As a teacher, I see this every day. There are students who come to my school who have new backpacks every year. They wear name brand shoes and it seems they have a perpetually fresh haircut. But more often than not, I also see students who live in poverty. The backpacks they wear break within weeks of starting school (not well made). Thank goodness my school provides them with newly donated backpacks! I’m ever so grateful that we have funding to have school supplies already in the classroom. In Best Christmas Pageant, that’s what we see. We meet Alice’s family first. She has a brother Charlie, a mom (who no less has time to volunteer at church), and a dad (not a single parent household). They are a picture of privilege. Alice is visibly shocked at the Herdmans. She doesn’t make fun of them but she certainly doesn’t understand them.
She starts the whole show with, “The Herdmans were the worst kids in the whole history of the world! They lied, they stole things..” When we see the Herdmans, we see immediately clothes in bad repair that don’t fit and dirty. We see hair cuts that are not in style. As a director, I’m asking my young performers to walk a mile in their characters shoes. I ask questions like, “what would you do if you lived in an apartment with no washer or dryer?” or “What if you had to wear your big brother or sisters clothes as your new school clothes?” Sometimes, the wide eyed faces of the performers I ask this tell me that they’ve never had to do such things. I was one of seven children. The problem with me was, I was bigger than my older sister. This made hand me downs difficult so I got my mom’s hand me downs in some cases. I had three stair step brothers and they all ran around in the summer like wild indians in nothing but their underwear. To some degree, I know the Herdmans.
What I love about this story is that it allows the other children in the show to see them in a different light by the end of the story. It teaches us about empathy. It reminds us to not be overly judgemental about things we don’t fully understand. Towards the end of the show, Imogene has moment where she connects emotionally with the Christmas story. Suddenly, all those differences melt away and all the children stand side by side sharing that special moment. These moments, the ones where wealth and class no longer matter reminds us to remember what brings us together, not what money and class do to separate us. When we connect with Imogene in her sense of wonder at the Christmas story, we feel that sense of wonder again. I hope you will join us for a funny but also heartfelt stage performance of Barbara Robinson’s modern classic.
Kristi Kargic is executive director for Footlights Community Theater based in Athens, AL. She is an elementary teacher with a lifelong love of performing arts. She strives to provide art in her home community at little to no cost to participants. Kristi is a published poet, playwright, and performing musician. Her motto is "if you build it, they will come."