The wise men and women who produce Johnson City's annual Living Nativity Pageant weren’t really worried about a rainout, even with a threatening forecast, because of the show’s new home under the pavilion at the First United Methodist Church.
“We knew the show could go on under cover, even if it did rain,” said director Barbara Hudson, “but some of our cast do have to go out from under it now and then, and rain certainly would have kept the audience away."
The heavens cooperated, though, and the birth of the Christ child was dry — all five times. It was only well after the end of the night’s final performance that the rains came, when the audience already had cleared, and the cleanup crew rolling light wires and sweeping hay could do its work under the pavilion roof.
The four nights of performances already had had their share of near-miracles.
One scheduled angel was recovering from knee surgery and couldn’t stand at all. There was doubt her stamina would let her get through the evening even if she could stand. A quick head-huddle and she was back in the show… in a celestial wheelchair.
Then there was a mad scramble for a replacement when an angel called in absent at the last minute, but one was found. She radiated in her place. The sheep, however, remained only barely cooperative.
“Those kinds of problems we can manage,” Hudson explained. “They turn up every year so we know we have to stay flexible. Weather, however, isn’t something we can fix.”
“Staging the pageant under the pavilion makes us almost weatherproof,” added Pastor Lee Romero.
“We know a lot of people depend on us. They come in by the busload for a tour of the city lights and our pageant. They come from all over the state…and beyond. They tell us our re-telling of the Christmas story has been a family tradition for years.”
To make sure it remains a tradition for years to come, production jobs rotate to keep a mix of old hands and new blood.
The Holy Family changes every year, of course, depending on who has a new baby for the leading role. The angels start on the rooftop and move up — actually down — to stand in the background of the stable. This year, the light and sound technician was a high school student who trained last year.
Behind the scenes, the same constant turnover happens among the animal, angel, shepherd and baby wranglers who make sure those players are in their positions at the right times.
Even farther from the bright lights are volunteers who greet visitors, bake their cookies, and make supper for the cast, which usually is eaten in gulps between shows.
“At this point,” Romero concluded, “we still have last-minute emergencies, but we know we have enough depth of experience in the church that someone will step up to handle it.
“When it’s the birth of the Messiah, the show really must go on.”
Written by George Barnette