on the idea of a big production, and I felt even more resistant after I scoured the Internet for drama ideas. After skimming through a lot of poorly written scripts, I happened upon one that seemed pretty good. So I purchased it, only to discover the playwright had taken some liberties with the familiar characters. Elizabeth, for instance, was so consumed with wanting to have a baby that she consulted soothsayers, which highly contradicts Luke’s telling of the story: she and Zechariah were “both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (1:6). I trust Luke’s accuracy.
I was ready to scrap the whole idea and simply produce a concert until I read a preview of a script called Casting Call. I was so pleased with the writing and the simplicity of the staging that I purchased the script and set to find a director. I mentioned that I’m producing the show, not actually directing. I have very little experience with drama and working with actors, who I hear are even more sensitive than musicians, if that’s possible. Of course, I’ve played for shows and even directed the music for a couple community theater musicals, but I know little of dialogue and blocking.
My only drama experience came in my second year of college when I auditioned for a musical revue called Cole! I had always wanted to try acting and revues typically feature more singing than acting, so I auditioned and was cast. After sitting through some of the auditions, I understood why the director was pretty excited to cast me.
A few weeks later we began rehearsals, except I was out of town for the first five or so. Something I hadn’t considered regarding musicals in general, and revues even more so, is that there is dancing. I’d been anxious about the acting and given no thought to dancing. (Ask Cindy. I’m a much better actor than dancer, and she’s never even seen me act.) Already behind the other dancers and feeling much too heavy on my toes, though I was rather trim back then, and also realizing a piano player was needed in the orchestra, I approached the director. “I think I’ll serve you and the cast much better if I hang up my tap shoes and take my rightful place at the piano.” She was disappointed and likely angry at me for leaving her in a lurch. But I was right. I would go on not only to play in the orchestra but would serve as rehearsal pianist and vocal coach. I would be listed in the program as the assistant musical director. (Or was it, assistant to the musical director?)
Back to the Christmas play … Casting Call features various everyday people auditioning to be in a live nativity. The “director” talks with them and helps them through the audition, but they all find out he’s much more interested in them as people than in the live nativity. Connie, for example, doesn’t think she’s worthy to play the mother of Jesus, while Tina, a teenager expecting to be cast without even auditioning, learns a thing or two about the kind of gods we serve today, “the kind that will die if not plugged into the wall at night.”
I had the opportunity to sit in on rehearsals last week, since our lead (the director) was out of town. After the first night with one set of actors, a new set came in the following night. My director informed them, “Now, just so you know. Matt is an easy laugher.” Yes, I admit I’m an easy laugher. (I’ve written before about embarrassing our girls at movie theaters.) The writing is quite humorous and some of the actors are hilarious. But there are serious moments as well. My favorite part is the end where the director delivers a gorgeously written monologue, bringing tears to my eyes. (I’m also an easy crier.)
We’ll be sprinkling in some songs here and there, including a short, inventive arrangement of “Linus and Lucy.” At the end we will stage a live nativity, though without animals. We figured, with a carpeted stage, animals wouldn’t be a good idea. To my satisfaction, we’ll worship together with some familiar songs.
Next Monday night we’ll use acoustic instruments at one of my favorite worship gatherings of the year. I pray you will not only worship on Christmas Eve but that your heart will constantly be drawn to the Father, who sent his Son as a ransom and rescuer.