Friday, December 28, 2012

Putting on a Live Nativity 2012

by Anita Mae Draper

For the past couple of years Pastor Lorne Bonk has talked of putting on a live Nativity using real animals and the local auction mart as the venue. Having it at the auction mart would solve 2 of the biggest problems of holding it in a church... the mess caused by live animals, and how to bring the message to people who don't normally attend church. In plain English, we wanted to bring a mess to the masses.

Since I had enough writing on my plate and no animals to contribute, I stayed out of the discussions... until the day Pastor Lorne showed up at my door asking for my ideas. By the time he drove away, he had a handful of my suggestions, and I'd agreed to write the script - with all of 4 weeks to showtime.

Candiac Auction Mart, Candiac, Saskatchewan, Canada

The Auction Mart sits at a crossroads near a small hamlet - kind of in the middle of nowhere. In the photo above, the lunch room is the left half of the green building, the auction ring and seating is on the right half, and the red building is the barn where the animals are kept before and after they appear in the show ring.

Yet even with this obscure location, people from towns away were asking when the big event would happen. A few days before the date, a trucker out in the oil patch asked my hubby what time the show would start. The same was happening wherever church members appeared in December. Pastor Lorne's wife, Dianne Bonk, said the event was taking on a life of its own. Hallelujah! Dianne held a sewing bee at her farm and three women from our church showed up. By the end of the day, all the costumes were sewn, and/or assembled. Thank you, Dianne Bonk, Anne Pelletier, Karen Hoffart, and Shirley Johnson.

Meanwhile, although a different denomination, the Kevin Czerwonka family waived the fee and offered the free use of the auction building for the Nativity portrayal. This event could not have gone on if not for the generous support of the Czerwonka family.

As well as helping with the sewing and being our narrator, author Shirley Johnson volunteered to create the backdrops. I requested a backdrop for The Jericho Road through the Valley of Jordan, a second one showing The Inn, and a third one showing the starry sky for when the angel appears to the shepherds. But how to hang the backdrops? We decided on transporting an office divider from the church to the auction mart with a backdrop on each side. As one scene finished, the divider would be turned to the next backdrop. However, that all changed when we finally had access to the venue on the day of the performance and realized the safety fence would serve adequately.

Candiac Auction Mart interior with backdrops for the 'What's Happening in the Barn?' Live Nativity,  Dec 2012.

The safety fence is a heavy iron set of panels designed to block the animals from entering the back room which is also the entrance to the auctioneer's booth, situated beneath the clock in the above photo. The backdrops were painted on heavy craft paper, then a portion hung over the top bar and pinned in place. The backdrops were then covered by heavy brown fabric and my hubby was detailed to stand behind them and at the appropriate time, cover or uncover what was needed.

The beginning set showing the Jericho Road through the Jordan Valley.

A big 'Bethlehem Inn' sign also helped set the scene in case the crowd didn't recognize the inn.

Wayne Delschneider and family built the awesome stable.
Thanks go out to Wayne Delschneider and family who built this fantastic stable for the presentation. Since most of our church family are farmers, there were more than a few people interested in checking it out. Wayne and his son also worked the huge spotlight Pastor Lorne brought out from Regina for this production.

Pastor Lorne, Wayne and Mason Delschneider checking the spotlight.
The light was kind of big for our small production, but it did what it was supposed to do which was to highlight specific parts to the exclusion of all else. For example, when Joseph walks in leading Mary on a donkey, all eyes were attuned to this single event.

Covering the auctioneer's booth with the starry sky backdrop. 

A final touch to set the stage was the hanging of the starry sky with the bright star which was accomplished by using a navy sheet and mini-lights. If we do this next year, though, we'll try to use more sheets as we really liked the effect. Hanging it was kind of scary though as one of the guys balanced on the top rail of the safety fence while doing it.

And the bleachers filled with people.

One of my ideas had been to use the high bleachers Stage Left for the Heavenly Host. This really make them appear to be 'in the sky' when the spotlight shone on them.

The Heavenly Host appears to the shepherds.  Dec 2012

As it turned out, the building was packed and the audience began to fill in behind the angels, but they weren't noticeable until the house lights came on during the Finale.

Lights up to reveal the Heavenly Host enjoying the final song.

The Shepherds waiting their turn. Dec 2012

The waiting Wisemen, Dec 2012

Mary holding Baby Jesus, with Joseph in the stable. Shepherds and sheep nearby. Dec 2012

Although this project was hectic and stressful during its creation process, like all Christmas pageants, it worked out in the end and showed God's glory as a babe in a manger. More people saw our paltry rendition of this inspiring tale at the Auction mart than could have fit into our small church.

'What's Happening in the Barn?' Dec 2012

Yes, my cameras focused on the white bars instead of the characters behind it, but in real life, the bars were soon forgotten as we watched the age-old story unfold. I never get tired of watching a Nativity play, and from the people attending this performance and the accolades afterward, the bars didn't seem to matter, either.

