The children of the Church of Divine Mercy Penang (CDM) created history when they successfully hosted the “What is Christmas?” musical on the 16th & 17th November 2019. The idea of a musical started modestly in January when Children Choir mistress, Esther Tan, asked Fr Martin Arlando, parish priest of CDM permission to host a small Christmas musical at the end of the year for fund raising purposes towards the Free Learning Center and new building. With permission granted, a script was sourced and the search ended with the script from the book “An Unexpected Christmas”by Simone Graham. Esther the adapted this story line and reinvented the story of the Stubborn family’s view of celebrating Christmas. She felt that some people in the Catholic Church, nowadays, feel that the same ways of celebrating Christmas is getting faded and other Christian denominations provide more attractive hymns and activities surrounding Christmas.
But after some deliberation, it was decided that the play would not really attract most children and so someone suggested to add on a puppet show. The notion of having the audience focus on a few puppets on a small stage for any long period of time didn’t quite appeal. And so the search extended to a play by Troy and Genie Nilsson entitled “Christmas Animals”. The thought that the animals at the nativity scene, who, were in fact the first witnesses of the birth of Christ, was well accepted by everyone. With the addition of Act 2 to the musical, it had now expanded to a much larger production. The choir went about recruiting more singers and the scripts were adapted towards the Malaysian situation in terms of language and mannerisms. By June, the choir began work, the casts began in July and by August the musicians were in place. In the end, there were 37 children and 7 adults in the choir which included three ballerinas, casts comprised of 14 children in Act 1, 12 children in Act 2, 10 musicians which included 4 physically challenged children. Having such a large number of children posted a Herculean effort to get the musical ready in less than 20 practices. By the grace of God we were able to overcome the competition and tug-of-war of tuition, school activities time, family functions and all types of coughs and cold afflictions.
The common question posed by most people when such an event is held is to ask how the parish would benefit from it, besides any monetary gains. The musical was intended to show the community in and around CDM that in putting all our complete trust in God, we can, by His grace, accomplish all things for His glory. As such, it was decided at the onset that this musical would be admission free. This was in line with the basic tenet of this event is that Christmas is inclusive and no one should be excluded. There was also the intention to evangelize the true meaning of Christmas. As such, sponsors were sourced and both private and government agencies were approached to cover all costs. Generous donors came forward to sponsor costumes, t-shirts and other essential items.
Two visually challenged recent graduates from USM, Felicia and Andrea Pui were asked to rewrite the script of Act 1. They truly showed how Christmas should be celebrated through the heart and not from the visible signs around us. We also showcased the God given talents of the 26 children even as they struggled to memorize lines and movements. Over the weeks of preparation, the patience and love of the teachers were repeatedly challenged as they meticulously drilled the children who frequently forgot everything from one practice to the next. The tender resolve and commitment of the parents were shown as they encouraged their children to give their best by rescheduling time for studies, family outings and play. The intentional inclusion of physically handicapped children to play the music for the musical proved a most enduring and motivational task for the Choir mistress. The challenges of rehearsing in classrooms and private houses and then, only, for the last three practices moving on to an improvised stage twice the size they were used too. This is because CDM does not have a big hall and the church itself was used with the performing stage setup in front of the altar. The props team that lived up to the expectations of using recycled materials, as CDM had been awarded the Green Certification, the first among religious organizations in Penang. The happy and joyful antics of the backstage crew of going with the flow of the musical as they danced through scenes during the musical, as they were not able to view the show upfront on the actual days of the event. The e-ticketing team who handed out 600 free e-tickets for both nights and struggled with admitting crowds as they handed out free souvenir bookmarks of the tickets each with an evangelizing message. The parting sweet candy door gifts to all who came in appreciation of their attendance and wonderful encouragement of the children throughout the show. The efforts of the Christmas Market stalls people who sacrificed viewing the show to man the stalls to bring the Christmas spirit through cookies, food and souvenirs. The dedication people who came forward to offer their services free, like photography, make-up and technical support.
There was little doubt in the minds of all who came for the musical of the caring community spirit of CDM parishioners, especially the young ones who had eagerly volunteered to go around the audience with the donation boxes. They clearly understood the purpose and benefits of the Free Learning Center and new building that was stirring all their fund raising efforts. Their performance touched the hearts of many people even as young as a three year old who cried at the scene of the pig being an outcast. Fr Martin had remarked that he experienced the flowing of the Holy Spirit at the times he prayed over the children before each performance. At the end of the musical, the children proved that they were worthy evangelists with everyone going home with the clear answer and believing that “What is Christmas, if not for CHRIST”.
For those interested, the musical can be viewed at http://www.facebook.com/cdmsgarapg/videos/1175384262650386?vh=e&d=n&sfns=mo for Act 1 and http://www.facebook.com/cdmsgarapg/videos/427375184850481?vh=e&d=n&sfns=mo for Act 2.
Dr Ivan Filmer
21st November, 2019.