1 Imagine dealing with THE WORST kids in the history of the world! Now imagine casting them in the annual Christmas pageant! Will the Spirit of Christmas survive? Will the other kids in the cast survive? Find out when you see The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. by Barbara Robinson A Kennedy Center Production Welcome to Cuesheet, a performance guide published by the Education Department of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C. This Cuesheet is for you to use before and after The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. What s in Cuesheet? Celebrating Holidays, page 2 Origins of Christmas Pageants, page 3 The Christmas Story, pages 4-5 A Look at The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, pages 6-7 From Story to Stage, page 8 Listen for these Lines, page 9 A Note from the Cast and Resources, page 10 Design a Poster, page 11 Write a Sequel, page 12
2 2 Celebrating the Holidays Do you and your family celebrate holidays? What are they? How do you celebrate them? Holidays are fun! You gather with family and friends to share, celebrate, and observe traditions. Traditions are beliefs or customs handed down from one generation to the next. Celebrating a birthday is a tradition. How do you celebrate your birthday? Do you light candles? Eat cake? Receive presents? Traditions help guide people s behavior. When you meet someone for the first time, do you shake hands? When someone leaves, do you wave good-bye? All of these are social traditions. Can you think of other social traditions? Some traditions are religious. Celebrating Christmas is an important religious tradition for many people. To help celebrate Christmas, many churches stage a Christmas pageant, a play about the birth of Jesus Christ. Sometimes all the actors in the pageant are young people. They pretend to be the Holy Family, the three Wise Men, angels, shepherds, and barn animals. Sometimes, a narrator tells the story while the actors pantomime actions or pose in tableaux. Sometimes the characters speak lines of dialogue that tell the story. Often, characters sing Christmas carols during the pageant. These songs help to create a mood and tell the story. Holiday a day when special events are celebrated; derived from holy day Christmas the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ Jesus Christ Believed by Christians to be the Son of God The Holy Family Jesus, his mother Mary, and her husband Joseph Narrator character who tells the story to the audience Pantomime the silent use of gestures and movement to communicate Tableaux actors freeze in positions (just like statues) Dialogue words or lines spoken by characters in a play. Christmas Carols songs about the Christmas season. Some popular ones are Away in a Manger, Silent Night, and Joy to the World.
3 Origins of Christmas Pageants 3 Christmas pageants are plays that tell the biblical story of the birth of Jesus Christ. During the Middle Ages (500 AD-1500 AD), when religious leaders wanted to teach people Bible stories and other important religious events, some church services were acted out. During the Christmas season, real people pretended to be Bible characters by dressing in costumes, posing in positions, and remaining still (tableau). Later, pantomime was added to the tableaux. Finally, spoken lines and music were incorporated, and the lives of historically holy people were dramatized. Over time, these plays, called Miracle Plays, grew in length and were taken out of the church and performed in villages. By the end of the 14th century, traveling players performed these plays in the streets. Actors and scenery moved from street to street on large wagons called pageants. Bible the sacred writings of the Christian religion as contained in the Old Testament and the New Testament; the sacred Look for the Star next to activities you may want to complete. Before the Performance Pageants often honor a person or an event. Think of a famous person who should be honored in a pageant. Describe why this person deserves a pageant. For Your Information A survivor of Miracle plays is The Passion Play which is performed in Oberammergau, Germany every ten years. The Passion Play tells the story of Jesus last days on earth. In the early 1600s, the Bubonic Plague (Black Death) reached Oberammergau. The villagers vowed that if they were not killed by this disease, they would express their thanks by presenting a Passion play every ten years. Most villagers survived, and their famous play has been performed almost every ten years since the first performance in About 100 day-long performances are presented by a cast of 1700 villagers for audiences that total over 500,00. Next show the year 2000! A child plays an angel in a Christmas pageant. writings of the Jewish religion as contained in the Old Testament
4 4 The Christmas Story Use the story map and pictures on the next page to understand the events of the Christmas story. The printed words below come directly from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever script. You will hear the actors speak these words during the performance. The numbers next to the words correspond to the numbered pictures on the story map. In the days of Caesar Augustus, a decree went out that all the world should be taxed. Joseph went to Bethlehem with Mary his wife, who was great with child. And while they were there, she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. And in that region there were shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And an Angel of the Lord appeared to them. The glory of the Lord shone round them and they were sore afraid. And, the Angel said, Unto you a child is