The issue - The key to a miracle nativity
You've been given the job of organising the school's Christmas play. How on earth do you give every child a role that allows them that memorable moment in the spotlight? Well, let me tell you, it takes military-level planning and precision.
First things first: are you taking the traditional route, with a play based purely on the story of the nativity? The kind featuring angels trimmed with pound-shop tinsel, shepherds wearing mum's best tea towel tied on with string and kings sporting cloaks made from gran's old curtains? Or are you taking a fresh look at the meaning of Christmas - or even including a bit of pop?
Whatever you're doing, you must write (or order) that script immediately because you need to start learning those songs.
Once you have decided on the "what", you need to consider the "who". Read through the cast list and start multiplying the roles - three camels can become nine, six angels can become 18 - until you have a job for each child.
Then it's time for casting - there are some major considerations here. And even when the casting is over, your problems do not end. A nativity is a stressful undertaking, but it can be a thoroughly rewarding one, so here's how to ensure that the preparation and the performance go smoothly.
Consider children's beliefs
Not all families celebrate Christmas, so check with parents before casting children in certain roles. Also, cultural sensitivities can be a minefield: the British nativity is quite a strange affair and parents from other countries may not understand it. Take the time to explain the concept to any parent struggling to grasp why there are four elephants in the desert visiting the baby Jesus.
When working in an international school in Malaysia, I accidentally offended a Chinese parent by casting her child as a dancing egg. The issue was resolved after a chat about the eccentricities of nativity plays, but I learned my lesson.
Give pupils what they want
There is nothing worse than a nativity that features a child who is a sobbing, snotty mess because they were cast as a shepherd when they really wanted to be an angel. Try to accommodate preferences and make your cast list gender-neutral. For example, an "army of angels" may go down better than a "choir of angels". Allow the students - boys and girls - to dress in all-white tracksuits rather than nighties smelling of mothballs that have been in the dressing-up box for the past decade.
Think about the visuals
A short Joseph next to a towering Mary can cause giggles in the audience. For the same reason, height should be considered when forming partnerships for dance numbers. And for group scenes, parents are likely to get pretty annoyed if they can't actually see their children, so put the littlest ones at the front.
Tread carefully with costumes
Some amazing outfits are available at very reasonable prices from supermarkets and online retailers, and this approach can be easier than asking parents to supply them. Alternatively, make tabards yourself and get parents to provide the adornments.
If you decide to buy costumes, look out for hidden novelty features such as donkey ears that emit an "eee-aww" sound at the push of a button. Cut them out before rehearsals - they will drive you bonkers if you don't.
Anticipate toilet trouble
A Wise Man rushing towards you holding their crotch in the middle of a performance is not ideal. Even worse is finding the donkey sitting in a puddle of wee because they were too embarrassed to get up. Make sure every child goes to the toilet before the performance.
Get everyone involved
A good tip to keep things fresh for the audience is to add a modern twist, such as getting students to sing the pop song of the moment with some dancing and a bit of crowd participation thrown in.
Maintain a sense of perspective
I would love to say that I don't get competitive with the other year groups - but that would be a lie. I nearly had a huge falling-out with a colleague over an angel dance and the use of a song by Akon. You must avoid this madness at all costs.
Alice Edgington teaches at St Stephen's Infant School in Canterbury, Kent