Multiple generations portray the real story of Christmaswebmaster December 18, 2019 0 COMMENTS
By Jim Steiert
The 21st anniversary production of the Nazareth Christmas Pageant will be staged December 22, and 23, at 7:30 each evening in the historic Holy Family Catholic Church in Nazareth. Pageant tradition makes Holy Family Church the place to intimately know Christmas and all of its meaning through a story told with lavish costuming, lighting and music.
Nearly half a century (47 years) after its first performance in 1972 members of Holy Family Church spanning multiple generations are enacting the Pageant. Church seating is on a first-come basis for the pews that seat just over 700, so arriving early is advised. There is no charge for admission, although love offerings will be accepted.
With life in Nazareth revolving around the Holy Family Church in a community that traces its roots to Irish and German Catholic settlers dating to 1902, it’s not surprising that multiple generations of all ages in this community named for Jesus Christ’s Galilean hometown pour themselves into presenting the Christmas Pageant. It’s a depiction of the birth and childhood of Christ.
Upward of 150 residents of the village of just over 300 make presenting the pageant to visitors a source of community pride and common purpose.
A series of 14 scenes accompanied by 14 songs, some of them written by parish members, present in a lavishly-costumed yet charmingly simple manner the real story of Christmas, depicting a progression of events. Scenes of pantomime, narration and music range from the annunciation to Mary by the Angel Gabriel in the Galilean village of Nazareth through the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, the appearance of an angelic host to shepherds huddled around a campfire, a visit by the gorgeously costumed Wise Men adorned in robes made from priest vestments and communion railing cloth, the chilling search for male infants by uniquely costumed soldiers bearing spears and lanterns, and the resultant flight of the Holy Family to Egypt, and their eventual return to Nazareth, where Jesus spent his boyhood.
The locally written Pageant was first produced in 1972. It was performed intermittently 16 times from 1972 to 1994, then languished in prolonged hiatus until 2009, when it was revived with performances through 2015.
Following another three-year hiatus, the High Plains is in luck this with the 21st anniversary performances occurring.
Nazareth’s first Christmas Pageant in 1972 brought to fruition a notion of the late Father Stanley Crocchiola, a well-loved former pastor, that Nazareth should share a Christmas Pageant with the Panhandle. Father Stanley worked with the late Donna Benke Birkenfeld, a gifted writer and musician. Father Stanley wrote a script, and worked with Mrs. Birkenfeld to select music. Mrs. Birkenfeld composed two of the songs that are an enduring part of the Pageant, the chilling “Soldier Search” that accompanies a foray into the audience by burly soldiers searching for innocent infants, and “Magnificat.” Noreen Kleman Carson, who directed the fifth through eighth pageants, wrote the music “Chosen by God.”
Father Stanley’s art students painted stage backdrops to depict a temple, open fields outside of Bethlehem harboring shepherds, and the humble manger site in Bethlehem. The late Ernie and Florine Brockman between them coordinated participants, costuming, seamstresses, electricians, lighting, funding, and advertising for the original pageant. Jerome Brockman was an early day prop manager. Through the years generations of parish families have composed choir and musicians, set and lighting crew, costumers, carpenters, welders, electricians, actors and narrators in the can-do manner of rural farm folk.
While the Pageant was staged annually from 1972 to 1982, the exhausting effort required caused it to be performed intermittently from 1984 to 1994, and then a 15-year hiatus ensued. The heirloom Pageant was revived in 2009, when community residents realized a generation of youngsters here had grown up without experiencing it. Alternating year performances were adopted through 2015, with a year off in 2017. This Christmas season is an “on” year for the production.
Music, pantomime and narration intermingle to relate the story, enhanced by lighting emitted from slide projector spotlights filtering light through slides made of washers that dictate the size of the spot of light. Handmade costuming and scenes created by gifted hometown artists and craftsmen move the story along. A good many of the scenes include hosts of sparkly-winged child angels. Many of the women who are working on this year’s pageant portrayed angels in their childhood.
From the instant the lights inside Holy Family Church dim and the opening organ chords from the choir loft prompt voices singing “welcome, welcome, child of Bethlehem, welcome newly-born king,” guests at Nazareth’s Christmas Pageant are sure to feel the graciousness and warmth of this unique telling of the Christmas story.
