This Is What THEATRE Is All About
by Tom Quaintance, CFRT Artistic Director
I have loved reading the stories of the #25DaysOfGiving campaign. The stories shared by people across our community of why theatre is important to their lives are inspiring, funny, joyous, and moving. As I sit down to write this, I just watched the one night only 25th Anniversary reunion performance of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. What a fitting final performance of 2015! BCPE is a much loved tradition here at CFRT – it is the first live performance most kids in Cumberland County see and has been the first experience with being onstage for thousands of kids. It is only one part of our youth programming, but it is a hugely important one. All year long I meet people in the community who talk about their experience with BCPE: seeing it with their 4th grade class, performing in the angel choir, and the year they got to be one of Herdmans.
When Founding Artistic Director Bo Thorp came to me with the idea to do a one time performance of the show with adult veterans of the production, I immediately said yes. The idea of board member and dear friend Jenny DeViere reprising the role of Beth that she originated 25 years ago was delightful and was sure to be funny. I joked with the crowd before the show that my one regret was that I couldn’t convince Bo to play Gladys.
But Bo knew better. In a performance that could have been hyper-campy, where all the laughs were generated from adults playing kids, Bo played it straight. It was a brave choice – cheap laughs are easier to get – and if you are making fun of the whole thing you have an excuse in case it is bad. What was so fantastic is seeing Jenny actually play Beth. Her sister Laura play Gladys, the part she too originated, totally for keeps. Sure it was funny to see a six foot tall, bearded Charlie Bradley with a rich baritone voice, but it was the fact that Carr Gardiner played it straight that allowed us to hear the story.
And what a story! There is a moment after the pageant where Beth is reflecting on what made this the best Christmas Pageant ever. Jenny, in the moment as Beth, got choked up delivering this line:
“We all thought the story was about Jesus, but that was only part of it. It was about a new baby, and his mother and father who were in a whole lot of trouble- no money, no place to go, no doctor, nobody they knew.”
I almost lost it. I know everyone around me was tearing up. This is what BCPE is all about. Everyone thinks the story is about the Herdmans, but that is only a part of it. A group of kids who nobody likes – “The worst kids in the whole history of the world” – take over the pageant, and by actually paying attention to the story, not only are they changed, but they change a whole town. This is what THEATRE is all about. Sharing stories of people unlike us so we can gain empathy; sharing stories about us so we can gain perspective.
In this world that is increasingly divided – where we spend most of our lives in a disconnected echo chamber where we only read stories that are aimed at us, and we don’t even see stories that we disagree with – theatre and theatre education is critically essential to our lives. Young people are growing up in front of screens; communication now is largely through texts, and there are even apps now which allow a caller to go straight to someone’s voicemail so they won’t have to actually interact with a person. Theatre education literally teaches our kids how to be feeling, connected human beings.
And this critical part of education is becoming more and more rare. When the budgets are tight in schools the arts are among the first programs cut, and we all know the budgets are tight in our school system.
I came to CFRT from the world of education. One of the reasons I was hired was because of my unshakeable commitment to theatre education, and growing the CFRT youth education and outreach programs. We have ambitious plans for our youth programming here at Cape Fear Regional Theatre. Those plans need resources. Please consider a donation to our #25DaysOfGiving campaign to help us help our kids.
Your gift to CFRT’s 25 Days of Giving can help provide opportunities for thousands of youth to be part of Cape Fear Regional Theatre’s education and outreach programs in the coming year and beyond. With a simple $10 donation, you can fund one complimentary student ticket to introduce a child to theatre for the first time and change their lives forever. Please consider donating today to help us raise $25,000 and reach more children in 2016!