The Kids and Families of BSP’s “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”

Imogene (Maggie Titus) tears up during Christmas pageant.

By Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel
HYT Board Member
BG Independent News contributor

At a Horizon Youth Theatre board meeting over the summer, someone casually mentioned that Black Swamp Players would once again be producing the one act holiday play The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, based on the children’s novel of the same name by Barbara Robinson. There were excited gasps and clapping, and I believe I may have squealed. Full disclosure: yes, I am on the HYT Board. Yes, I am an occasional contributor and ad manager for BG Independent News. And yes, I did get a role in the play, along with the rest of my family.

In 2013 and 2014, Guy and Janet Zimmerman directed the play, and the two productions had many repeat actors, though only Bob Walters kept the same role (Charlie) both years. Johanna Slembarski played the narrator and wise young protagonist Beth, and the next year played the antagonist, bossy cigar-smoking Imogene Herdman. Stephanie Truman had the role of adult protagonist Grace Bradley in 2013, and the next year played the antagonist Helen Armstrong. My entire family was in the 2014 production as well. For many of us, Pageant was our kids’ first theatre experience, a sort of “gateway play” to a happy, creative future of being thoroughly immersed in children’s theatre.

The Players decided to take a break from Pageant for a few years, so as to not over saturate the Christmas play market which would surely cause attendance to dwindle. But three years have passed, so the time for this spirited family friendly comedy has come around again. This year it is being helmed by Keith Guion, who often directs and leads workshops for Horizon Youth Theatre. Stage Manager is Macey Bradam, Wendy Guion is Queen of Props, and Producer is BSP regular Melissa Kidder. Most of the adult actors happen to be HYT board members as well as parents of children who were cast (the exception being Linda Lee who has the role of Helen Armstrong). New HYT Board President Thomas Edge was given the role of Bob Bradley and his wife Trinidad Linares gets a line as Mrs. Clausing (their daughter Ligaya is in the Angel Choir). Everyone’s favorite director Cassie Greenlee, whose last HYT production was the wonderfully received All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, is playing overwhelmed first time Pageant director Grace Bradley (Cassie will also be directing the upcoming BSP musical Secret Garden).

Calista Wilkins, Eli Marx, and Thomas Edge as the Bradleys discuss the Herdman kids around the dinner table.

As I did in 2014, I get to play gossipy Edna McCarthy, who seems to have some competitive envy of Grace and causes major chaos in a particularly fun and raucous scene. Keith gave me permission to play her younger and hipper this time, and we changed her first name to Edie. My bio even states “I will be the best tattooed and pierced church lady ever.” John Roberts-Zibbel, who played Bob in the 2014 production, is Reverend Hopkins this time around, and our daughters Alexandra and Isobel play Lily in the Angel Choir and Hobie Clark, respectively. Michael Walters is playing a fire fighter and his wife Karen is providing piano accompaniment and nursing duty for wheelchair-bound Helen Armstrong (their daughters Rose and Alice are in the Angel Choir). Haley Wilkins, mom of Calista and Emy, is enjoying her first time on stage instead of backstage, playing Jane Clark; her husband Jason is the other fire fighter called to the scene at the church, and he just happens to be an actual BG fire fighter. Rachel Rogel, mom of littlest baby angel Devin, reprises her role as Irma Slocum.

This production truly is a family affair. In addition to the four participating families, Cassie also happens to be Keith’s daughter. (Keith’s last BSP offering, Seussical the Musical, starred his son Jeffrey Guion as Cat in the Hat and Cassie as the Whoville Mayor’s wife, and they both were perfect for those roles – acting, singing, and love of theatre do seem to be genetic.) There are also a huge number of child actors in Pageant. Fifty eager, talented kids tried out and 32 were cast, with the leads going to Calista Wilkins as Beth Bradley; Eli Marx as her brother Charlie; and Maggie Titus (Imogene), Vance Weaver (Ralph), Bella Truman (Ollie), Drew Thomas (Leroy), Jonah Truman (Claude), and Emy Wilkins (Gladys) as the notorious Herdmans. Sophia Nelson plays the pious former Mary, Alice Wendleken, and Anna Reid is Maxine, the narrator of the Pageant. Isobel Roberts-Zibbel plays the irreverent discusser of underwear Hobie Clark; Gavin Miller is Elmer Hopkins, the minister’s son and reluctant former Joseph. They both become bathrobe-wearing shepherds along with Charlie and Daisy (Addie Smith) despite the insistence of all four that they won’t be shepherds because Gladys Herdman “hits too hard.”

Angel Choir kids are Lauren Peppers (Beverly), Alice Walters (Doris), Emily Coan, Mary Helen DeLisle, Ligaya Edge, Sophia Kelly, Katherine Parish, Adam Proulx, Alexandra Roberts-Zibbel, Paige Suelzer, Lola Truman, Kaitlyn Valantine, and Rose Walters. The Baby Angels are Izzy Milks, Sophia Milks, Claire Nelson, Leah Peppers, Amy Reid, Quinn Valantine, as well as the youngest, adorable four year old Devin Rogel (older brother Liam, in fourth grade, has a great role as young Les in BGHS’s Newsies and so took a pass on Pageant this time). Most of the children, ranging in age from 4 to 14, attend Bowling Green Schools, but Otsego is also well represented and one student attends Toledo School for the Arts.

We’d like to thank Woodland Mall for providing our early rehearsal space, First United Methodist for the use of their stage, and of course the Black Swamp Players for working with us and providing a rare opportunity for parents and their kids to all be in a production together.

Shows are December 1 – 3: Friday and Saturday at 7:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm at First United Methodist Church on East Wooster Street in Bowling Green. There will be an intermission after the play is complete, and following that is a Christmas Radio Play, which also features HYT participants Bob Walters and Terra Sloane, who coincidentally played Charlie and Beth in 2014’s Pageant. Tickets are available at the door, or online at www.blackswampplayers.org/tickets.

So dig out your recipe for applesauce cake, brush up on your carols, and prepare to see the familiar Christmas Story in a whole new light as “the worst kids in the whole history of the world” catch on to the wonder and mystery of the true meaning of Christmas.

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