Thursday, December 4, 2014

Shock and Awe

Ever since I could talk, I’ve loved to sing. Ever since elementary school, I’ve loved being on the stage. For me, there is nothing as exciting, as invigorating, as FUN as performing in front of an audience. So I look forward every year to performing, alongside my husband, in a local Christmas production.

Now, this isn’t just any old “local Christmas production.” Don’t be imagining a nativity with shepherds wearing old bathrobes and Joseph dropping the Baby Jesus on his head while bored teenagers forget the words to “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” This is not badly-painted cardboard sets and an out-of-tune piano in a church basement. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – I’ve been in many of those productions and they are wonderful in their own, unique, homespun way. But this particular production is high-end, big budget, professional, go big or go home type theatre. We’re talking full professional orchestra, Broadway sets, elaborate costumes, trained vocalists, and precision dancing. This is legit theatre with an RE at the end.

One of my favorite moments in this production is at the end of the opening sequence: The choir processes down the aisles, wearing choir robes and carrying large candles, then moves up onto risers on the stage, and just as we turn out toward the audience, the orchestra segues into the sweeping opening chords of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” 

The music alone gives me chillbumps, but as we look out into the audience, I get even more chillbumps as I look out over an ocean of excited faces full of anticipation. There are usually a handful of youngsters in the front row dressed in their holiday finery, the girls in sparkly party dresses and the boys in festive sweaters or the occasional shirt and tie. Each one is leaning forward, eyes wide, the footlights reflecting off their awestruck faces. For many of them, this is the very first theatrical experience of their entire lives. They have no idea what to expect, no idea what they’re in for. But I know, and I love watching their faces as the show unfolds before them.

But this year, I have two new young faces to watch as something new and exciting unfolds before them: my own children. This year, my 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter are joining the cast of the show, as elves.

(The two in Santa hats are mine)

Already I’ve seen their excitement as each layer is added to the production: The first time they sang in a room full of 85 (!!!) other kids; the first time they walked through the wings and onto the stage; the first time they wore their costumes and carried their props; the first time the full orchestra accompanied them; the first time Santa (“He’s not really Santa; he’s just pretending, just like we’re just pretending to be elves.”) appeared to sing with them. And when the show opens tomorrow night, I’ll get to see their faces the first time they step out onto the stage and see the same audience I do, the faces looking back at them with excitement and anticipation.

Our show ends with a lovely and moving live nativity, framed by the chorus on each side of the stage. As we enter, portraying humble villagers in Bethlehem coming to see the “newborn King”, the director always reminds us: “You’re seeing a miracle right in front of you. Your faces should show shock and awe.” It’s become tradition for the cast to whisper to each other as we wait to make that entrance, “Shock and awe. Shock and awe!!” And that’s what sums up this experience for me: Shock and awe. Shock and awe. It is truly an awesome experience.

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