Stepping Inside the Nativity Actor’s Studio


I never got the opportunity to appear in a nativity play. When I was at the appropriate age my school decided instead to put on a series of dramatized nursery rhymes. In what may have been a satirical commentary on my chronic bed-wetting at the time, I was cast as Wee Willie Winkie. This required me to flounce about in a flannelette nightie banging on imaginary doors like a rudimentary Marcel Marceau.

The next year I was at a different school, but still no nativity. That Christmas we staged a chaotic production of the ’12 Days of Christmas’. My memories are little misty, but I do remember that the collected troupe of French hens and calling birds had been decimated by a sick bug. Which in retrospect it may have been an early strain of bird flu.

I was hopelessly miscast as the romantic lead, the ‘true love’, although in truth there wasn’t a lot of romanticising to be done. My job was to introduce the various cast members by walking on stage holding a sign with the number of the day on it, like a bimbo in a boxing ring.

On about the fifth day I accidentally waved the sign upside down and it got a massive laugh out in the stalls. So I did it again and then again and again. And each time the laughter rang out a little more pallid than before, until eventually the merriment fell away to universal tedium among the audience.

The director added a final twist during which the exasperated recipient of all the gifts chased me off stage with a broom. For all the milking maids, gold rings, leaping lords and, as far as the punters were concerned, for all the feeble comedy stylings.

My son’s school has opted for the more traditional nativity which hopefully limits the chance of him following in my cringeworthy footsteps. About a month ago he came home and let us know that he had been selected to play a donkey. It seemed quite early to start the process, but perhaps they wanted to rehearse the shit out of it. To get it right. If they were taking it so seriously, then maybe we should too. We could go full method and send him to a local farm and spend time with the donkeys there. Learn something of their ways, what makes them tick and so on.

But it turned out that the donkey role was just part of the audition. We should have realised when we discovered one of his chums said he was down to play a vampire. I am proud that my son overcame his natural timidity and volunteered himself for a part. He was rewarded with the plum role of the shepherd.

For the sake of authenticity it is important to get the costume right. I have begun sketching some potential designs and created a Pinterest board. I’m thinking some thick pelts, a longish beard and possibly a live sheep slung across the shoulders like my Grandma’s fur stole.

He only has the one line: “tonight it is calm and still”. He has a challenge on his hands to fill this with enough pathos to make an impression. He can start with the accent, but pulling off ancient Judean is probably quite problematic for a five-year-old. My tip would be to pause on each word, making it sound a bit broken and emotional, perhaps repeating it a few times. Without throwing his colleagues off their cue hopefully.

Tonight….it is calm…..and still.

Tonight….it is calm….and still.

TONIGHT…it is calm…and STILL.

Tonight it is calm and still.

Any good?

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