Playing a part in the nativity

For most people their experience of participating in nativity plays may be tinged with a curious mixture of nostalgia and embarrassment. My own debut in the theatrical world was as a wise man in the school nativity play. Looking back I am not sure whether I am more embarrassed about wearing yellow tights…or about standing there helplessly clutching my frankincense when my cloak fell off. In my defence, I was very little at the time.  Others will doubtless have their own tales of nativity play woes – though whether any have actually featured as a second lobster, as Emma Thompson’s daughter does in Love Actually, is another matter.

Sadly we grow out of the story as readily as we grow out of the costumes. We pack those memories away along with every photo of ourselves as a gappy-toothed kid wearing the wrong fashion. And yet, this is a story for all of us. Not only that – but it is a profoundly adult story. Wrapped up in it there are powerful emotions of betrayal, terror, puzzlement and longing – all played out against a backdrop of poverty and military occupation.  Some years ago I wrote and directed a nativity play acted entirely by adults. The impact on actors and audience of adults kneeling at the manger with their gifts was profound, to say the least. On another occasion we held a do-it-yourself nativity, with everyone coming in the costume of their choice. We had dozens of innkeepers, a smattering of wise men, and one slightly confused child dressed as a pirate (Pontius?). The point is that this is everybody’s story. If you can’t find a part as second lobster, then you could always find a part as you.

This year the net for casting the nativity story has been thrown as wide as social media can possibly throw it. Over 2000 people are signed up to participate in the natwivity– a nativity play on Twitter and Facebook. Throughout December different nativity characters  will post their thoughts, feelings and experiences as the story unfolds. Watch out for bile from Herod, sardonic humour from the shepherds, and troubling questions from Mary and Joseph. Participants will be able to respond directly to the characters, or engage with a more theological discussion about what they are saying on @chatbible on Twitter.

So, you see, this year there really is room for everybody in the nativity play. Will you join in?