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Nativity is 'best ever'

December 19, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

WILLIAMSPORT - Angels appeared on the lawn of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church Sunday night. A Roman centurion, shepherds and three kings also made an appearance, along with a donkey, several sheep, Joseph and Mary.

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The church gave its 37th annual presentation this weekend of a live nativity scene, a production that took months of preparation. Volunteers began building the backdrops in October for the drama, which featured about 25 costumed actors.

"There's a lot of detail work," said Ken Harbaugh, who co-directed the nativity with his wife, Kitty. He controlled lighting and music from a booth outside while she coordinated the actors in the church basement, which served as a green room.

"We actually start planning in January," said Harbaugh. "We like to make it fresh every year." Slight changes make the scene different: added characters, different stage directions, rearranged music.

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The Rev. Norman Price, now minister emeritus, created the church's first live nativity. "It was his brainchild," said the Rev. Mark Sandell, the current pastor. "It's a gift back to the community."

Setting up backdrops and props took 20 people five hours, according to Sandell. The church held four showings, two Saturday and Sunday at 7 and 8 p.m. The pastor said each drew about 60 vehicles.

Harbaugh said Sandell was the production's catalyst and he helped motivate the actors. "This is the best one we've had yet. The kids really got into their parts," he said.

The parts required a lot of body language, since the spoken voices were pre-recorded. Some scenes had no dialogue, as when the innkeeper refused admittance to Joseph and Mary. He simply shook his head and made forbidding signs with his arms.

The actors, mostly young members of the congregation, watched a video of the scene to prepare, Sandell said. They held one rehearsal night.

When cars arrived and crowds stood or settled onto hay bales, visitors saw four separate backdrops. Loudspeakers played Christmas carols, interpolating the scenes and cueing action.

Visitors watched as an angel visited Mary in the annunciation and the broadcast voice told her not to fear. As they made their way to the stable, "O Little Town of Bethlehem" played and the cross on the church steeple lit.

After the kings approached in gold-trimmed robes of purple, blue and maroon, all gathered around the manger. "Joy To The World" concluded the play as an angel appeared on the roof and seven smaller ones joined her.

In the audience, some fidgeted to stay warm in the cold as breaths showed in steam. When people applauded at the end, their mittens muted many claps. But the temperature didn't stop them from enjoying the show.

"I thought it was great," said Ann Cook. "There was a lot of work put into it." The Boonsboro resident came with her husband and two daughters, Emily 10, and Julie, 9. "It gets us in the spirit," said Bill Cook.

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