Holiday laughs and Christmas spirit

MONROE – Theater students at Monroe High School are having the chance to be little kids again – and evoke quite a few laughs among themselves and audience members – as they present their holiday stage production, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”

Performances are scheduled for Dec. 13 and 14, Friday and Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. at the school, 1 High School Drive. Admission is $5 per person or $3 per person with a canned food donation, which will benefit the Union County Food Bank.

Drama teacher Catherine Langston selected the play for her theater class in part because it was one she performed as a high school student and has loved ever since. The holiday comedy tells the story of the Herdmans – six elementary-aged children notorious for their delinquent behavior – and how performing in a nonconventional Christmas pageant changes their own lives and the lives of others around them.

Technical director Miesha Brown, an 18-year-old senior, said the play resonates with her and her classmates because many of the students can identify with the characters in the show.

“What I like about this play is it tells the story of a group of children (living in) poverty,” she said. “… I think it kind of tells the story of where some of our kids come from and how good they can be. I think it tells the legacy of most of our children here.”

It’s a stark departure from the class’s previous production – a “serious” murder mystery dinner theater set in the 1920s, where the students took on the roles of characters twice their age. “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” offers the complete opposite, Langston said, as students are playing characters typically eight to 10 years younger than they are.

“They’re always doing, like, improv kind of things, and we’re like, ‘Yes! Absolutely!” she said. “… I try to keep that surprise and childlike wonder because that’s how little kids really act.”

The play also has offered a chance for students to become more involved in costume selection. While the dinner theater required 1920s-era wardrobe, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is set in modern times, and Langston has allowed students to become actively involved in choosing the costumes they feel best fit their character.

“It’s kind of an interesting experience because they’ll come in and say, ‘I was thinking about my character – could I wear this?’ And they would show me their clothes and I’m like, ‘You know what? I can see that,’” she said.

One of the biggest challenges about the show, Langston said, has been working with students who aren’t used to acting. Because the cast list includes many characters, Langston had to recruit students who typically do technical work, having them take on the roles of some of the characters. But that’s also been one of her favorite parts, she added, as some of the students – one in particular, who’s playing a lead role – have really surprised her with their ability.

“I was really surprised at how well they’ve done and how they really jumped in there. They’re doing some of the goofiest stuff I’ve ever seen,” she said.

Langston said people who come to the show can expect an evening full of laughs, “a lot of silliness” and fun, holiday spirit.

“It’s kind of cool because (the students are) getting all cute,” she said. “They’re really coming together (as a group), so that’s been cool to watch, too.”

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