The following is a true story as told to the Editor of East Coast Stories. The names have been changed at the request of the storyteller.
It was Peggy’s first year teaching at Saint John’s elementary school. In fact, it was Peggy’s first year teaching anywhere. As the newest and youngest teacher, Peggy got stuck with the job of directing the Christmas play. The experienced teachers were smart enough to avoid that assignment.
It took up a huge amount of time and by the time it was done Peggy felt it was more stressful than directing a Broadway show. This was the first year the school was doing a play. The Administration wanted it to be big fund raiser for the school.
Peggy got called in to a meeting with the Assistant Principal Sister Mary Connor. The school was technically run by old Monsignor Ryan, but everyone knew the real power was with Sister Connor.
Sister Connor explained that the school was going to sell very expensive tickets (tax deductible) to the parents. Sister Connor leaned across the desk and drilled her steely blue eyes into Peggy.
“This is our chance to finally get this school out of debt. As the play’s director, your main job is to figure out how how to get as many children in the play as possible. The only reason parents are going to buy a ticket is to see their own children in the play. So the more children you can cram into the play the more tickets sold. Don’t worry about whether the child can act or even if the part makes any sense. Are we clear on that Miss Cantello?”
“Yes Sister. You can count on me.”
“Let us hope so,” responded Sister Connor with a nod but no smile. There were teachers who had been at the school for 10 years who claimed they had never once seen Sister Connor smile. Her face seemed frozen in a sort of perpetual scowl. Even the parents were afraid of her.
Peggy was a math teacher and approached the problem like an equation. What was the maximum number of roles you could squeeze into the story of Mary and Joseph being turned away from the Inn and ending up in the manger?
At first it seemed easy. Kids could play Mary, Joseph, the 3 Kings and maybe 3 innkeepers turning them away. But that was only 8 parts. Then Peggy realized she could also have kids play animals. They could have a mule, a horse and 3 lambs. Then she threw in the Little Drummer Boy. (Not actually in the Bible, but it brought the total to 14). Then for good measure she added 6 shepherds Then she was stuck. there was no way the school would sell enough tickets with only 20 kids in the play.
Finally Peggy broke down and called her mother for help. Mom was delighted to help.
“You have to stop thinking like a Math teacher dear,” said Mom. “Stop being so logical. All the parents think their children are little angels. So dress them up as such and pack the stage with angels. I bet you could cram at least 20 little angels on the stage. Then put another 20 angels coming down the aisles. And don’t forget the tall kids.”
“What about the tall kids?”
“Of course you have them stand in the back as stars in the sky”
Peggy had to admit that her mom’s ideas were brilliant. As the weeks went along the play really started shaping up. Ticket sales were brisk and lots of parents volunteered to make costumes. It seemed like nothing could go wrong now.
The costumes were made. The parts had been cast. The rehearsals had gone well and 100% of the tickets had been sold. Everyone was happy.
Except for little Maureen O’Toole. She had been cast as one of the Innkeepers who turn Mary and Joseph away. She was very upset about that. No matter how many times Peggy explained it was just a pretend play, little Maureen did not like the idea of turning them away. She cried hysterically during every rehearsal when she had to say there was “No room at Inn.” Peggy wanted to just take her out of the play, but Sister Connor explained that was impossible. Little Maureen’s father was the Chief of Police, the school wanted to make sure little Maureen got a prominent part in the play.
The night of the play came, and every seat in the auditorium was filled. Sister Connor was standing by a wall near the front with her usual scowl. Then the lights went down, a hush fell over the crowd and the play started.
For an elementary school play it went along fairly smoothly. The kids did not stumble over their lines too badly and most of the children stood in the correct locations.
Then came the part Peggy was most worried about. Mary and Joseph went to the First Inn (made of cardboard) and were turned away. Then they went to the Second Inn and were turned away. The Third Inn was the one where the Innkeeper was little Maureen.
Maureen came to the Inn door with tears in her eyes and said clearly, “There is no Room at the inn.” Peggy gave a sigh of relief. Then little Maureen added in a very loud voice, “But won’t you come in and have some cocktails?”
The kids and the parents froze. Then the silence was broken by sudden laughter from the front of the auditorium. Peggy looked up and saw that Sister Conner was smiling and laughing hysterically. Soon she was joined by the entire audience.
When the laughter died down, the two children playing Mary and Joseph were smart enough not to go into the Inn for cocktails, but proceeded to the Manger, to complete the rest of the play. Little Maureen waved goodbye to them and went back thorough the cardboard door and off stage.
On Monday morning, Peggy was called into Sister Connor’s office.
“That was quite and interesting twist to the Christmas Story Miss Cantello,” said Sister Connor, with an actual smile.
“I can explain sister.”
“No need. The parents loved it. Especially Chief O’Toole. He complemented you on bringing little Maureen ‘out of her shell’. By the way Miss Cantello. This was such a fund raising success that we have decided to do an Easter play as well. Naturally, you will be the director. ”
Peggy Cantello was at Saint John’s school for another 3 years and then went to teach in public school. The whole time she was at Saint John’s she directed two fund raising plays per year, but none was an memorable as the first. “Little Maureen” is now grown up and in high school. She is looking forward to college and is considering majoring in Drama.