A writer has been commissioned to write a "modernized" version of the nativity story, so that kids nowadays can understand the story better. As he wrestles with modernizing the story, he always ends up back at the original version of each scene. The idea is that in spite of his efforts, the story is best as is. As he works through his ideas, they are enacted (as such) behind him on the stage by the actors (costumed accordingly). It's as though they are his imagination alive on stage behind him.
[Writer stands by a table extreme downstage, middle. He faces the audience, behind him the stage is bare. On table is a notebook computer and an open Bible. He holds a cell phone to his ear.]
Writer: [on phone, pacing] Yes, Mr. Dunwoody, I understand the project…an updated, modern version of the nativity story. One the kids can understand, in their words. Gotcha. Now when you say updated, do you mean set in modern times? In present day Bethlehem? Well, sir, I can't exactly picture Mary and Joseph toting around machine guns….I'll see what I can do. Yes Mr. Dunwoody. I'm on it. Goodbye.
[Sits down at desk in front of computer]
OK, let's see…a modern version of the nativity story… "Spice it up, man! Give it some oomph, some humor. Make it so the kids will enjoy it and understand it!" Fair enough. I am a professional writer; I should be able to bring this story up to date. Add a little 21st century into the mix. No problem. OK…where should I start? Nativity. Hmm.
Ok, Mary and the angel. [Begins typing on keyboard and talking at same time, enter Mary and Angel on stage behind him, costumed] Let's see, first, the angel tells Mary she will have a baby. Now, in the original the angel visited her in person. How would he tell her today? Would he visit her in person or try another method? How about…[begins typing]
[Angel and Mary take out cell phones, and hold them to their ears]
Writer: "Collect call from an angel, will you accept the charges?" [Mary nods] No, that's ridiculous. [Mary and Angel put phones back in pockets] Email? No. Aha! A telegram! [Angel pulls a telegram from pocket and hands it to Mary, who begins to read it]
Mary: Hail Mary. Stop. Blessed art thou. Stop.
Writer: No, that doesn't work either. [Mary pockets telegram] Well, looks like he'll have to visit her in person after all. OK, in the original version, what did the Angel say? Let's see…[looks at open bible next to him on table]
Angel: [to Mary] Hail, thou art highly favored, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.
Writer: Well, first off, sorry King James, but no one talks like that anymore. Let's try this….
Angel: [to Mary] Hello, Mary. You are…
Writer: Uh…let's see… "Highly favored?" What would he say today..? "Highly favored"...hmm…how about….[types]
Angel: Hello Mary. You are greatly esteemed…
Angel: You're just great!
Writer: No, no…
Angel: A cool woman.
Writer: Please! Get real!
Angel: Hello, Mary. You are…highly favored.
Writer: Actually, I kind of like the original. "Highly favored" it is.
Angel: You are highly favored, and the Lord is with you.
Writer: Ok… "Blessed art thou among women." Hmm…[types]
Angel: You are seriously blessed!
Angel: When it comes to blessings, lady, you take the cake.
Angel: Among women, you are the cats' meow…
Writer: Come on, think…think…[types]
Angel: Hello, Mary. You are highly favored, and the Lord is with you. You are truly blessed among all women.
Writer: Once again, the original sounds good to me. Ok…[types] Narrator says…
[Enter Narrator (with "Narrator" t-shirt on)]
Narrator: "Mary heard the greeting, and was bothered by it, wondering what strange type of greeting it was." [Exit Narrator]
[Mary on stage gets puzzled look on face. Writer continues to type]
Angel: [to Mary] Don't be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive and have a son, and his name will be Jesus. He will be great…
Writer: Grrr! Think modern! How would he say it today?
Angel: His name will be Jesus. He will be the bomb!
Angel: He will flat out rock!
Writer: No, no, no.
Angel: He will be seriously great!
Writer: Close…let's take the "seriously" out for a second here…
Angel: He will be great.
Writer: Hmm. "He will be great." I guess that's ideal. [Types]
Angel: His name will be Jesus. He will be great, and be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.
Writer: And Mary says…[looks at bible as Mary says…]
Mary: Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy word.
Writer: Hmm…let's see…Nowadays, she would say…[types]
Mary: I'm your lady!
Mary: Ok, where do I sign?
Mary: Bring it!
