I think that depends upon exactly what you consider to be a success play! For me, a Successful Church Nativity Play is one that joins everyone in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere of celebration (including the organiser!), with the focus on the genuine meaning of Christmas. It is not a perfectly tuned, professionally performed show, but the story of Jesus’ birth, told through the innocence of little ones, for the appreciation of proud moms and dads and others. So, the key thing for me is to keep the organization and managing of the play as easy and relaxed as possible so that the inevitable stresses of the event do not win through.
So, right here are my helpful tips and ideas:
- Pick your script wisely! See to it that it is basic enough to need few rehearsals, and adaptable enough to include additional parts as you need to.
- Don’t be too reliant on any one individual or part. You need to have some flexibility so that if someone is missing on the day you can choose a way to make changes swiftly to accommodate the situations. Picking a play which makes use of narrative for the majority of the script will help.
- Find ways to avoid learning lines: use props to assist. The shepherds lines could be stuck to the lamb, the kings could be read from their gifts, and the innkeepers could hold ‘registers’ with their lines on. By doing this, even if somebody was ill, a stand-in can play their part.
- Do not assume that the nativity play has to be a ‘performance’. It could be something that you do unrehearsed, with the help of volunteers, and ad hoc props. Keep in mind, Jesus was the ultimate storyteller, making his stories relevant and appropriate to, those around him.
- Plan ahead! Book the church in good time for the nativity service AND the rehearsal(s), and encourage the parents of both/all dates. Be sure that you know who will be there and is happy to take part before you start casting or rehearsing.
- Hand out any scripts early enough for them to be learned if required. Remember that Christmas is a busy time for parents and kids at home and school, so provide them time to enjoy doing what is needed without feeling the pressure.
- Check out the suitability of costumes and sizes well ahead of the date, especially if you have a mixed age cast: if Mary was petite last year, but tall this year you do not want to find that the costume doesn’t fit at the last minute! Ideally, delegate this duty totally to someone else, including seeing to it that the outfits are cleaned and ironed as needed.
- Don’t believe that the music needs to be ‘carried out’ by the kids. Including some carols for the congregation to sing automatically includes a Christmassy mood of celebration, and there are lots of obvious choices to fit with specific parts of the story. This option also means less practicing, and less reliance on musicians and singers on the day, and creates a way to prepare for the next scene!
- Like any family, acknowledge and enjoy the individual skills within your group with a healthy pride. Discovering ways to include them will add a memorable personal touch. Perhaps somebody plays guitar and could play ‘Away in a Manger”. Maybe someone else would enjoy singing a solo. Perhaps somebody is creative and can make crowns, crooks, animal masks, or any other props that you might require. Could you finish with a prayer or poem written by one of the children? All these choices will add a personal touch, but the play need not rely upon them and they can be easily left out in the case of illness without affecting the flow of the story.
- Don’t underestimate the benefit of having extra volunteers on the day. Share responsibilities so that you can just focus on the overview and drawing everything together. Have a prompter, someone to keep an eye out for props/costumes, someone to usher children on and off etc, Also, make sure that you have extra scripts on the day; the children frequently leave theirs at home!
- Consider the best ways to add a ‘party’ atmosphere after the nativity. While you are sorting out all of the children and storing outfits, have coffee and mince pies or something similar served to the congregation so that they can all unwind and enjoy some fellowship together. Inevitably, they will go over the nativity play and it will end up being a lasting memory. And don’t feel neglected whilst that occurs: enjoy the privilege of serving God in this way. Mary AND Martha both had a valuable duty in Jesus’ life!
Lastly, the most important thing is to keep in mind the definition of a successful nativity service. That way, you’ll relax and enjoy the humor of the moment if Mary declines to walk with Joseph, or Angel Gabriel will not talk, or the shepherd goes walkabout, or the king will not hand his present over, or the angels reveal each other their brand-new underclothing when they should be dancing! These are special unforgettable moments, so much more than the most professional performance ever would be. Oh, and don’t forget that you are also one of God’s children: you are allowed to make errors and laugh about them too!