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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 18, 2010

Operation Christmas Child, A Kids’ Musical
Hope and love shine bright through the hijinks and high spirit of a Christmas play

By Jo E. Prout

What do you get when you mix 18 children ages 1 through 13 with a goofy adult and an Elvis impersonator? A Christmas play.

And what do you call the nut who pulls them altogether? The director. That’s me.

Operation Christmas Child, A Kids’ Musical, by Kathie Hill, has my family singing Christmas songs in September. One crazy year, while shopping for random junk on eBay, I found a set of scores for Operation Christmas Child. The show is based on the Samaritan’s Purse mission that sends shoeboxes of toys, hygiene items, pencils, candy, and shoes to refugee or orphaned children around the world. Our church is a collection center for two counties. Being a theater nut, I thought my eBay find was fortuitous.

The hard part of directing a musical isn’t the choreography, or the prop list, or anything interesting. The hard part is begging, pleading with, and bribing as many people as you can find into joining up. Since fewer people are theater nuts than you might think, that cajoling is time-consuming.

The last time we did the play, I knew several teenagers, and they jumped right in. This time, they’re all away at college. My son had a lead role several years ago, so I threw him into the role, again, this year.

After many ruined rehearsals full of back talk, missed cues, and ridiculously uncalled-for accents, I agreed to pay him $5 per show if rehearsals improved. I’m a sucker. I’m desperate.

The show is this weekend, celebrating the end of the national collection week. So far, rehearsals have improved.

Luckily, a family that joined us for the last performance signed up, again. Unfortunately, those children are now older and wiser, and less enchanted than they should be with jazz hands at the end of every number.

One girl stares me down with a straight face at the end of each song, as she shows me her jazz hands on the ends of T-Rex-style arms. Maybe I’ll sneak her some chocolate before she goes onstage to loosen her up. As I said, I’m not one to balk at a bribe for a good performance.

One of my returning actors flat-out refused to participate the first few weeks of rehearsal because I rewrote the play. Call it judicious editing. Time is short this year, and I cut the number of rehearsals in half to ensure maximum public participation. Desperate directors do these things.

I left every song intact; my daughter and her friends know them by heart. Well, they know the general idea and tune of each song. Instead of “Operation Christmas Child, a celebration of the season,” the audience can often hear “Operation Christmas Chi-old, a sensation of the reason,” and other mixed-up words that make sense only to 7-year-olds.

One of my great ideas this year was to use an adult to play Elvis. There are only four adults in the whole play, and this role absolutely requires an adult who’s seen and heard The King play. I thought of scrapping Elvis altogether, because who really thinks of being “all shook up” for Christmas? I couldn’t cut Elvis’s song, though, because the kids take over the chorus and actually dance! Unchoreographed, twisting-and-shouting dancing by 14 kids is a joyous sight to see.

One night at rehearsal, I looked up from my master script to see “Elvis’s” 2 -year-old daughter dancing in her footie pajamas with her dad and big sisters, and a crowd of other kids. How can you beat that?

My favorite part of the play is when 12-year old Andrew stops everyone in their tracks and explains who the children are who need boxes of love and toys packed by strangers. The script calls for the actor to pray for peace, hope, and the end of hunger. The prayer is written into the script, word for word.

“Pray for fighting in war zones to cease.”

During the last few rehearsals, Andrew started truly praying, instead of reciting.

“Lord, I pray that you will end the fighting in war zones,” Andrew says. The last time we did this musical, with the prayer as written, the scene was very effective. This time, with spontaneous, heart-felt prayer from a young man, it’s stunning.

I cry every time.

All the girls, and even some of the boys, like the song with a scarf routine. I loved doing flags in school, so I added a winter corps routine into the musical. Several of the children attend a vibrant gospel church, complete with its own flag corps, so we have experienced performers enhancing a beautiful ballad.

In the interests of time, I was going to cut that routine this year, too, but it was the only reason my straight-faced T-Rex friend came back this year. If the kids love it, who am I to leave it out?

The director? No. I’m the lucky one whose friends, new and old, young and mature, show up to rehearsals to play Theater with me. And, if we spread the word together about hope, love, and peace, we won’t go wrong.


Operation Christmas Child, A Kids’ Musical will be performed by the Coxsackie-Athens Ecumenical Drama Group on Saturday, Nov. 20, and Sunday, Nov. 21, at 3 p.m. at the Second Reformed Church of Coxsackie. A free-will offering for shoebox shipping will be collected. Donations can also be made online at www.samaritanspurse.org.

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