YATP, also known as The Young Artists’ Theatre Project of Danville, is gearing up for an exciting holiday production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson. The entirely student run production is about a Christmas story of a woman who gets roped into running the church Christmas pageant. A family of juvenile delinquents in their town decide to participate, taking over and putting their own unique stamp on the Christmas story. Everything appears to be going terribly wrong with the pageant, including some fights and a fire scare, but in the end, it turns out to be terribly right. It’s warm and funny, and guaranteed to bring people together in the spirit of the holidays. This production opens on November 30th and runs until December 2nd and benefits the Danville-Riverside Food Bank.

We at ArtofPA.org sat down with Kathi Beiter, the YATP Director, to learn more about this holiday production.

ArtofPa.org: What made you choose The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson for this years production?

Kathi: This show is fantastic on so many levels. I think the first thing that brought it to mind was the venue where we performed The Crucible last summer, the Jane DeLong Memorial building. The directors want the building to be used, but very few people even know it’s in Washingtonville. The board of directors and the building manager were so welcoming and helpful, and as the summer progressed Mr. Dombroski (building manager) said he would like us to do other shows there. Not every show would work in the space, but this one popped into my mind and I saw it would work in the space. Then, as we rehearsed for The Crucible, I kept imagining how this show could be set in the space and how the space would highlight the show as well. Then the show itself—it’s so funny and yet so heart-warming. It’s relatively easy to produce because no special effects, elaborate set or period costumes. The cast is large, but comprised of many children. We hadn’t yet done a show that could be performed by kids as young as 7 or 8, so it offers an opportunity to reach to even younger actors in the community. It just seemed like it had everything going for it; the perfect show for us.

Art: Can you talk about how excited you are to be performing The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson? Any notable stories for some of the cast members?

K: I am very excited to be working on this project. I love working with kids and seeing them develop, over a show or over multiple shows. They have energy, as any parent or teacher knows, but trying to get them to channel it is always a challenge. I direct youth theater because I love giving kids a chance to try something new, getting them to connect with the audience and seeing them succeed—that’s exciting!

We have several YATP veterans involved in the show– they had such a good time over the summer, that they wanted to come back right away and do it again. They are playing Mr. Bradley, Mrs. Bradley, Alice Wendleken, Rev. Hopkins and Imogene Herdman.
Four out of those five had never been on stage before last summer. They tackled a difficult script. Someone expressed serious doubt about the wisdom of doing The Crucible with children, about any young person’s ability to connect with such subject matter as the Salem witch trials and characters like the judges or John Proctor. Far from being unable to connect, those kids studied and worked and audience members told me they left the theater with goosebumps.

A: How did you get involved in YATP?

K: In 2017, the high school chose to cancel the high school show over a parent complaint and my daughter, who was then a high school junior, disagreed with the decision. She wanted to show the community that kids were mature enough to handle varied subject matter and to show the subject matter wasn’t as controversial as it was alleged to be. So her father and I helped her to connect with a local community theater, RiverStage, and they provided a parent organization for the group and several other community members formed a new board of directors under RiverStage. Having formed out of a young person’s idea for doing theater, the group that coalesced decided that, if the group were to continue, it would continue as a theater group for younger theater enthusiasts. Many of the founders are still active in the organization, but we also gain new members with each show.

A: In the past, your group has raised money for organizations like The Gatehouse and Delong Building. Do you have a charity in mind for this years production? If so, what made you choose this charity/organization?

K: Our chosen charity for this show is the Danville-Riverside Food Bank. The idea of raising money for the community actually grew out of the first show we did, Avenue Q: Student Edition, where one of the sub-plots involves a homeless character begging for some money for food, followed by a song during which actors receive donations from the audience. We realized that this was a great idea and could really be a way that young people could feel they were helping their community while enjoying their time performing. In Best Christmas Pageant…, the Herdman children who take over the church’s pageant are notorious in their town for their wildness, but we also find out they have a very difficult home-life and are under the care of Child Welfare services. They tell how they get a basket of food for the holiday, and we knew that was the perfect connection. We could draw attention to the Food Bank which will be doing exactly that for the Christmas season, providing holiday food baskets for those of our own community who need a little help.

A: Can you talk about the venue that you’ll be performing in?

K: The Jane DeLong Memorial building is an old, 19th century church that was converted to a performance space in 1928. Back then Frank DeLong bought it, renovated it and donated it, along with a school building, to Washingtonville, for “providing opportunities and facilities for the moral and recreational welfare of the young people of the borough and outlying community.” It’s an unusual space by today’s performance standards—the stage is small and still has footlights. There is no sound system. There are no lighting facilities other than on and off. There are no wings to hide offstage actors. But it’s big and open, with architecture and lines that still recall the church it used to be. The acoustics are beautiful, with even soft sounds carrying throughout the space. The kids can learn how to project clearly and loudly, without relying on microphones that all too often crackle and squeal, distracting from the actors and their story. Music in the space is just lovely. For this show, the space will feel just like a church at Christmastime making the audience feel like the congregation watching a pageant on Christmas Eve. The Delong building is a gem in and of itself and is a truly splendid performance space particularly when we can incorporate its vintage beauty into the show itself.

A: What are some of the positive things that you hope people will take away from seeing this performance? Do you think shows like this will really put people in the holiday mood?

K: This show IS the holiday mood! To start with, it’s funny, just flat out funny. Everyone can relate to the frustration of getting roped into volunteering and of dealing with frustrating people and situations. And what’s funnier than a kid when she says whatever pops into her head (this Christmas pageant is play is full of them). But it is warm and touching at the same time, and it reminds us all of the true meaning of Christmas. It sounds corny but you walk away with a renewed belief in the innate goodness of others, of our similarities rather than our differences, of the universality of the human experience. The show lets you see through someone else’s eyes, like theater is supposed to. The audience will walk out feeling good, and what better way is there to start the holiday season?

For those interested in attending “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson
Show dates and times—
Fri., Nov. 30, 7:00;
Sat., Dec. 1, 3:00
Sat., Dec. 1, 7:00
Sun., Dec 2, 3:00

Jane DeLong Memorial Building
7 Church St.
Washingtonville, PA 17884

Tickets are $15/ adults, $8/ Students, 6 and under, free
Available at the door or in advance through riverstagetheatre.org
Follow us on facebook at Young Artists’ Theatre Project

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