God love my sons, they are nothing if not dramatic. For little kids, there are few outlets to stretch acting muscles as much as the Christmas pagaent. Every year, around the world, kids don costumes to pretend to be a carpenter, his pregnant wife, a wise man, or a donkey. We all know the story, and we know how it will end. We also know 3 shepherds will take longer to move from sacristry to main aisle than the actual Magi took to migrate. But that's the beauty of it. The childish improvisation (intended or not) brings a sweetness that sucks us all in, every time.
But much like the singers who insist upon scatting their way through the National Anthem at the World Series... sometimes personalization can go a little too far. While Son2 was content, even drawn to non-speaking roles in which he could hide (the donkey, FOUR times), Son1 has always tried to grab the limelight. Maybe it's partially our own fault, since he sees hubs and I prep each year for the Murder Mystery play we co-write and perform. Maybe I should have reigned him in the first year when he finagled a dual role. Maybe he was inspired to learn Cecil B. DeMille grew up in our church (and then learn who he was). All I know is, Joseph was never delivered with such zeal. And volume.
Year one, Son1 was Caesar. But being a small parish with a Christmas cold whipping thru, we were down a Magi. Enter Son1, assuming the duel role of Caesar Augustus AND Balthasar. He was elated he'd have a costume change and two crowns. He still tried to worm his way into the shepherd corps, and was miffed that Joseph went to another boy. "How do you plan on being Joseph and being a wise man coming to visit Joseph/you?" I asked. "I'd figure it out. Special effects. Like in the movies" Right. George Lucas on line one for you, bud. At some point in the play, he started speaking as Caesar, which was funny since his Caesar had no speech. Still early in the speech therapy game, his sweeping call to his "wo-man soldiers" to enforce the census was a stirring ad lib.
The first year Son1 was cast as Joseph, he was a little frustrated to learn he was to sit in tableau. When told he would have no lines to recite, no props per se, and no actual livestock he pitched a wee fit. I should have been a little suspicious when he tried to clarify six times if it was 100% certain he was not to move at all. Perpetual Motion-Son1 has a tendency to rock side to side, so I use the phrase "two feet" as a cue to plant both when it would be distracting. My direction gaffe for that performance was blurting out "TWO FEET and NO FIDGETING!" That left the door open for all other movement. And you have never seen a more melodramatic Joseph, silent or not. Through slow, sweeping arm gestures, bowed head, panicked expressions, and exaggerated attempts to "hear what I hear," the tableau fell apart to the point the Virgin Mother punched him. While holding baby Jesus.
The second year as Joseph went more smoothly, since they wised up and gave him actual lines. I guess they figured it would be better to control his speech. Silly, silly people. When all was said and done, apart from a few scrapes trying to defend the baby Jesus when the drummer boy came over it worked out. No domestic violence was had in the manger. All was calm, all was bright.
The following year, he was Herod. Herod is historically important in the Nativity story, but kind of a bit part in Christmas pagaents. Well, traditionally. Son1 delivered all 6 of his words with passion. Then, when the narrator announced that it came to pass Herod had died, Son1 (to the alarm of the assembled congregation) played his death scene in true style. He stumbled up the steps to the choir loft that fronts our altar, grasping pews along the way. He gasped and choked. It looked like Herod was mugged. He then reached his "mark" where he (to the best of my knowledge) was simply supposed to fall, and threw himself up in the air, crashing to the ground with a thud. It was a tour de force collapse that nearly landed him in the ER with a concussion. The angel Gabriel cum stage hand laughed and dragged him out by his feet, whacking his head twice on steps. To his credit, he never broke character, never had his Harvey Korman-Carol Burnett show laughter break.
But Son1 is older now, and doesn't want to be in the pagaent. Pushing 13, I see his point. The time has come to pass the torch, crowns, and baby Jesus doll to the younger cherubs so they may make their mark. Stage shy Son2 lapsed into the stage crew the year immediately following his breakout (yet silent) role as the star. Son1 now sits in his altar boy vestments and watches the little ones perform. I had the chance to take part in the service last week, so I was sitting next him. I was watching him watching them and it was a bittersweet moment. My boy was now beyond his dramatic Nativity days. He's now all gangly legs and crazy long feet. But I found myself stealing glances, enjoying his reactions as much as I enjoyed his turns in the same roles. There's something really sweet about watching your kids reach a point when they support the younger ones, and we are now at that point. We'll continue to watch the pagaent each year and applaud the efforts, but I can guarantee it will not hold the level of action it has in more recent years... at least not until the Sunday School teachers allow Son1 to direct.