This isn’t your average church play.
With a gigantic set, live animals, plenty of dancing and singing, period costumes and an in-house written script, it’s more like something you would see on Broadway.
This month, Christian Life Assembly in Camp Hill will present its 32nd seasonal production, “A Christmas Legacy.”
“We produce a high-quality, Broadway-style production, and, because we utilize volunteers, an army of volunteers, we’re able to offer it at a very low price,” said Dan Baker, the dramatic arts pastor.
About 400 volunteers make it all work, which, Baker said, is one of his favorite things about the annual production.
“[I enjoy] watching people . . . do what they’re good at, in all areas: artistically, costumes, construction,” he said.
Aileen Roth uses her sewing talents to help costume the production. Alongside racks of petticoats, hoop skirts, flannel shirts and shepherds’ tunics, she described the entire team’s goal.
“We want [people] to be transported,” she said.
“A Christmas Legacy” straddles four times periods, from 1915 to present day.
“We try to give people a taste of whatever the period, to make them feel like they are experiencing it,” Roth said.
The costumers not only create the clothes, but also research how to properly wear them. For example, the 1915 hat should be worn at a tilt, Roth said.
A lot of research goes into the sets, as well.
David Arva, art crew director, works on the visual elements of the drama, adapting the lighting, painting and props to each time period. His research involved looking at various hotels over time to best reproduce the finishes and logos.
“For me, it’s the culminating of the layers,” he said.
Arva added that one of the challenges of this drama is the scale, and that’s no more evident than in the set construction, which began in a pole barn behind the church in August.
George Myers, who everyone calls Cubby, leads the set construction crew.
“It’s gonna be huge, one of the biggest sets yet,” he said.
The set was moved onto the stage at the end of October—the same stage where worship takes place each Sunday.
“It’s a church, not a drama house, so we have to change, move for worship,” Myers said.
At 30-feet tall, the set used 600 two-by-fours, 200 sheets of plywood and will include a grand staircase. Surrounding it all is a 148-foot railing adorned with faux wrought iron.
The story that unfolds on this massive set revolves around Pamela Billingsley, the “reluctant owner” of the Billingsley Hotel. Dan Baker described the theme: “Don’t lose sight of things that, as we embrace technology, are important.”
Karin Baker, script co-writer, explained further.
“In her zeal to modernize, she [Billingsley] has lost the hands-on approach and loving people,” she said.
Robert Williams, Jr., plays the manager of the hotel.
“You see a person who is struggling with things from the past, is brought to the realization that the hope was in front the whole time,” he said. “Your ambition can cause you to miss your blessings.”
Many generations contribute to the show.
Williams’ two sons and wife volunteer in a number of ways. The mother/daughter team of Stephanie Matsko and Hannah Matsko serve as dancers.
“It’s cool to see my mom in a different element,” Hannah said. “It allows me to see how we’re alike.”
On the night I visited, a group of about 30 practiced the song, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” which is featured in the play.
Tony Parks, his wife and three of his kids are participating. Why?
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s relevant, interesting and has a great message.”
To set the mood, patrons, upon entering the church, will be greeted by a live Nativity with sheep, alpacas and donkeys, singers and concession areas.
Last year, CLA welcomed 16,000 visitors to their Christmas production from as far away as West Virginia, and Dan Baker said they expect an even larger audience this year.
“When people come, we want them to be blown away by the quality,” he said. “They will experience hospitality and a performance that will make them laugh, and cry and say, ‘Wow that’s amazing.’”
“A Christmas Legacy” runs Dec. 7 to 15 at Christian Life Assembly, 2645 Lisburn, Rd., Camp Hill. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.clacamphill.com/cladrama.