By Leila Dycus, Staff Writer
As the cast appeared on the stage for their final bow singing at the top of their lungs the truth of the title was evident to the audience – this was “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” “There are no small parts, just small actors,” said the Sunday school teacher Cassidy Hofer. While the play did feature a few small actors this year’s production was all about the Morgan County Middle School’s (MCMS) eighth-grade students.
On Thursday, Dec. 5, the Morgan Theater presented “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” Although the MCMS theater group put on the production the play took place in the Morgan County High School auditorium. During the day, the middle school students performd for a crowd of primary and elementary school children.
According to Kathleen Bryant, the middle school drama teacher, the play is a yearly tradition. The fourth graders read the story in their class and then are able to watch the middle schoolers perform it. “It was actually really cool to see it as a second grader and do it in eight grade,” said Brant Kiepper who played Claude Herdman.
The cast mirrored Kiepper’s comment, saying how great it was for them to be able to perform for the younger students. Alex Rountree, who played Leroy Herdman, said that he envisioned himself as a second grader watching the play as he performed as an eight grader. “The best part was performing for the second and third grade,” said Kathleen Bryant. “They are always such and active audience, they haven’t lost the wonder.”
Bryant went on to describe how the young children were amazed with the smallest scene change or funny comic bit. During one part of the play, actors rush in from the back doors as firemen in order to put out a church fire on stage. According to Bryant, when the firemen bust through the back doors of the auditorium, she thought the children were going to jump out of their seats and join the scene.
The cast went on to describe how the children responded to them as actors after the show. Peyton Jordan, who played Alice in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” talked about how her mother’s students thought it was the coolest thing that their teacher’s daughter was one of the performers.
This year’s cast has been a part of the drama department at MCMS for the past three years. Bryant describes the group as having the ability to make each role they perform their own. She said that they have moved away from looking to her for most of their direction and, in a sense, she knows that she has done her job well when they start taking ownership of their part.
“They are probably one of the best groups to work with because they think on their feet,” said Bryant. “Some of them really work on characterizations outside of class.” According to Bryant’s students, she is doing her job well. Brant Kiepper talked about how Mrs. Bryant has a vision and you just have to go with it.
The students discussed how well Mrs. Bryant had put together this year’s production. They said that she makes middle school drama fun and exciting. “I see it all the time, a student will realize they can be anybody on stage, or be naughty like a Herdman and not get in trouble,” said Bryant. In the drama class at MCMS Bryant encourages healthy risks and students cheer on their classmates to be who they really are.
Bryant went on to say that she knows that middle students crave honestly and genuiness and that she believes her students get a little taste of that in theater class. It’s a concept that is shown through out “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” The story is about a group of kids, the Herdmans, who are considered the worst kids in history.
The Herdmans decide to participate in a churches Christmas pageant, but the Herdman children have never heard the Christmas story. After turning the play upside down during rehearsals, the end result blows the minds of most churchgoers. Although the Herdmans interpretation of the play is quite different than ones the church has put on in the past, it goes down as the best Christmas pageant ever.
The student actors talked about how this show was the first time that they were able to wear costumes. For some of the students, they got to embody someone they weren’t where others like Phillip Webb, who played Charlie, got to dress the way they normally would. Not only were the costumes exciting for the students but so were the various scenes.
In particular, the actors enjoyed the firemen scene and a scene that features the throwing around of a lunch box. Alongside of the eight grade actors were a few young children selected by Mrs. Bryant, who, according to Jacob Gasque, have played in various other community theater plays. For the eight graders, the production was their last at MCMS, but it proved to be a great end to their year.
“I became a lot closer with everybody,” said Madison Gasque who played Mrs. Slocumb. “Being with them, practicing, and rehearsing.” After auditioning for production class last year the class began trying out and practicing for this play in August. Many of this years cast members hope to participate in the one act play team at MCHS. Their MCMS one act play team of seventh-graders and eighth-graders placed third at the State Middle School One Act Competition.
“When I look back on my education, what I remember is what I was involved in and the people that were in it with me, not necessarily my academic classes,” said Bryant. Bryant believes that when students join theater, chorus, band, Technology Student Association (TSA) or sports teams they will be plugged in immediately with a family of friends and encouragers. For the eighth-grade cast of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” that’s exactly what they found.
The students described the class as a family, saying that they were really going to miss it. “I think theater allows students to become themselves or be comfortable in their own skin sooner than later,” said Bryant.