Six delinquent siblings steamroll their way to parts in a church’s pageant and ultimately end up with a poignant yet decidedly non-traditional telling of the Christmas story in the upcoming Amarillo College Conservatory Theatre production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”
Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Amarillo College’s Ordway Auditorium on the Washington Street campus. Two performances scheduled for Thursday are already sold out and will be attended by about 1,000 elementary, middle school and home-schooled children, said Amarillo College Conservatory Theatre Founder Linda Dee Hughes.
The play, taken from the funny and famous book “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” written by Barbara Robinson in 1971, is a riotous portrayal of the six Herdman children — Imogene, Claude, Ralph, Leroy, Ollie and Gladys — and the chaos that ensues when they “volunteer” for roles in the church pageant, according to Hughes.
Hughes said the word volunteer is used loosely because the Herdman children commandeer their roles by threatening to stick pussy willows in the ears of any other children interested in landing parts in the play.
Imagine six children — “without any previous training or guidance in any portion of their lives” and no conceivable idea of what it means to play a part in a traditional Christmas pageant — wreaking havoc while rehearsing for and then portraying one of the most sensitive and moving stories ever told.
Audiences won’t have to worry about any missteps by unruly actors from the cast, though.
“These kids are so talented,” Hughes said of the 47 cast members working on the production.
According to Hughes, the cast is made up of AC Conservatory students between the ages of 9 and 18 and adult actors who are members of the community who come in once a year to help with a Conservatory project. The adult actors comprise a cross-section of people and professions from the community, including a Veteran’s Administration caseworker, a grade school teacher and a speech teacher, Hughes said.
Hughes teaches acting classes Wednesday evenings at AC and currently has 111 kids enrolled in the Conservatory. Classes, open to students 8 to 18, are subject specific.
“We have kids who would never leave the building,” Hughes said. “We have to turn out the lights.”
Cast members are assigned to different groups — red and green — based on their acting experience. Hughes said children work their way up from being the youngest choir members to playing principal roles, which are earned by auditions and hard work.
Hughes sad attendees this weekend can expect the “use of the whole building” during performances as if the pageant is happening in real time.
“It will be very organic and in the moment,” Hughes said.
The audience can expect a “Christmasy” set, and Hughes said she wants to invite people to attend and to celebrate this time of year.
“It’s such a happy play,” she said. “We all need to laugh and we all need to feel things.”
Herdman-style hilarity and pandemonium are to be expected, but the ending will portray the basic story of Christmas in a soft and gentle way, according to Hughes.
Money raised from performances is used to fund the operating account for the rest of the year and also student scholarships, Hughe said.
“Every dime goes back into our program,” Hughes said. “That’s how we survive.”