Writer: Come on, man! Let's try not to be disrespectful here! How would she accept the idea…[ponders, then types]
Mary: Behold God's servant. Let it happen according to His will.
Writer: Fair enough. Probably best not to tamper too much with the original there…OK...so…[begins typing] cue the lights…some soft music in background, and….
[Angel exits, lights dim, soft music begins, Mary kneels. Enter Angel, approaches Mary. She sees Angel and rises, facing him]
Angel: Hello, Mary. You are highly favored, and the Lord is with you. You are truly blessed among all women.
Narrator: [voice from offstage] Mary heard the greeting, and was troubled by it, wondering what strange type of greeting it was.
Angel: Don't be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive and have a son, and his name will be Jesus. He will be great, and be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
Mary: How can this happen, since I am a virgin?
Angel: The Holy Ghost will rest upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. All things are possible with God
Mary: [After pondering] Behold God's servant. Let it happen according to his will.
[Exit Angel, and then exit Mary, lights come up, music fades]
Writer: Ok, that will work. Next…[Types] Narrator says…
Narrator: [Enter] In those days, Caesar Augustus gave the decree that all the world should be taxed. So everyone returned to his own hometown to register.
[Exit Narrator, enter Joseph and Mary, who is very pregnant]
Writer: Ok, so, Mary is pregnant and just about to give birth. They're on foot?
Mary: Well, we certainly didn't walk the whole way.
Writer: But I can't have a donkey on stage. Well, it is a kids play, so how about… [Types]
[A Stagehand comes out and hands Mary a "horse head on a stick" She glances at the audience, eyebrows raised]
Writer: No, that would ruin the effect. We can't get silly. [Stagehand takes horse stick and exits] Well, I'll have it so that they just arrived. She has already dismounted. Joseph goes to check on a room at the inn. Let's see…[checks the bible] The Bible doesn't describe this exchange…I guess I'll have to wing it.
[Joseph leaves Mary standing stage left, goes stage right toward Inn Keeper, who has entered stage Right]
Joseph: Hello…are you the Inn Keeper?
Inn Keeper: Well, I'm certainly not King Herod!
Writer: Hmm…well, Mr. Dunwoody said to add some humor…maybe it would work here. [types]
Joseph: We just flew in from Nazareth…and boy are our arms tired!
Writer: No, that's ridiculous. How about…
Joseph: [Motions to Mary] Take my wife…please!
Writer: I don't think so. Let's get to the point here…
Joseph: Hello, are you the Inn Keeper?
Inn Keeper: Yes sir…
Joseph: I'm in desperate need of a room. My wife is having a baby.
Mary: Ask him if they have cable!
Writer: No, that won't work…
Joseph: I'm in desperate need of a room. My wife is having a baby.
Inn Keeper: Wish I could help you, sir. But we have no rooms left. Christmas is our busiest time of the year. Unless you have a reservation, you'll have to go elsewhere.
Writer: Grrr! No, no, no! Man, humor just doesn't seem to fit here. Let's try this….
Inn Keeper: Well, we have no room in the Inn left, but we do have a stinky barn in the back. 29 bucks a night.
Joseph: [To Inn Keeper] The barn? Do we look like cattle to you?
Writes: It's just not a funny story! [stands up, paces] How can you take this story and try to make it funny? It's too serious. It's not supposed to be funny. It has to be funny, or kids won't watch it? Come on, that's not giving today's kids any credit. I can keep it serious. [sits back down]
Joseph: [To Inn Keeper] Well, can you at least call me a cab?
Inn Keeper: Ok…you're a cab.
Writer: Grrrr. Why does the dialog have to be so hard to write here. [thinks] Let's wait on the dialog…how will the stage look?
[Enter Stagehands, setting up simple manger set, center stage. Some crates in a semi-circle or some such]
Writer: No…maybe not center stage; let's shift them stage right a bit more. [Types, stagehands scoot manger over] Ok, that will work. Hey, let's try this… [types]
[Stagehands leave, lights dim a bit, soft Christmas music fades in, Mary and Joseph leave, then re-enter stage left, Inn Keeper re-enters stage right, and crosses upstage toward Mary and Joseph. Joseph helps Mary walk, as they approach the Inn Keeper. The following scene takes place just with music and no dialog. Joseph "talks" to Inn Keeper, motioning toward Mary (who is on his arm). Inn Keeper shakes his head, and points to manger, then leads them over, with arms crossed, shrugs shoulders in a kind of "take it or leave it" gesture. Then Inn Keeper walks away. Joseph and Mary stand looking at the manger. Mary covers her face and weeps on his shoulder, he consoles her briefly. He helps her sit down. Lights fade, music fades. Then lights come up again, and Stagehands enter to remove the manger scene, and Mary and Joseph exit stage left as Writer says…]
Writer: Ok, that will work. I like that scene without dialog. Ok, what's next? [Looks into Bible] Aha, the angels and the shepherds.