When it was over and the adults and older kids had gone to the lunch room where Dennis and Doris Borowski gave out coffee and hot chocolate, the little ones were allowed into the ring to get to know the animals. Wrangler Pauline Long-Wright and Youth Leader Noelle Bonk showed the little ones how to feed the critters and in some cases, sat the kids on the gentle animals. This impromptu petting zoo was very well received by kids and adults alike.

Will our church do it again next year? I hope so because I'm already thinking of ways to improve it. More information  can be found on our Glenavon church website Live Nativity page  as well as our blog on the same website, hopefully with video if I can figure out how to transfer the recorded program from my camcorder to my PC.

Have you ever been to a live Nativity? Where was it held? What did you think?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. She writes stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. Anita Mae is represented by Mary Keeley of Books and Such Literary Agency. You can find Anita at


  1. Guess who has insomnia? That means I get to be the first one to comment. :-)

    Anita, this is really nice. I have never been to a live nativity. I don't think I've ever been to a nativity play, either. I always thought it would be so neat to see one.

    I'm glad you were able to do the script. And I'm so glad you shared this with us. Very nice, Anita.

  2. that is quite the major production! Job well done! If you do it next year, you might have to have more than one performance if you were this full this year! :)

    I was just at the Outdoor Nativity in Regina, SK a few weeks ago but it wasn't acted out -- more just the animals and main characters posing outside.

  3. Oh well done, Anita. It looks like it was just great. I'm sure it was enjoyed by all and people will likely be clamoring for it next year!

  4. Thank you, Suzie. I'm sorry I missed so much of the Inky stuff this month because of this project and at one point I said I'd never do it again because of the time and stress involved.

    But I was in the audience with 2 cameras and heard the comments and saw the smiling faces filled with anticipation before, and satisfaction afterward and that's what I'll remember if we go ahead with this next year.

    I hope you get to see one soon.

  5. Thanks, Elaine! What? You drove all the way to Regina and didn't drive the extra hour to Candiac? Tsk Tsk LOL

    I don't blame you a bit - the 22nd was COLD! It's one of the reasons all the animals were on the set to start with because it was too cold in the barn for them. Sure added a nice touch to the set, though.

    But it also screwed up my scripted stage directions because suddenly, the characters weren't using Stage Left and Stage Right. In fact, Pastor Lorne wanted Mary and Joseph to make 2 loops through the ring and back through the barn before stopping at the inn, all the while with Jessie was singing Breath of Heaven a cappella.

    Because of the -28c/-18F temps outside and in the unheated barn, the Holy Family and donkey sort of stood there for most of Jessie's song. Joseph tried to move them around the ring, but the little donkey balked at being in the spotlight.

    So the joke at brunch after church on the 23rd was that Noelle and Pauline have a year to train the animals so they'll perform in the bright spotlight. Haha.

  6. Thanks, Lisa. I hope so, too.

    And to get back to what Elaine said about the acting... none of the characters had speaking lines. That seemed to be the consensus...that they would participate but only if they didn't have to talk. So, Shirley was the Narrator and everyone else acted.

    I forgot to mention that Shirley also assumed the role of Director, PTL! She'd done this type of thing before and had everyone rolling along on time.

    Of course, this left me time to work my cameras which is my forte. I used 2 cameras for the production... my Nikon Coolpix which is capable of video, and an actual camcorder. That way I was sure not to miss anything. Now, if I can only figure out how to get the recording out of my camcorder and onto my PC I'll be a happy camper. :(

  7. Looks like quite an undertaking, Anita! But what an outreach to the community. God's blessings on all those who participated and prayers for those hungry souls who ventured out to see it--that God will work mightily in their hearts.

  8. Nice Job, Anita. I'm so glad it worked out well for you. We have a town that does a full live nativity 'tour'. All along the street are stations with parts of the story. They call it THE REAL CHRISTMAS! nice, huh?

  9. You're so right, Barb. It does take hungry souls to go out in this kind of cold. We'll take all the blessings and prayers we can for this community. Thank you.

  10. Thanks, Deb. I'm glad you have something similar. Yes, it is very nice.

    We went to a Live Nativity something like yours a few years ago. We walked along a path of flickering candles in ice blocks (luminaries) and stopped at different stations to look at the people shivering in their biblical costumes. It was so cold, all the children had gone inside.

    There's something to be said for people who participate in these outdoor Christmas events. People who are willing to brave our cold to present the Bible as it was long ago.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  11. What a fabulous production! I'm sure you're tired, but you must be so proud, too.

    Merry Christmas!

  12. Thank you, DeAnna. I guess I'm a bit late replying, but I'm over recovery stage and into catch-up on blogs and email mode.

    Happy New Year! :)


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