From 2003 through 2013, Welsh-Huggins wrote and directed the holiday play at his Downtown church. Here's what he learned.

It is the third Saturday of December 2007, and we’re running behind, as usual. Dress rehearsal begins in less than five hours. The backdrop is a work in progress. Costumes are a mess. Onstage, friends and I perch on ladders spray-painting the backdrop—a night sky—before which actors will soon make entrances. Several minutes into the job, the compressed paint particles activate a buildingwide smoke alarm, which, while not quite as loud as an air-raid klaxon, sounds pretty darn close. We scramble to find a shutoff switch to no avail. In a matter of minutes, a cadre of Columbus firefighters in full turnout gear arrives on the scene. By the time they depart, dress rehearsal is less than four hours away.

Welcome to the annual Christmas Play, First Congregational Church-style.

For 11 years, from 2003 through 2013, I wrote and directed the holiday play at our Downtown church at 444 E. Broad St. The production, staged on a Sunday evening two weeks before Christmas, helps kick off the church’s holiday season offerings. It’s an event for younger children and not to be confused with the church’s Christmas Pageant, a Christmas Eve tradition for more than 60 years involving a re-creation of the Nativity with elaborate outfits and thunderous organ music. The play is cupcakes with smeared frosting compared to the formal banquet of the pageant. In fact, cupcakes are often served at the Christmas Play dinner—but not to the actors. The hazards of sugaring up children five minutes before they take the stage is one of many lessons I learned over the years.

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