Best (Virtual) Christmas Pageant Ever
Words and Images courtesy of Aliki Marie Pantas Semones. Feature image courtesy of the Hurrah Players.
Many years ago my family embraced an amazing tradition: my sister acting in the Hurrah Player’s production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. My mom would even work backstage for the production. Then in 2005, I was blessed with an incredible opportunity to boss my sister around - I mean direct the show! (And, yes, I did cast my sister that year…) My mom even finally got onstage! I was so honored to direct The Best Christmas Pageant Ever from 2005-2010. Sharon Cook, a dear friend of the family/ my mentor/ my second mom then took over directing the show. Life happened. 2020 happened. Sharon invited me to assist her in bringing The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to the virtual world that we are all currently living in. It’s been an incredible journey & experience - and you can watch it this Saturday! Prior to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, the Hurrah Players will also present a short play called Happy Hanukkah My Friend, which teaches us about Hanukkah.
2010 - (left to right) Aly's Mom, JoAnn (Mrs. Slocum); Aly's sister, Constantina (Imogene); Aly (Director)
“So what’s it about?” to quote a character in the show. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is based on the children’s book with the same title. Both the play and the book are written by Barbara Robinson. The script for our virtual performance has been adapted by Sharon Cook, who did an excellent job adapting the script to fit 2020, and the need to do the Christmas Pageant virtually. The play follows a family of 6 siblings called the Herdmans, known as “the worst kids in the history of the world”, and is narrated by Beth Bradley. She guides us on the crazy things the Herdmans do, including taking over the Christmas pageant. This heartwarming story will truly put you in the holiday spirit. In 2012, I began a career in film. I met a lot of filmmakers in our beautiful Hampton Roads community. One artist I have worked with a lot is Russ Fulmore. When Sharon approached me about this project, she said that she wanted to film some of the show ahead of time. I contacted Russ to see if he was able to help in any way. Thankfully he offered his services of his production company 3rd Shift Entertainment Group.
As a differently abled artist, it’s been a lot more challenging for me to create lately. I am incredibly thankful for this virtual world that we have - it has helped make many things accessible to me! (To read more on what my fellow Spotlight News writers and I were thankful for this year, check out our article called Giving Thanks.) First, I am incredibly thankful that I am able to work/rehearse from the comfort of my home so that I may accommodate my health needs. Second, I think that since this show will be virtual this year, we will be able to widen our audience, and hopefully introduce new people to this beautiful story. Doing this show has been challenging in a lot of ways - including ways that I didn’t even expect!
One night in rehearsal back when I was directing in 2010, one of the actors informed us that she was moving away after the show. She jokingly said that we should Skype/video chat her in the next year so she could still be in the show. Little did we all know 10 years later that we would ALL need to do the show via video chat! We had a lot of different challenges that we adapted to. Of course there is technology and how unreliable that can be. There were many rehearsals when someone would freeze, audio would cut out, just all the common problems that can happen with technology. A way we tried to work around this was to record some of the show.
2010 - front row: Micah Cook (Charlie Bradley),
middle row: Billy Cook (Bob Bradley), Sharon Cook (Grace Bradley),
back row: Aly's Mom JoAnn (Mrs. Slocum), Aly (Director), Aly's sister Constantina (Imogene)
There was a very important scene where the Herdmans all needed to be together in the same space. We kept our actors safe and adapted to our situation. My director Sharon beautifully adapted the scene and the blocking to accommodate the actors not touching. We also had the actors wear masks, as well as of course the few crew members that are on set. I honestly love the little new things that we had to do to accommodate for 2020. It made this show very unique and very special. Every year I feel like each performance is the best Christmas pageant ever in its own way - and this year it’s true now more than ever.
I am sure I can speak on behalf of Sharon and I when I express our gratitude for Russ Fulmore, Darnell, Ebonee Pope, Bencia Lovely, and our amazing editor Mario Marasigan & all they have done for our production. I’m also thankful to Hugh Copeland, Kelsey Backe, Lisa Wallace, Laura Lavan, our cast, and parents and guardians of our cast. As always, I am incredibly thankful for my parents, my husband, my family, friends and God for all of their unconditional love and support.
I am incredibly proud of our cast and crew and the beautiful art that we created together. I am so so thankful that despite this pandemic, we were able to come together, create some art, and remind our community about the beauty, love and wonder that is Christmas. As a Christian artist, I always truly loved working on this show. I love being able to share God’s word with my audience. Thanks to us going virtual, our show will be even more accessible- we invite you to make us part of your family’s holiday tradition this year!