Co-directors of the Pageant are two Nazareth women who played a vital role in reviving the production in 2009 after it had lain in dormancy for 15 years—Lisa Schulte and Nicole Schulte.
At the heart of the Pageant is touching music performed by talented voices from within the Nazareth community.
Choir Director is Sharon Brockman, who has been involved with every Pageant through the years. Organist Mary Lynn Olvera has played in nearly all of the Pageants and Angela Fulkerson, also a participant in numerous pageants, provides accompanying flute music.
Sopranos include Vera Huseman, Kathy Birkenfeld, another veteran of all of the pageants, Barbara Schulte, Mackenzie Teal, Katherine Fulkerson, Dolores Heiman, the oldest active choir member, and Lisa Schulte.
Second sopranos include Mona Brockman, Rene Huseman, Nicole Schulte, and Mary Beth Gerber. Performing as altos are Darlene Schulte, Beverly Schulte, Mona Schulte, Katy Schulte, Karleen Hoelting, and Dawn Ramaekers. Tenors include Alan Birkenfeld, Carl Huseman, Lester Womack, Keith Birkenfeld, Daryl Birkenfeld, and J. C. Pohlmeier. Bass performers are Rex Ramaekers, Dwayne Kleman, Keith Hoelting, Steve Buckley, Marvin Schmucker, and Gregg Gerber.
The cast includes Kristin Braddock as Mary; Alec Braddock as Joseph; Marty Gerber as Simeon; Mark Hoelting as Zechariah; Shane Etheridge as Herod; Hugh Wilhelm and Hugh Durbin as Common Men; Drew Brockman as the Child Jesus; Rhett Etheridge as Older Jesus; Troy Gerber as Angel Gabriel; Dwayne Acker as the Inn Keeper; Joan Durbin as Elizabeth; and Shepherds are portrayed by Mickey Hochstein, Creed Hochstein, Chance Hochstein, Cash Hochstein, Spencer Acker, and Pierce Wilhelm. Wise Men are Mark Kleman, Matt Olvera, and Allen Acker.
Playing the menacing soldiers in the chilling Soldier Search scene are Bradley Gerber, Braden Wethington, Landon Schulte, and Mitchell Brockman, while the terrified women fleeing the soldiers with their children include Macee Huseman, Briann Hatla, Kim Schulte, Allison Kleman, and Lindsey Brockman.
Narrator is Ronnie Hoelting. Character voice readers and their parts are Angel Gabriel: Dwight Acker; Zechariah: Alphonse Huseman; Mary: Stephanie DeMoss; Elizabeth: Stacey Gerber; Inn Keeper: David Olvera; Joseph: Joe Hochstein; Shepherds: Derwin Huseman, Joe Hochstein; Simeon: Joel Gerber; Kings: Joel Gerber, John Welps; Scribes: John Welps, David Olvera; Herod: Derwin Huseman.
Lighting crew members are Jim Hoelting, Ralph Brockman, and Julius Birkenfeld.
The Stage Crew includes Norman Gerber, Harold Venhaus, Tyson Schulte, Dan Gerber, Leroy Schulte, Evan Huseman, Derrick Schacher, Mac Annen, Landan Schulte, Braden Wethington, and Bradly Gerber.
Angel coordinator is Missy Kleman. Angels in the 2019 production include Lexi Ramaekers,
Kate Brockman, Madison Brockman, Callen Hochstein, Addie Schulte, Emily Durbin, Harper Johnson, and Jentri Birkenfeld.
Acolyte coordinator is K’ylnn Gerber and 2019 acolytes include Kari Schulte, Luke Schulte, Harley Gerber, Kattey Gerber, Riley Ramaekers, Jett Ramaekers, Brynli Schilling, Ethan Brockman, Bryson Brockman, Emery Brockman, Kamre Mask, Charly Mask, Dayson Schacher,
Daniel Schacher, Jett McLarty, Oren Welps, Sy Welps, Samantha Fulkerson, Emma Kleman, Grace Huseman, Peyton Durbin, Tanner Birkenfeld, Ian Birkenfeld, and Karely Acker.
Stage Manager is Nikki Wethington.
Costumers include Cynthia Schulte, Jolene Schulte, Kim Birkenfeld, Vera Hoelting, and Sandra Kleman.