Last night, my family attended a production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at the SteppingStone Theatre in St Paul, Minnesota. When my friend who hosts the weekly playgroup in her home told me that she and some playgroup families were going to the show, I quickly said I wanted to attend as well.
I love The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
In the fall of 1985, I was a sixth grader at Viking Elementary School in Grand Forks, North Dakota. One of our lunch aides, Mrs. Barnum, also directed theatrical productions, and she asked me to audition for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at the Fire Hall Theatre. My parents obviously agreed to let me audition because I was cast as Gladys Herdman. That role began my annual participation in the Fire Hall’s Christmas shows for the next few years, and – though I made it into other shows – no part would ever compare to that of Gladys Herdman.
Gladys Herdman has a very different life than I had.
In my “real” life, I was the oldest of two children; Gladys is the youngest of six. In my “real” life, I knew that I would have enough to eat and a place to sleep; Gladys and her siblings steal food from others because they had little for themselves. In my “real” life, I did not make waves; Gladys is never quiet. I had never been in a fight; Gladys starts fights. Being Gladys was the most fun I had ever had in my life, but I was glad that I could return to my “real” life at the end of the night.
It was so fun to watch “Gladys” in the production last night.
When the show ended, I warned my kids that I wanted a picture with “Gladys.” It was an opportunity that I could not pass up. She did not hesitate to say, “yes.” And then I found her dad (who was also in the show) to ask his permission to share the photo on my blog. I am so thankful that he agreed, and our conversation surrounding the show and its message blessed me immensely. As I drove home alone (the huz was sick and had not joined us, and the kids had a party to attend), I thought further about the show, its message, and the character of Gladys.
The Herdmans, six siblings from a poor family who have a reputation around town for being dirty, mean, and horrible, crash Christmas pageant rehearsal at the local church. Most of the church kids are tired of the “same old pageant,” but the Herdmans are intrigued by the story. They eagerly volunteer for main roles and push out the competition with threatening looks. The church kids are relegated to the angel choir and shepherd roles.
As the Herdmans learn about the various players in the Christmas story, they react in ways that the church kids – who had heard the story over and over – found objectionable. Yet their enthusiasm in protecting Jesus from Herod and their desire to make Him the central focus of the show was refreshing.
Gladys plays “the angel of the Lord” in the Christmas pageant. She likens this character to “the mighty Marvel” of Wonder Comics in the following interaction with the pageant director during rehearsal (click here for more quotes found on http://imdb.com):
Grace Bradley: [reading the story of Christmas] And, lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them…
Gladys Herdman: Shazaaammmm!
Grace Bradley: What?
Gladys Herdman: Out with a vengeance in the darkness, the mighty Marvel!
Grace Bradley: Gladys, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Gladys Herdman: The Mighty Marvel in Wonder Comics.
Grace Bradley: No, this is the Angel of the Lord.
Gladys Herdman: Out of nowhere, right? In the black night, right?
Grace Bradley: Well, yes, in a way.
Gladys Herdman: Shazaaaammmm!
Gladys’s enthusiasm for her part continues into the pageant itself. In fact, she tells the shepherds exactly where to find Jesus (what if they would get lost?). She wants everyone to know where to find Jesus, and she is not ashamed to scream it as loud as she can. At the end of the play itself – after the pageant is over and the adults have agreed that it was the best pageant ever – Gladys returns to the stage to tell the audience what she told the shepherds, “Hey! Unto you a child is born!”
And the stage lights go dark before the curtain call.
Gladys’s line is the last line of the play. It is the most important line of the play. She says it with such enthusiasm that we have to believe her.
Unto us a child is born.
That is what Christmas is all about, right? A child being born – unto us. And Gladys wants to make sure that we all know it, that we all believe it, and that we all can find Him.
I want to play Gladys again.
With eyes opened, with self-consciousness gone, and with arms flailing as she bips around the pageant stage, Gladys proclaims the truth about Jesus. She wants the role of the Angel of the Lord, and she is willing to fight others for it. Once she has been given the role, she enthusiastically tells others where to find Jesus and tells others that He came for them. Gladys did not know much, but she knew what was important. Jesus was born, He was born for us, and that news should be shared with others.
Can we all be a bit more like Gladys this year?