Holy Trinity’s Christmas Story has been an annual tradition since 1938. Even when the church was badly damaged in 1977 by the fire that spread from the adjacent Eaton warehouses, the pageant was staged next door in the Toronto Eaton Centre (Sunday shopping was not yet a reality).
The COVID-19 pandemic presented a potentially insurmountable challenge. How could we possibly safely stage the pageant? As school got underway in September, Christmas Story and Vestry Executive started deliberating the options. Could it be staged as “Lessons and Carols” without performers? Could we have an outdoor theatrical production? It was decided that the safest and most realistic option would be to make a filmed version that could be streamed on-line.
A sequence of small miracles unfolded to allow the project to be realized. Between the two casts, enough performers agreed to participate in an outdoor, physically-distanced shoot. Long-time benefactors agreed to provide seed funding to hire a professional video crew. I knew Eric Miller of THALWEG media as a former summer camp trip leader of my son, Alec Digby. THALWEG had worked on another challenging church project, a documentary on a 40-day Jesuit Truth and Reconciliation canoe trip.
I worked with Morgan Baskin and Chloe Matamoros as Assistant Director/Producers. It was Morgan’s vision to visually untether the pageant from its traditional moorings. If the pageant was going to be filmed outside, why not have a King processing across Nathan Philip’s Square, or Mary performing the Magnificat at Yonge and Dundas?
When it came time for the shoot, it really felt like the waters of the Red Sea parted. The two major shooting days fell on November 7th and 8th, an unseasonably warm weekend with 18-degree temperature and sun on both days. This meant that everyone could safely spend the entire day outside. My physician spouse, Ian Digby, took on the responsibility of being the on-set COVID compliance officer. Everyone was pre-screened at home and then screened again when they arrived at the shoot. Protocols including temperature checks, physical distancing and wearing masks between takes were observed by all participants.
The biggest coup was landing a real baby to play Jesus – one of the key drawing cards of the stage production. The only way this could be safely carried out was to have the actual parents of the baby put on a separate set of Mary and Joseph costumes for the scenes involving the infant Jesus. This is one of the quirks of the production – that the performers playing Mary and Joseph change between various scenes.
The pageant production team is really thrilled with the results and we look forward to sharing this very special season of The Christmas Story with you.
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