born. And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host, saying, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men. 6 When Jesus was born there came three Wise Men from the East to worship him, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 7 Being warned in a dream that they should not return to their own country, the Wise Men departed another way. The shepherds also departed, praising God for all that they had seen and heard. Two children play a multitude of the heavenly host. Caesar Augustus the ruler of the land where Jesus was born Decree an order or command by a ruler which makes it a law Bethlehem a town in Israel where Jesus was born Swaddling clothes narrow strips of cloth wrapped around a baby Manger a wooden box for holding hay A multitude of the heavenly host a great number of angels Wise Men Three scholars, sometimes called kings, who visited Jesus soon after his birth. Frankincense and Myrrh oils similar to spices or perfume, made from trees found in East Africa and Arabia 8 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
5 Trace the letter C to follow this Christmas Story Map. The words on page 4 explain the pictures. The Christmas Story Map Start Here! 8 6 7
6 6 A Look at The Best Christmas Pageant Ever! What happens in the Play? The only place the Bradleys are safe from the Herdmans is church. The Herdmans never go to church. Every year at Christmas, the Sunday School students put on a pageant to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. But this year, Mrs. Helen Armstrong, the Christmas pageant s director, breaks her leg. She cannot direct the pageant and Beth and Charlie s mom becomes the director. The Herdman children are the WORST kids in the history of the world! They lie, steal, swear, smoke cigars, and cause trouble wherever they go. There are six of them: Imogene, Ralph, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys. Beth Bradley and her brother Charlie have to put up with the Herdmans at school. Leroy Herdman steals Charlie s lunch every day! Charlie is angry with Leroy so he brags to Leroy about all the desserts he gets to eat at Sunday school. Guess who comes to Sunday School the day Mrs. Bradley casts the show? All six Herdmans! And boy, do they change things! At one rehearsal Imogene smokes a cigar in the ladies bathroom. A woman sees the smoke and yells, Fire! There s a fire! Firemen run in shouting, This place is full of kids! Get the kids out! Everyone races out of the church. The firemen find Imogene smoking and leave. Everyone wonders if the pageant should be canceled, but Mrs. Bradley is determined that the show will go on. It does, and you will find out why it is the best Christmas pageant ever! Children playing the Wise Men and King Herod. Kent Stowell Cast to assign the parts in a play Sunday School a program of religious education
7 7 Shouting Fire! During the performance, someone shouts Fire! and a fire siren sounds. What would you do if someone screamed Fire? Did you know that it is against the law to shout Fire! in a public building when there is not a fire? When you hear Fire, remember that you are watching a play. There is not a real fire in the theater. A photo from the 1989 Kennedy Center Production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
8 8 From Story to Stage A Novel Becomes A Play Antics weird, absurd, or clownish behavior Props objects used by actors in a play A Play Within a Play In The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, the actors pretend to be characters who are putting on a pageant. This is called a play-within-a play, and it ís often used in theater. Before Barbara Robinson wrote the play The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, she wrote a novel with the same name. She adapted (changed) her novel for the stage. This play is an adaptation of her story. The basic events are the same, but some things have been changed, added, or left out. Before the Performance You may wish to read the first chapter of the novel, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Check your library or local bookstore for the book. Try to predict what changes Ms. Robinson might make in the play, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. How will the Herdmans antics be shown on stage? What might be changed, added, or left out? After the Performance Discuss the changes you noticed. Brainstorm some ideas about why the playwright made the choices she did. Discuss whether you agree with and/or like those changes. Problems to solve Before the Performance People who put plays together (playwrights, director, actors, designers) have to be creative problemsolvers. Below are some problems that had to be solved for this production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. How would you solve them? Remember that you can use different stage areas, music, sound effects, voices, lights (different colors), costumes, scenery, furniture, and props. Problem 1: How can you show that this is a play-within-a-play? The actors play the characters in the play and the characters in the pageant. What can you do to help the audience understand when the play is going on, and when the pageant is being performed? Problem 2: In one scene, five town ladies make phone calls to find a new director for the Christmas pageant. The scene shifts quickly from one person making a phone call to the next one to the next one, etc. Each character has one or two lines. How can you show five different locations at the same time? Problem 3: The Herdmans constantly fight with each other. How can performers fight without getting hurt? After the Performance How were each of the problems above solved? How did your solutions compare?
