Bristol youth put new spin on pageant

BRISTOL — Though the Bristol Christmas pageant will include the traditional Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, complete with manger and barnyard animals, this year’s pageant takes on a rather untraditional format.
Seventeen-year-old Thomas Ahern, who has been taking a film class at the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center, volunteered to film and edit a video version of the Christmas story that will premiere at the First Baptist Church of Bristol on Sunday, Dec. 12, on 4:30 p.m.
“We are filming the actual Christmas story with a narration of it by Mary and Joseph done as a voiceover,” said Sandra Comly, a member of the First Baptist Church of Bristol who organized the project and wrote the script for the film along with Ahern’s older sister, Stephanie, who directed it.
“It will be like they are writing a letter to some friends and then there will be flashbacks where we’ll show the actual scenes from the story,” Comly said.
Children from various churches around Bristol have been involved in the project, as well as some who participated in the First Baptist Church of Bristol’s summer program.
“We have one actor from Middlebury and the rest are from Bristol,” Comly wrote in an e-mail. “The First Baptist Church of Bristol is organizing and producing the film and program, but the actors are from different churches in Bristol.”
According to Comly, they have participants from the First Baptist Church of Bristol, the Federated Church of Bristol and from St. Ambrose Catholic Church.
“What I have done is just called up some of those children and asked if they would be interested,” Comly said.
The cast and crew consist of a dozen kids, Comly estimated. Caroline Gibbs, 10, plays Mary and Keion Correll, 11, acts as Joseph. Even one of Bristol’s youngest residents scored a role as the infant Jesus.
“We almost had a baby, but it got sick and we had to use a doll,” Comly said. “But in the scene where the wise men come to visit, we have a live little fellow, Micah McConnell.”
Though a doll stood in for McConnell in most scenes, the barnyard animals seen on screen are anything but fake.
Comly, Ahern and crew filmed live sheep at New Haven Don Mitchell’s home, and the role of the donkey is actually filled by two miniature donkeys owned by Nancy Skidmore of Bristol.
The backdrops, too, are real. Viewers may recognize settings around Bristol and even Middlebury in the background of the film’s various scenes.
“We had to find special areas for doing the different scenes,” Comly said. “For one, we were filming down at the library at Middlebury. It’s the scene where the Roman soldier is doing the announcement of the decree for the census.”
The kids and young adults involved also chose to go in a different direction in terms of donations. Rather than have proceeds from the pageant go toward the local food shelf as they have in years past, the cast and crew have chosen to give them to two different organizations. Donations will be given to the Village2Village, which aids children in Uganda, and personnel from the American Baptist Association of Vermont and New Hampshire who are performing relief work in Haiti.
And though the medium has changed from live musical to film interpretation, the story will still be recognizable to viewers.
“It’s the same in that it comes from the Bible,” Comly said. “We used that as the main script for it. It’s different in that it’s from Mary and Joseph’s point of view.”
Tamara Hilmes is at [email protected].

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