Nativity Plays: The Worst Kind of Theatre
Anthony J. Piccione
Ahh, Christmas time. When I was a kid, it was absolutely my favorite time of the year. What’s not to love about tons of singing and dozens of presents, right? However, as I’ve gotten older and as people have started preparing sooner and sooner each year (I can already hear the complaints about me being a “Scrooge” or a “Grinch” from here) I have started to see it more and more as the overly-commercialized religious celebration that it truly is.
It is for this reason why, as time has passed, I have also come to see how a certain type of Christmas celebrations are, in fact, the most intolerable form of theatre that I have encountered in my lifetime. They manage to be safe, sappy and unentertaining all at the same time. I’m talking, of course, about nativity plays.
What exactly is so bad about going to see a nativity play, you ask? Well, before some of you start accusing me of waging a “war on Christmas”, allow me to try and explain.
First of all, let me start by saying that many people go to see a play expecting to be entertained in some way. I can’t name that many people – including those that are hardcore Christians – that would consider watching a nativity play to be as enjoyable of an experience as going to see Les Miserables or The Book of Mormon or any other great musical out there that could be classified as theatre that is meant to entertain audiences. Indeed, I’m certain most people that don’t enjoy theatre would find most other plays or musicals to be less boring than sitting through a retelling of the birth of Jesus. Maybe it’s just me, but during the holiday season, I’d expect more people would want to go to the theater for the sake of being joyfully entertained.
Now let’s say that these plays are not meant to be pure entertainment, and I’m sure most would agree that that’s the case. When theatre isn’t meant to entertain audiences, it is usually meant to provoke them. Often, it is to change the way people think or feel – whether it be about society, themselves or about art itself – in a serious and meaningful way. However, there is nothing about these plays that can be considered provocative or controversial. Nor are they intended to get people to think about anything in a different way, as despite the obvious religious message, it’s basically just a retelling of the same story that their audiences have been told each and every year.
So if it’s not pure entertainment and it’s not meant to be thought-provoking, intellectually stimulating theatre, what is it meant to be? The answer: Propaganda. Very bad propaganda, to be exact, that gets people to continue to look at the world in the same archaic ways that they have for thousands of years. Whether you are a Christian or not, you should try looking at this merely as someone who assess all forms of theatre, and try to tell me that I’m wrong about this being nothing more than religion using really bad performance to keep their followers indoctrinated. You would think that if this is what Christians really believed, then they could be spared of having to watch such horrible plays as they wouldn’t need to see them to stay with the church.
I know some people out there will say that I am. If not, they might say that I am obsessing over a topic in theatre so obscure and meaningless, it is not even worth discussing. But this is a theatre blog, and part of what we do is to make sure that we cover all types and aspects of theatre, including some topics in theatre that might not get as much discussion elsewhere. This is one such example of theatre, especially considering how broad the definition of “theatre” really is.
So here’s my advice to those of you that might have plans this holiday season: If you’re looking for something fun to do with the family around this time, do yourself a favor and make sure that you all stay away from this poor excuse for theatre, if you can. Even if you are a Christian, I find it hard to believe that seeing the same story that you already know being performed over and over again is enjoyable for any reasonable person, especially those of us who typically follow this blog and have respect for the art of theatre. If you think I’m wrong about this, or if I’m leaving anything out about why nativity plays are awful, feel free to let us know in the comments section. Anyway, to leave you all on a brighter note…
Have yourself a merry little Christmas. ;)
This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Student, playwright, actor, poet and blogger currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Anthony and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione)