‘Best Pageant Ever’ returns to ACO

‘Best Pageant Ever’ returns to ACO



“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” may be nearly 50 years old now — the novel was written by Barbara Robinson in 1971 — but it remains a perpetual holiday classic. For many community theaters — like the Arts Center of the Ozarks in Springdale — the 1982 stage adaptation has become a reliable audience draw for the month of December, pulling in both children and adults year after year.

“It’s a story about a group of people whose lives are changed by the Christmas story — and that’s something that I think a lot of people really connect with,” says the show’s director, Jacob Christiansen. “The Herdmans, this group of outlandishly poorly behaved children, have their lives changed with the Christmas story — but the other story is watching the church and school community around the Herdmans have their lives changed, as well. Because, as they get to know the Herdmans, they learn the story in a different way.”

When the Herdmans, a group of siblings who act more like a biker gang than children, join a local church’s efforts to produce their annual Christmas pageant — primarily because they hear that snacks are involved — chaos ensues. At first, the other children (and some adults) ostracize and criticize the ill-behaved Herdmans, but they slowly come to understand that judging the outward appearance and behavior of people instead of trying to learn what’s in someone’s heart is never a good idea. The play’s message of kindness and inclusion is hard to resist, for both parents and children alike.

“Each of the characters that are around the Herdmans have to go through the process of seeing them in a certain way and then learning that their perceptions of who the Herdmans are just isn’t right,” explains Christiansen. “They were pre-judging them in a way that didn’t allow the Herdmans to be different than they first thought.”

The cast is large and includes 20-plus kids — the most Christiansen says he’s directed at one time.

“I’m not sure there’s any special technique I use when I’m directing children,” he says. “What I’ve tried to do when I’ve worked with kids in the past is boil theater down to its most basic, fun element, which is this concept of pretending. That’s something adults like to rediscover, too. We’re putting on a game of pretend together. I love working with kids because I can talk about techniques like using tableaus and how we listen when we’re in a scene together. These are things that are important to professional actors — listening, responding, reacting — things that professional actors work on throughout their careers. This is something that kids can do, and, in some ways, they have a more pure outlook because they have more freedom and a real sense of fun.”

Christiansen says that he and his cast have found a way to put a bit of their own spin on the production while still staying true to the classic that it has become.

“With any piece of art — any movie or play that’s been done over and over again — you kind of live in this world of ‘Do I just bank totally on nostalgia and do it completely the same? Or do I move forward and try something new?’ The great thing about this play is that the story is so delightful, but the pieces you put around the story leave you a lot of room to be creative and inventive. The cast has been wonderfully creative. I do feel pressure to deliver the story that people are so familiar with, but the cast and I have done some cool and interesting things that I think the audience will be excited to see.”

And that audience, says Christiansen, should range from the very young to the very old.

“The show runs a little over an hour, and then there’s a Christmas carol sing-along at the end,” he says. “Anyone who can enjoy that much theater should love this show — kids will love it, and adults have loved it for a very long time.”



‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13-14; 3 p.m. Dec. 14-15

WHERE — Arts Center of the Ozarks, 214 S. Main St., Springdale

COST — $30

INFO — 751-5441

Categories: Family Friendly