The Snowflake Conundrum
The Christmas Pageant has been a staple of the American holidays since who laid the rails, and even though it has been done over and over, it is still one of the hardest jobs in show business. The book is the same each year so there is practically no way to enliven the plot, and the music and the libretto are pretty much traditional.
As the audience is not really expecting an alternative story, revision is not the problem. The hard part is working in the snowflakes. While snow is not readily associated with the nativity, snowflakes are necessary so as to employ all the little girls from dancing class with white tutus. Occasionally, a daring director opts to go with fairies rather than snowflakes, but the cross-theological implications of this concept can produce difficulties with more conservative congregations.
For most companies therefore, it is either toe dancing or baton twirling, and no one, to common knowledge, has ever successfully worked baton twirling into the manger scene. Rumor has it about a performance of “Moses and the Escape of the Hebrew Children” that employed fire batons in the burning bush part, but it was out in West Texas somewhere, and has not been verified. Novice directors have tried to make angels out of the ladies of the chorus, but the mandatory wings and halos complicate the choreography something fierce.
Experience teaches it is better to stay with snowflakes and let the critics take up the realism question with the snowflakes’ parents. If pressed however, billowy cardboard clouds situated upstage can surround the Herald Angels, and these clouds, if given just a hint of gray portending a possible storm, can provide the raison d'etre for the snowflakes.
Casting Mary, Joseph, and the Wise Men is never too much of a problem. For while unaccustomed attitudes of serenity, tolerance, and solemnity are called for respectively in the leads and principal seconds, the ever present fear of getting crossways with the old fellow in the red suit whose presence is felt if not seen, usually keeps the players on their best behavior.
The easiest roles to cast are those of the shepherds. Their numbers are flexible and costuming is simple enough with a blanket wrapped over a pair of pajamas being the usual version of period Holy Land attire. A towel on the head, held in place with a cut-down belt completes the look. There may be a beard made out of construction paper, but it is optional.
The youngest of the thespians are ideal for shepherds, as the guardians of the flock have nothing to say and little to do save abide in the fields and gaze upward in awe when the Herald Angels commence their Harking and Hosanna-ing about the goings on in Bethlehem. Some ambitious producers have been know to over reach by casting neighborhood dogs as the sheep, but this is not recommended as dogs do not “herd” well.