9 Listen for these Lines 9 A playwright writes lines of dialogue for actors playing characters to speak. Here are some lines from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever : They look like trickor-treat all dirty and fastened together with safety pins and wearing their moldy old sneakers. They look like refugees or something. Beth Bradley Oil! What kind of present is oil? We get better presents from the welfare! Imogene Herdman Vera, I live next door to that outfit (the Herdmans) and I d rather live next door to a zoo. Mrs. Slocum Hey, unto you a child is born! Gladys Herdman It s a present. You don t take back a present. Leroy Herdman A photo from the 1989 Kennedy Center Production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Before the Performance The lines characters speak are a playwright s main tool for revealing characters personalities. What do these lines suggest about the characters? What are some different ways (angrily, matter-of-factly, slowly, quickly, loudly) the characters might say each line? Practice saying the lines above in as many different ways as possible. During the Performance Listen carefully for how these lines are spoken. After the Performance How accurate were your predictions about line expressions and what the lines suggested about the characters? What are some other interesting lines from the play?
10 10 A Note from the Cast Dear Audience Member, Many of us in the cast of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever are are kids just like you. We came to auditions at the Kennedy Center in October and tried out by reading and acting for the director. We received parts and rehearsed for three weeks after school and on weekends to prepare for performances. Now all we need is you the audience. When you get to the theater, an usher will direct you to your seats. There are bathrooms are outside the theater. It is a good idea to use the bathrooms before the performance. When the play is about to begin, the lights in the theater (house lights) will dim. This is when you become silent and we become nervous and excited to perform! Attending a play is different from watching TV or going to the movies. Remember that we are in the same room as you. Please listen and watch quietly. That will help us keep our concentration so that we will remember our lines and blocking. (Blocking means where we move and stand on stage.) We like to hear you laugh when something is funny and clap at the end of the performance when we bow during our curtain call. After the curtain call, stay seated until the house lights come on. Then, follow the usher s directions for leaving the theater. We are looking forward to performing for you. Thank you for joining us. Enjoy the show! Sincerely, The Cast We would like to hear from you. Write to: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, The Kennedy Center Education Department, The Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C About the author/playwright Barbara Robinson has written several children s books. She wrote The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in It was produced as ABC television film in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever won numerous awards and was among the ALA Notable Children s Books of Other books by Barbara Robinson: The Best School Year Ever My Brother Lewis Measures Worms Other books about Holidays: Holidays On Stage by V. J. Bradley Customs and Holidays Around the World by Lavinia Dobler Feliz Nochebuena, Feliz Navidad by Maricel E. Presilla Christmas Gif (An anthology of Christmas Poems, Songs and Stories) compiled by Charlemae Hill Rollins
11 Design a Poster 11 After the Performance Design a poster to advertise this play. Illustrate some of the characters or a favorite moment in the action. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Now Playing at The Kennedy Center
12 12 Your Sequel to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Write a Sequel Barbara Robinson already wrote one sequel (a continuation of a story) to the The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. In The Best School Year Ever, the six troublesome Herdmans enliven a school year. Imagine that you are a playwright. What might happen if the Herdmans came to your school? What problem(s) might they cause? Why do you think they misbehave? Would there be anything good about having a Herdman in your class? Write another sequel to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Use the chart below to plan your play. Example Title Your Sequel Children act out the Christmas story. Title (What is the name of your play?) The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Settings Setting (Where does your play occur?) The Bradley s house, school, church, hospital Characters Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie and Gladys Herdman, Beth Bradley, Charlie Bradley, Mr. and Mrs. Bradley, Mrs. Armstrong, other town ladies, school children, Church Minister Problem The Herdman children participate in the Christmas pageant and everyone thinks they will ruin it. Solution The Herdmans make this pageant the best one ever. Characters (Who is in your play?) Problem (What is the difficulty?) Solution (How is the problem solved?) Now find some paper and write your sequel! Remember to sign your name as playwright! James A. Johnson, Chairman Lawrence J. Wilker, President Derek E. Gordon, Vice President, Education The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Cuesheet Editor: Rosalind Flynn. Writer: Tricia Phillips. Design: Paul Dupree Communications. Cuesheet is funded in part through the support of the U.S. Department of Education, The Kennedy Center Corporate Fund, and The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.