|Poster by Susan Craft|
How do you create a drama from scratch? The same way you write any work of fiction. You start with an idea, scribble on notebooks in coffee shops and other locations, then sit down and bang away at the keys converting the fragments into a polished work.
But, as we all know, writing is easier at some times than others. 2015 was difficult for us in South Carolina. We’ve had tragedies from shootings and floods. And, then Clemson headed for the national championship while the University of South Carolina’s football program lost Steve Spurrier and suffered a dismal season. (Of course, only diehard Gamecocks would equate that last item as a great disappointment.)
As with most years, I had begun noodling on a concept almost as soon as we finished The Fourth Wise Man, our 2014 effort. For the last few years, people had been asking me about a series of plays called The Church Basement Ladies. They take place at a Lutheran Church and involve the activities of the women, who behind the scenes, handle so many of the celebrations and sorrows of the congregation.
|Valarie ward, Brenda Byrd, Colleen Arnold, Jim Jarvis|
Because professional companies are still performing the plays around the country, I couldn’t get the rights for us to present one. Besides, our company currently has more males than females.
So I began pondering what would happen if the men who cared for the church grounds were suddenly forced to present the annual Christmas pageant. When I mentioned the idea, people responded to it favorably.
|Asa Arnold and Brenda Byrd|
The cares and worries from the year took their toll. As the fall neared, I didn’t have what I considered a viable story and I knew I was running out of time. Then, I learned our musician would not be able to assist us this year.
I was trying to figure out how to tell my cast members that we would not do a play when I had a conversation with a dear, close friend and long-standing drama buddy, who now spends his retirement time building sets in Beaufort, SC. He told me, “This year, it’s more important that you do the play than it has been before.”
|John Arnold, Mark Wade, Valerie Ward, Jim Jarvis|
When I hear the voice of reason, it doesn’t take me long to be convinced.
|Jim Jarvis and Asa Arnold|
First, I found a member of our congregation who agreed to be our musician. Since she refused payment, I told her our cast project would collect funds for her special interest, our Stephen Ministry, which pairs trained volunteer caregivers with persons facing crisis situations. Very fitting for all our state has faced this year. (I’m delighted to say we were able to collect over $800, enough to provide training for another caregiver.)
Second, I got in front of the computer and started putting together a play. I’d identified hymns with nature images and went back to find some matching Bible verses. The characters got their names based on the first initial of the actor who would be playing the part.
This year’s work was a departure in that it was original and humorous. I tried to keep it gentle, yet recognizable, with jokes and situations church goers could identify.
When we gathered for our first read through, I appreciated that the cast laughed and enjoyed the story. I warned them that they would be called upon to say some words that might be uncomfortable. (Our Church Groundskeepers reminisce about pageants they participated in, transposing “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” with “mold, flatulence, and fur.” They didn’t mind.)
One player in particular, Jim Jarvis, proved a challenge. He has a following among our congregation and audiences. People look forward to seeing him take on unexpected roles. So, he became our version of George Bailey’s Clarence Oddbody—Wilbur Randolph, a ghost who also happened to be the church’s guardian angel.
|Tom Crump and Jim Jarvis|
I think a good portion of our audience came just to watch Jim Jarvis play an angel.
We gave dinner theatre performances to full houses on the first two Fridays of December. Because part of the story involved homelessness, we were pleased to have as guests some residents of a nearby shelter. It meant even more when a resident told us the production was meaningful because that was where the resident had been the previous Christmas, living in a car, looking up at the stars.
As always, I’m so tremendously grateful to our cast and crew, who bring much more than just time and talent to the productions. They contribute a part of themselves to establish who the characters are and how the audience will see them.
|Asa Arnold, Colleen Arnold, and PGB|