I think that depends on what you consider to be a success play! For me, a Successful Church Nativity Play is one that unites everyone in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere of celebration (including the organiser!), with the focus on the genuine significance of Christmas. It is not a perfectly tuned, professionally performed show, but the story of Jesus’ birth, told through the innocence of kids, for the appreciation of proud parents and others.
So, the vital thing for me is to keep the organization and managing of the play as simple and calmed as possible so that the unavoidable stresses of the occasion do not win through.
So, right here are my helpful tips:
- Choose your script sensibly! Make sure that it is basic enough to require few rehearsals, and versatile enough to include additional parts as you need to.
- Do not be too reliant on any one individual or part. You need to have some flexibility so that if somebody is missing on the day you can choose a way to make changes swiftly to accommodate the conditions. Choosing a play which uses narrative for the majority of the script will certainly help.
- Find ways to avoid learning lines: use props to assist. The shepherds lines could be adhered to the lamb, the kings could be read from their gifts, and the innkeepers can hold ‘registers’ with their lines on. By doing this, even if someone was ill, a stand-in could play their part.
- Do not assume that the nativity play needs to be a ‘performance’. It could be something that you do unrehearsed, with the help of volunteers, and ad hoc props. Keep in mind, Jesus was the ultimate storyteller, making his stories relevant and appropriate to, those around him.
- Plan ahead! Book the church in good time for the nativity service AND the rehearsal(s), and recommend the moms and dads of both/all dates. Be sure that you know who will be there and is happy to participate before you start casting or rehearsing.
- Circulate any scripts early enough for them to be learned if needed. Remember that Christmas is a busy time for moms and dads and children at home and school, so give them time to enjoy doing what is needed without feeling the pressure.
- Check out the suitability of costumes and sizes well ahead of the date, especially if you have a mixed age cast: if Mary was petite last year, but tall this year you do not want to discover that the costume doesn’t fit at the last minute! Ideally, entrust this task completely to another person, including ensuring that the outfits are washed and ironed as required.
- Do not believe that the music has to be ‘performed’ by the children. Incorporating some carols for the congregation to sing automatically includes a Christmassy atmosphere of celebration, and there are lots of clear choices to fit with specific parts of the story. This option also means less practicing, and less dependence on musicians and singers on the day, and produces a way to prepare for the next scene!
- Like any family, recognize and appreciate the individual skills within your group with a healthy pride. Finding ways to include them will add a memorable personal touch. Perhaps someone plays guitar and can play ‘Away in a Manger”. Maybe someone else would enjoy singing a solo. Perhaps somebody is artistic and could make crowns, crooks, animal masks, or any other props that you might require. Could you finish with a prayer or poem composed by one of the children? All of these choices will add a personal touch, but the play need not rely upon them and they can be quickly left out in the case of illness without impacting the flow of the story.
- Don’t underestimate the advantage of having extra volunteers on the day. Share duties so that you can just focus on the overview and pulling everything together. Have a prompter, somebody to watch out for props/costumes, someone to usher children on and off etc, Likewise, ensure that you have extra scripts on the day; the children often leave theirs at home!
- Consider the best ways to include a ‘party’ atmosphere after the nativity. While you are sorting out all the children and packing away costumes, have coffee and mince pies or something similar served to the congregation so that they can all unwind and enjoy some fellowship together. Inevitably, they will go over the nativity play and it will become a lasting memory. And don’t feel neglected whilst that happens: enjoy the privilege of serving God in this way. Mary AND Martha both had an important role in Jesus’ life!
Finally, the most important thing is to keep in mind the meaning of a successful nativity service. That way, you’ll relax and enjoy the humor of the moment if Mary declines to walk with Joseph, or Angel Gabriel won’t talk, or the shepherd goes walkabout, or the king will not hand his present over, or the angels reveal each other their new underclothing when they should be dancing! These are special unforgettable moments, so much more than the most professional performance ever would be. Oh, and always remember that you are also one of God’s children: you are allowed to make errors and laugh about them too!