Stangl

I was thinking about what a Christmas in a pandemic looks like and began feeling a bit sad about the special events we all look forward to at this time of year that either won’t happen or will be fundamentally changed.

I’m referring to the Christmas programs and concerts. These productions are the result of a lot of hard work by the students and their instructors. It takes a great deal of patience and perseverance for instructors and volunteers to teach the children their lines parts in songs.

This process brought me to remembrances of the time I had the starring role in the church Christmas program in fourth grade.

We held auditions for parts where we read lines and were evaluated by our teachers and a nun from a neighboring community who helped with Thursday night classes. She was universally hated and feared by children because of her very stern and strict nature. In many ways, she was the enforcer for the priest who was seemingly most annoyed with the entire program.

Now before you go heaping hate mail on me, remember I was a child and had very limited interaction with the nun. I have met many kind nuns and priests since I became an adult but this nun was not nice.

The Christmas play was about an alchemist (a medieval pseudo scientist who tried to change lead into gold) who was coming to the end of the line in his current position. After once again failing, the alchemist and his assistant roam the streets of the castle and discover very poor people who are filled with the Christmas spirit.

I was given the part of knight No. 3 who has a couple of lines in one of the opening scenes. After memorizing my lines in front of a mirror, I went to the first rehearsal. When we began the run through, the person who had the lead struggled with his lines. (I think his mom didn’t tell him to memorize them in front of a mirror. It’s well-known this is the best way to memorize lines.)

After receiving some prompting from the nun and stumbling several times, the teacher and nun had a brief confab and I switched parts with the other boy, a friend of mine. Yes, I was named the lead because I memorized and was able to know my cues for three lines that happened in succession in one scene. As anyone who has been in or watched church productions can attest, acting skills of children vary widely. In fact, bad actors in these productions are the most memorable.

So, I went from 3 lines to having the majority of the dialog. I grew to hate that mirror I stood in front of to memorize the lines. I made it through rehearsals with a minimum of prompting from the nun, who was terrifying. She did not prompt in a stage whisper from the back of the scenery, she sat in the front row and gave prompts loudly.

When the night came for the performance, I froze several times and suffered the very loud prompts from the nun. I don’t recall much of the performance, it was an out of body experience for me.

Here’s to all the bad actors in Christmas plays. Thanks for making the productions memorable.

As always, I welcome your comments. You can reach me by email at tstangl@theameryfreepress.com, telephone 715-268-8101 or write me at P.O. Box 424, Amery, WI, 54001.

Thanks for reading I’ll keep in touch. Feel free to do the same.