New Characters for an Ancient Story

By Beacon Staff

The Kalispell Christian Center will feature the infamous story about the birth of Jesus Christ in its annual Christmas play, but the cast of characters may come as a surprise to the audience.

The production – “One Bethlehem Night” – follows the events in the days leading up to Jesus’ birth as written in the Bible. The play centers on the personal journey of Simeon, the innkeeper whose “No Vacancy” sign led Mary and Joseph to take refuge in a nearby stable where Jesus would eventually be born.

Veteran director Sean Morgan said that as a child, he heard the story of Jesus’ birth and always wondered who the other people were at the inn that night. He also wondered who else was headed to Bethlehem 2,000 years ago for the mandatory census count ordered by Caesar Augustus.

The play opens with several vignettes Morgan wrote featuring these characters as they make their way to be counted. He said his goal with these stories is to put a face on the people who lived during this time, giving them miserly, spiritual, thuggish and overly pious characteristics, among others.

Morgan also wrote several dream sequences in which Mary interacts with her cousin Elizabeth about her future as a mother. The goal is to make the character more relatable, he said.

“I want the people who are in the pews to see themselves,” Morgan said.

Stage lighting will play a major role in this year’s holiday production. With a down economy still plaguing the Flathead Valley, Morgan said the Christmas play was put together on a tighter budget than usual.

The goal for this year’s production was to “make it interesting, make it functional and make it cheaply,” Morgan said. For the play, that means a black stage with few effects other than specialty lighting possibilities.

“One Bethlehem Night” is full of musical numbers, Morgan said, but this year the singers will be backed by recorded music instead of a live orchestra since full blackouts are needed between scenes.

Still, even without an orchestra, there are about 200 people helping with or acting in the production. The cast and crew have been working together since Oct. 1, and meetings about the play have been taking place since February, Morgan said.

Barb Merrill rehearses her part as the believer in one of the opening vignettes of this year’s annual Christmas musical production at the Christian Center in Kalispell.

All of this preparation leads to a polished production, which helps make the Christian Center play popular with the public. Past years have seen thousands of audience members for the two-weekend showings, and though the show is free, securing tickets before the show is recommended.

Keeping the production in top form and its cost free are important for Krista VanHelden, who is new to directing this year. Times are tough, she said, and some families might not be able to afford much for the holidays this year.

“Every year, it’s our hope that this will be an encouragement to people,” she said, adding that this year’s play is more traditional than in recent years.

“Of course, we think that this is what Christmas is all about and we like to share that with people,” VanHelden said.

“One Bethlehem Night” will have eight showings over two weekends, and Morgan said everyone is welcome to attend this annual tradition.

“It’s the Christian Center’s gift to anyone who wants to come,” he said.

Show times take place on Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Dec. 11 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 16 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Dec. 18 at 7 p.m.

Free tickets are available at the Christian Center in Kalispell; City Brew in Kalispell; The Grateful Bread in Bigfork; and all Montana Coffee Trader locations.

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