For The Dialog
LEWES – The angel Gabriel played with his sword, the littlest angel skipped and scampered anywhere and everywhere, and a few cues were missed during a rehearsal of “Darkness Into Light,” the Christmas pageant at St. Jude the Apostle Church.
Such things are to be expected since almost all the cast members are children, from young elementary age through middle school.
But when the curtain rises for the 10th annual pageant at 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, pageant officials expect everything to fall nicely in place, as it has the past nine years. The play will be in the church hall.
The production tells the story of the birth of Jesus from the annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel visited Mary to announce that she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus, through the visit of the magi. Charles H. Garrod, the lone adult cast member, narrates the play as Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptist.
The production has grown since its early days when religious education director Pam Becker suggested children in religion classes participate in a Nativity scene, said Dixie Gildon, producer who was the first director.
From that original Nativity scene the production has grown to a series of scenes with props and costumes. While the play is narrated, John the Baptist stops relating the story at various points as the children can act out, with spoken lines, major parts of each scene. The parish choir and band, which provide 20 minutes of music before the play begins, provides several Christmas hymns during the pageant, such as one verse of “Angels We Have Heard on High” as a group of angels, moving their arms as wings, flutter about the stage area after the Michael the Archangel appears to shepherds in their fields.
A scene in which an angel appears to Joseph in a dream was added this year to expand Joseph’s role, Gildon said.
Also new this year is a mural created by Susan Short, who also is coach for the children in case they forget their lines. The mural is in addition to two other murals used as a backdrop for the set. The mural depicts five angels, all with human form, over the fields at Bethlehem. The angels are depicted as male and female, white, Hispanic and black. Short said she wanted to show that angels come in different shapes, colors and sizes.
During the rehearsal, director Terry Suess sometimes stopped the action to suggest reactions and facial expressions to get across the emotions of each scene. For instance, while Mary and Joseph are looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem, Suess told Sarah Hearn, who portrays Mary, to bend over now and then as if in pain since she is in the final stages of carrying Jesus. “Pretend you are hugging a teddy bear,” Suess said.
Each role has a specific wardrobe, including a major clothing piece, headgear, and accessories. Wardrobe designer Eileen Snyder assembled all the costumes from clothing and material donated to the production, including some items bought from area thrift stores. Snyder views the work as a treat for herself: “I’ve always loved making costumes; I did it for my sons when they were young.”
While almost 20 adults help make the pageant a reality, the focus is on a similar number of children. The children seem delighted to participate.
Hearn, a seventh-grade student at Sussex Academy, called portraying Mary “a great honor.” But she said the role “puts a lot of pressure on you because it’s so major a part.”
She appreciates the work of the adults, especially Snyder and others involved in the costumes. “They really help bring the pageant to life.”
Nick Ferri, a fifth-grade student at Milton Elementary School who plays Angel Gabriel, views his role as a way of honoring a friend.
“This play tells the story and spreads the word of God,” he said. “I love it because he’s (God), he’s my friend. He’s been my friend since I was born.”
Now Nick will help commemorate his friend’s birth.