[Enter three Shepherds and Angel, standing center stage, facing audience. The Shepherds are in a small knot, and the Angel stands alone to one side.]
Writer: Ok, three shepherds…one angel. Now…[consults bible] "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night." [types]
Shepherd 1: Hey guys, did you count the sheep yet?
Shepherd 2: I keep trying, but I fall asleep every time!
Writer: Now that's kind of funny….
Shepherd 1: Are you guys ready to cut the wool off the sheep tomorrow?
Shepherd 2: It will be a shear pleasure. Yuk yuk yuk!
Shepherd 1: [rolls eyes] Anyways, we'll be moving the flock in the morning.
Shepherd 2: So I herd. Get it? "Herd"?
Shepherd 1: Do you ever stop?
Writer: That's enough of that…
Shepherd 3: Gentlemen, I have a question….
Writer: "Gentlemen"? Too polite…[types]
Shepherd 3: All right…listen up, bozos…
Writer: Nope…too harsh.
Shepherd 3: Hey guys, can I ask you something?
Shepherd 2: Sure, what is it?
Shepherd 3: You guys ever see an angel before?
Shepherd 1: No, why do you ask?
Shepherd 3: [Motions with thumb over shoulder toward Angel]
[Shepherds huddle together in fear. Writer consults Bible again]
Writer: Let's see…in the original, it says…
Angel: Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
Writer: Hmm…let's tidy that up a bit here…[types]
Angel: Relax fellas…
Writer: Oops…Took it too far…try it again here…
Angel: Don't be afraid…I bring you great news. It will change the world. The Savior has been born tonight in Bethlehem; he is Christ the Lord.
Shepherd 1: How will we find him?
Angel: [Hands on hips] I'm getting to that part!
Writer: No, strike that last line. [types]
Angel: He is Christ the Lord. You'll find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
Shepherd 1: "Swaddling clothes"?
Writer: "Swaddling clothes"? How exactly does one "swaddle"? [Shrugs, types]
Angel: You will find the baby wrapped in a warm blanket, lying in a manger.
Writer: That will work. Ok, narrator says…[Enter Narrator]
Narrator: Suddenly, there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God. [Exit Narrator]
Writer: Hmmm. How do I show a multitude of angels? A backdrop? A thousand extras? I got it…I'll use music…ok, let's see if this will work…
[Exit Angel, Shepherds gather, talking silently among themselves, stage lights dim a bit, spotlight on Angel, as he enters stage right. Shepherds see him and are afraid.]
Angel: Don't be afraid…I bring you great news. It will change the world. The Savior has been born tonight in Bethlehem; he is Christ the Lord. You will find the baby wrapped in a warm blanket, lying in a manger.
Narrator: [From off stage] Suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God.
[Hallelujah chorus begins loudly, Angel spreads arms out majestically, and Shepherds look around in fear. After approx 10 seconds of music, Angel exits, music fades, and Shepherds speak]
Shepherd 3: Quick, let's go to Bethlehem, and see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has shown us!
[Shepherds exit, lights return to "normal." Writer stands and paces]
Writer: You know, this is really a remarkable story. Its so complete…why update it? Why try and modernize it? [picks up phone, dials] Grrr…voice mail! Oh well [taps foot, waits a moment] Hi, this message is for Mr. Dunwoody. I've come to the conclusion that the nativity story is perfect the way it is. It doesn't need to be updated. The kids will understand it just fine. God got it right the first time. Good-bye.
[Sits back down and begins typing. A Christmas carol begins. On stage, stagehands set up nativity scene and exit as the nativity actors move into place. Mary, Joseph, center, with the baby. Shepherds move into position around them, Angel stands somewhere around the perimeter. 3 Wisemen slowly enter with gifts, laying them one at a time before the baby, with ceremony, and then standing to one side. Mary holds up the baby for Joseph and the others to see. Pause. Fade lights on stage, spot on Writer]
Writer: The end. No, wait. [Erases, Pause, retypes] The beginning.
