Cary, NC – Christmas plays are a tradition for most community theaters and Cary’s company is no different. This year the Cary Players are putting on a new production that blends their favorite elements of the holiday theater.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is co-directed by Debra Grannan and Cary Players founder Dan Martschenko and runs at the Cary Arts Center opening Thursday, December 1 through Monday, December 5, 2016. Grannan said the play offered a balance between the various Christmas productions the Cary Players have performed over the years.
“We have for many years done A Christmas Story and It’s a Wonderful Life and we’ve also mixed it up with Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus,” Grannan said.
Recently the Cary Players put on the comedy Dashing Through the Snow which contained adult humor and, as Grannan put it, raised a couple eyebrows and resulted in some complaints despite their disclaimer. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever allowed for a balance in content and style.
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has multiple rolls for kids, which we like, and it does have a Christian message behind it and we wanted to include a spiritual message,” Grannan said, siting past productions that have brought in spiritual messages such as Crossing Delancey, which ties in with Jewish religion and culture.
Martschenko said the book the play is based upon was popular when it came out and was widely read and makes for a good play.
“It flows well, it has a large cast with lots of roles for adults and kids and it’s very well written, even though it’s shorter than most of our plays,” Martschenko said.
In the course of putting together the play, Grannan said she has enjoyed her time working with Martschenko and has known him since he was a kid.
“He helps me be more patient with two dozen kids,” Grannan said.
Making a Tradition
In The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which is based on the 1971 book of the same name by Barbara Robinson, a group of trouble-making children accidentally enter into their community Christmas pageant and quickly take it over. Between the incoming kids, the usual cast members of the pageant and the adults who run it all, Grannan said there are many big, distinct personalities to direct and said it creates its own challenges.
“The secret is to encourage the kids to get out of their comfort zone. It’s a fun challenge,” she said. “Usually in community theater, the kids who come out are good kids and this story is about kids who haven’t been exposed to much culture and have absent families so they have to work to take on that character.”
With so many actors in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever being played by children, Martschenko said they were lucky to draw on a large base of talented young actors, which he said was helped by Applause! Cary Youth Theater.
“Working with kids, you always have to work on getting them to make their voices heard and fill the theater,” Martschenko said.
In putting on yearly Christmas plays, Grannan said she has learned that they are a standard among community theaters nationwide and thinks it comes down to the season.
“Rather than buying people things at the holidays, you want to do things with your family,” she said. “You want to share memories.”
By putting the The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in the beginning of December, Martschenko said they would avoid the rush of Christmas week and ensure more families would be able to take their time and see the play.
In years past, Grannan said she has seen how memorable Christmas stories have brought people together, with productions of A Christmas Story packing the Cary Arts Center.
“People want to start the season off with something memorable and this is cheaper and easier than travel,” she said.
Also, $1 from every ticket sale will go to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina for Hurricane Matthew relief.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to write a check for more than $1,000 to help out,” Martschenko said.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever runs from Thursday, December 1 to Monday, December 5, 2016 at the Cary Arts Center. Times differ between days.
Story by Michael Papich. Photos by Brooke Meyer.