‘Puppeteering’ a holiday tradition for several islanders
A henpecked innkeeper, quaking shepherds, singing barnyard animals and sheep that dance the “can can” – you’ll find all that and more tonight and tomorrow in the Nativity of the Christ puppet show at United Congregational Church in Middletown – an every-otheryear tradition in which several island residents are taking part as puppeteers and choir singers.
“It really gets you into the spirit of Christmas,” said Jamestowner Jean Poirier-Green, who – through the years – has played the role of an angel, the innkeeper and one of the three kings. “I sing the songs for weeks afterward.”
But this show, which is free to the public, is about so much more than simply getting into the holiday spirit.
A free will donation is accepted during each performance and all proceeds are donated to a local family in need, which is selected by the church’s board of missions. This year, the play’s proceeds will benefit six-year-old Hannah Wertens, a Portsmouth resident who is battling leukemia.
The show began in 1990 and was performed each year until approximately 1996, when it became a biennial event, according to Megan Weymouth, coordinator for children and youth ministries at the church.
“We wanted to do something spectacular and different than a traditional Christmas pageant,” she said, adding that the cast of characters in the show has grown through the years.
Today, the show features a cast of 33 puppets, which includes rod-and-stick puppets, as well as marionettes. Puppeteers are dressed completely in black – including gloves and hoods – allowing the puppets to create a bright and colorful presence on the “stage,” which is also draped in black. The youngest puppeteer is five years old, while the oldest is “80-something,” according to Weymouth.
During the show, puppets leave the stage and move through the aisles as Mary and Joseph make their way to Bethlehem by donkey, angels swoop toward shepherds in the field, shepherds hurry to see the new baby and kings journey from afar to offer gifts to the newborn king. The little drummer boy, manned by Weymouth herself, also makes an appearance toward the show’s end.
Islander Carolyn Armington has been part of the puppet show since she joined the church in 1991.
“It’s great for all ages, from the littlest ones all the way up to people like me,” she said, adding that she’s been an angel twice and has also played the innkeeper’s wife. “The first time I was in the show, I was Elizabeth, but they wrote her out of the script.”
Several Lawn Avenue School students will also perform in the show. Eighth-graders Holly Bobola and Rebecca Small are angels, while eighth-grader Faith Chadwick plays the role of Joseph. Evan Chadwick, a sixth-grade student, plays the role of a shepherd.
Sarah Young, a Jamestown resident, sings in the show’s choir.
Islander Beth Small, who plays the role of the innkeeper in this year’s show, said she got involved because her daughter, Rebecca, was taking part in it. But, she said, she enjoys the lack of stress involved in puppeteering.
“There’s no speaking part and you’re working behind a mask,” she said. “You get to be anonymous and the puppet gets all the credit.”
Sara Bobola, who plays an angel in this year’s show, agreed.
“It’s nice to be incognito,” she said. “And it’s the only time I get to be an angel.”
The 25-minute show will be performed tonight – Thursday, Dec. 3, and tomorrow – Friday, Dec. 4. Both shows start at 7 p.m. at United Congregational Church at 524 Valley Rd. in Middletown. Call 846-3515 or 862-0573 for information.