[Lights up on stage again. Nativity is still in place. Writer stands and enters the scene carefully, and approaches Mary. Motions toward Mary, asking if he may hold the baby Jesus. She hands the baby to the Writer. He holds the baby and addresses audience.]
Writer: What a story. The God of Creation voluntarily becomes a helpless baby. This really was the beginning.
[Angel comes forward]
Angel: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. The government shall be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called…
Shepherd 2: Wonderful.
Shepherd 1: Counselor.
Joseph: The Mighty God.
Mary: The Everlasting Father.
Writer: The Prince of Peace.
Angel: Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end.
[Music comes back up, Stagehands, Inn Keeper and Narrator all enter so everyone is on stage. They all bow. End of story. Fade lights. Cue thunderous applause.]
Copyright 2001 by Dave Wagner, all rights reserved. Should you use this script would you be so kind as to let Dave know? Email: email@example.com
Production notes for The Beginning:
* In our church sanctuary, we have a raised platform that serves as the stage, but we also have a fairly large space (about 10 feet) between the platform and the first row of pews. We set this play up with the Writer down on the floor, and had all of the rest of the action take place on the platform/stage itself. If floor space is not an option, then the writers' desk could be set downstage left or right, or even upstage center. Tinker with placement and see what works for your setting.
* The role of the Writer is the lynchpin of the play. You should get an older youth that can handle the responsibility, or even an adult (fleshing out the rest of the cast with the kids. He/She needs to be able to remember his/her lines (and they are many). As a backup plan you can have the laptop computer be on, and have the script itself on the screen, or even simply have the script on his/her table, to look to if he/she gets' stuck. It will just appear (if done smoothly) like the character is checking his/her notes on the rewrite. Of course, you could also have a strategically placed prompter whispering the lines from offstage somewhere if needed.
* For the Stagehands and Narrator, we made simple T-shirts for their costumes. They were black and had NARRATOR or STAGEHAND in big, white block letters. It was a fun touch.
* Soft Christmas music is called for in places. This can be pre-recorded, but live music is very nice too. We had a musician on the keyboard that played a carol at appropriate times, and it really added to the production. We had to use a pre-recorded clip of the Hallelujah Chorus, however, since we don't have a large Choir/Orchestra in our little church. J
* While I did try to put a lot of humor in the piece, there are two scenes in particular that are not supposed to be funny. The scene with the Inn Keeper, Mary and Joseph, when they come to the nativity, is one. With no dialog, the kids enact the scene with body language, and, really, I intended for it to be touching and serious. It was hard to achieve, only because the kids were geared toward having fun with the production, and the (seemingly) sudden shift of gears was difficult for some of them, especially the part where Mary covers her face, and weeps on Joseph's should for a few moments. Some people in the audience actually laughed. Do with that as you will.
The other "serious" scene is the very end, where the Writer enters into the Nativity scene and holds the baby Jesus. This was very effective, since he/she had his/her back to the action on the stage the entire time, but now he/she is entering it to make a statement. We had three very young kids (5-6 years old) dressed as the Wisemen, and their entrance in that scene was very moving on the audience, as they got into position, laying gifts before the new baby.
* One person could play the Angel throughout the piece, but since we had a lot of kids wanting to participate, we broke the Angel role into 3 parts: The first in the scene with Mary, the second in the scene with the shepherds, and the final, smaller role in the last scene at the nativity.
* We stuffed a pillow under Mary's costume for the scene where she was pregnant. I wrestled with this because the young age of the kids playing the roles made it odd visually to look at, and a bit unnerving. I mean, a 10 year old girl playing a very pregnant Mary? But it worked, and no complaints were issued at all (just the opposite; people thought it was very amusing). But you can use your judgment based on how you feel such a sight would be received.
* We used four crates in a semi-circle, open to the audience, to portray the manger. It can't be too elaborate, since it needs to be set up and taken down quickly. Two stagehands, two crates each, boom, in and out quick. Although the stagehands moving about on the stage is a part of the play itself, so they can be treated as characters in the play - their presence is not a bad thing. Make a show of it if you want.
* I realize that the Wisemen didn't come to see Jesus on the night He was born, but many months after. Visually, it worked well here, so we included them in the finale.