Our house got turned upside down last Saturday. All the furniture in the living room was shifted , and a big table for sorting costumes was set up against one wall.
The occasion was not an advance planning session for Halloween; rather, we were looking beyond that to Christmas Eve. As much as I dislike seeing anything remotely connected to Advent and Christmas until after Remembrance Day, there are some things you just have to do ahead of time.
For many years the churches of Dawson have been avoiding the complications and chaos of putting on a live Christmas Eve pageant (What happened to the shepherds’ crooks? Where are the Three Kings’ gifts? No — don’t play Frisbee with the angels’ halos! Be careful with the baby!) by creating a slideshow as the centerpiece of the ecumenical Christmas Eve service , and shooting all the scenes well in advance.
We started it so long ago that the original half dozen years featured actual slides , as well as a complicated arrangement of dual slide projectors to cross-fade the slides that told the story of the baby in the manger in Bethlehem.
It’s much easier with digital images and a power-point slideshow.
We shoot the pictures against various scenes. We’ve used Dawson’s historic buildings, the dyke, and all sorts of backdrops. Last year we shot the whole thing inside the Dawson City Museum, which provided a rich source of scenery against which to pose the dozen or so child actors.
We’ve adapted the story; one year it was Gold Rush stampeders going to Bethlehem; another time it was tourists.
Sometimes we manage to shoot the photos in late summer or early fall, which never fails to amaze people driving by. Sometimes there are just leaves on the ground. This year there’s snow.
This year the narrative was pretty straightforward. The director (my better half) needs to leave town for a series of church meetings , which would have pushed the shooting date well into November. It’s getting chillier outside, so the thing needed to get done.
That’s how it ended up at our house, where there’s a sizeable side – yard, a garden shed, different-looking front and back steps, a large porch , and a copse of trees in the southeast corner to provide some variety. There were also some cooperative neighbours who let us use their places as backdrops when we needed “inns” to refuse Mary and Joseph.
There were mothers to dress and herd the kids, and four or five cameras giving us different angles and focuses as we worked our way through the basic scenes needed for the narrative script. I shot just over 100 pictures myself, happy once again for the flexibility of digital cameras and the ability to know immediately that you have the shot you need.
There were costume changes , as shepherds became village folk, angels, Wise Men , and King Herod’s soldiers and scribes. It took about an hour to stage all the necessary shots, and about the same amount of time to put everything back to normal and pack the costumes and props for delivery to St. Paul’s.
If you’d like to know how it all turned out, drop in there on Christmas Eve.