'Away From the Manger'

'Away From the Manger'

Children of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Great Falls prepare for annual Christmas show.

There are two things that are getting Antonia Siebert through the month of December, and they both begin with the letter "e."

"I am living by Excel and e-mail," said Siebert, director of the annual Christ the King Lutheran Church Christmas program in Great Falls.

Siebert has been directing the annual Christmas productions for many years, but coordinating a production with 70 elementary school children in three weeks would test the organizational ability of even the most seasoned pro. So although Siebert tried to choose a show that would be less of a logistical nightmare than in years past, she has still been reliant on Excel spreadsheets and mass e-mails to keep her on top of her game.

"It's a pretty big production in the grand scheme of things," said Siebert. "It's a whole host of people working to make it happen."

The Christmas shows at Christ the King Lutheran Church change from year to year, and in the past, Siebert had put on elaborate musical programs that required the children to come in for rehearsals outside of their regular Sunday School class. This year, she chose to do a short play called "Away From the Manger," which tells the story of the birth of Jesus in a slightly unusual way.

"So many times, Christmas will be presented with different stories from different angles, but then they sort of miss the true story," said Siebert. "My goals for this program were two-fold — the first was that the kids have fun and have a good time doing it, and the second was that I wanted them to really get the story."

Mathew Calkins, 13, plays the role of a reporter who travels around interviewing all of those who did not make it to the manger to witness the birth of Jesus. He has been performing in the Christ the King Lutheran Church Christmas shows since he was young, and is not at all daunted by the numerous lines he must memorize for his role as the reporter in this year's production.

"I like getting to do it every year," said Calkins. "We get to do singing, we get to do a play — it's kind of a rush to be in front of an audience."

SIEBERT CHOSE to do "Away From the Manger" after reading the play and realizing that it was written in a format that would allow for an easier rehearsal and production process.

"I liked the fact that it was segmented and that each group kind of does their own thing," said Siebert. "It's easier for the children in that each thing they rehearse is a set piece."

She also liked that it was a play that could be adjusted to fit her varying needs. For example, some children prefer to have lines, while others do not, and some children like to sing, while others do not.

"I try to accommodate everybody," said Siebert.

In the original play, there is a narrator who has the bulk of the play's dialogue. For her purposes, Siebert re-wrote the role of the narrator as the role of a reporter, and also made up her own dialogue in order to better include the children in her show. Siebert's co-director Trudie Goff is handling the choral section of the show, which despite not being the typical musical productions of previous years, does feature its fair share of music.

"There are six basic Christmas carols that we think kids should and could learn," said Siebert, adding that "'Frosty the Snowman' is not a Christmas carol."

However, "O' Little Town of Bethlehem" does qualify, and is subsequently featured in the show, along with "Away in the Manger," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" and "Go Tell It On the Mountain." The show will open with a performance of "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" by the King's Chimers and the Tone Chimes choir.

After the presentation of the play "Away From the Manger," Emily and Andrea Sweet will play a violin duet of "The First Noel." Finally, the presentation will conclude with an alternation of Scripture readings and Christmas carols accompanied by a Nativity tableau.

"Lectors will read Scripture while the costumed tableau actors take their places in the Nativity scene, and then pose while the Chorus sings carols," said Siebert.

The program will close with the entire congregation joining in singing the chorus of "Go Tell It On the Mountain." After the performance concludes, the Christ the King Lutheran Church middle and high school youth will host a Christmas dinner in the Fellowship Hall. Donations will be accepted to help fund the summer 2007 Christ the King Lutheran youth mission trips.