2009-11-19 / News

New director sought to carry on island holiday tradition

By Stacy Jones

Susan Lutes and her son, Nick. Photo courtesy of Susan Lutes Susan Lutes and her son, Nick. Photo courtesy of Susan Lutes With every gain in life, there is a loss. Susan Lutes, director of the Shoreby Hill Christmas Pageant, can attest to that fact. She’s living it.

After five years of heading the popular holiday event – a recreation of the Nativity scene – Lutes is moving on. She is embracing the redirection of her life, even if she never planned for it.

“I’m very attached to the pageant. To assume the reins was very meaningful. I had planned to be doing this for quite a long stretch,” she said. “But since taking it on, my life has taken a different turn. A very positive one, but unexpected.”

Some of the reshuffling has included her relocation to Newport and a new job focus.

“I never thought I’d leave Jamestown,” said Lutes, adding that she raised her kids here, was a licensed realtor at Island Realty and was involved in several groups like the PTO, the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts, among others. “I was dug into many aspects of the town.”

Islanders of all ages take part in the annual Nativity pageant on Shoreby Hill. Jamestown Press file photo Islanders of all ages take part in the annual Nativity pageant on Shoreby Hill. Jamestown Press file photo Extricating herself from the fabric of the town she loves has not been easy, but it has been exciting. Her current existence finds her traveling often to Boston and New York City for business, as well as participating with her “significant other” in regatta races aboard their 12-metre class yacht, Freedom. She also travels internationally on a regular basis, especially during the holiday season. Because of these demands, Lutes said, it’s time to hand over her duties as director after this season’s production.

The pageant, held on the Shoreby Hill green on Christmas Eve, is a community favorite. Begun in 1975, the pageant was fashioned after one held in the Bronx, and includes local residents costumed as Mary, Joseph, shepherds and angels. In total, there are 26 participants, with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts playing the roles of the shepherds and angels, respectively. In addition, during the non-denominational pageant, there is special lighting, guitar playing, the reading of blessings and prayers, and the singing of several Christmas carols.

“It’s very moving,” Lutes said. “It brings home what the holiday is all about.”

Even prior to directing the pageant, she added, “I adored it. The nice thing about it is it’s for everybody.”

Two moments in particular are etched in her memory: The year her daughter, Emmy, “was fortunate enough to be one of the angels,” and another year when an orange moon and the illuminated Newport Pell Bridge “took everyone’s breath away.”

This location, Lutes said, “is an absolute treasure.”

Another valuable part of the pageant is the townspeople who serve as performers and organizational volunteers. They make her job go smoothly, Lutes said. A prime example is islander Mary Waddington, who will oversee the pageant on Christmas Eve, she said.

In fact, according to Lutes, a commitment to the Jamestown community is essential to becoming a participant in the pageant. The majority of contributors come from local organizations, like the Lions Club, the Rotary Club, the VFW and the American Legion. Participants may also be coaches of school sports teams, or town council or committee members.

“It’s considered an honor to be asked,” Lutes said.

Matt Bolles’ first pageant was roughly 20 years ago. His appreciation for the event is evident in his actions: Over the years, his guitar playing has been absent only one or two times, and his daughter took on the role of an angel in a past production. Bolles’ support has been so unwavering because he sees the pageant as “an opportunity for families to acknowledge the meaning of Christmas in a real way, not in front of a TV or in a movie theater,” he said.

Bolles described Lutes as “a warm, outgoing person who is able to coordinate people in a pleasant manner.”

Waddington, a volunteer since 2005, also had warm words for Lutes.

“Susan graciously gave her time to the pageant and it was because of her leadership and the participation of members of the community that the pageant produced such a great outpouring of support during the holidays,” she said.

As her reign winds down – and with all of the pageant pieces in place for this year – Lutes is now focused on finding a replacement. Her expectations for her successor are high, as are her hopes for the direction the pageant will take in the coming years.

“I’ve put feelers out, but so far I have not found someone to come over to take the reins,” she said.

The new director should be “passionate about Jamestown and this event, and give it the enthusiasm it deserves,” she said.

Lutes would also like to see the community chorus and community theatre take a more active role in the pageant. For example, the pageant incorporates four to five Christmas carols throughout the evening, which could be performed by chorus members. Also, the theatre could help with costumes, she said.

“It seems like a natural fit,” she said. “In an ideal world, I’d love to see that. That’s my hope. I don’t know what will come of it.”

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