Music and storytelling divine at Christmas Presence
by Keri Vermeulen
It’s just not Christmas until you’ve enjoyed some Presence. Blessed are we, then in Metro Vancouver, who get an opportunity to enjoy Pacific Theatre’s annual yuletide show, Christmas Presence, where wonder and anticipation are celebrated with a collection of music and storytelling.
Unlike the sparkle and glitz of many theatrical shows during the holiday season, Christmas Presence is the warm and simple traditional offering of Pacific Theatre. The show, which runs on the PT stage from Dec. 19 – 23, also includes a Dec. 17 Fraser Valley performance, hosted with Gallery 7 Theatre, at the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium. Combining a roster of local musicians and a variety of readings, with modest staging, Christmas Presence leaves ample room in our hearts for the Divine magic of Christmas.
“You could call it an anthology, a Christmas stocking,” shares Pacific Theatre’s Artistic Director (and one of its founders), Ron Reed. “It’s different every night; it’s a mix of songs, music, and readings – poetry, scenes from plays, Scripture, comedy routines, essays, reminiscences, and every kind of written thing.”
Christmas Presence was born early on Pacific Theatre’s 33-year history of creating “theatre that matters”. When the young Christian-faith based theatre had to close it’s season in the late 80’s, a disheartened Reed was particularly missing the fact that there would be no Christmas show. A genuine story teller, Reed recalls: “To not have a Christmas show was really crummy, so I contacted Bill Reimer out at the Regent Book Store and said ‘Could I do an evening of readings for the book store on Christmas theme?’ And he said, “sure.”
From that humble year, Christmas Presence was born, and three decades later, it continues to delight audiences with the power of simple storytelling, music and collaboration. “It’s kind of like pulling up the arm chair to a cozy fire and just reading some stories and listening to good Christmas music,” shares Artistic Director of Abbostford’s Gallery 7, Ken Hildebrandt, who will join Reed onstage for Christmas Presence in the Valley, Dec. 17. “Ron Reed comes with a huge library of stories that he’s collected over the years.”
Christmas Presence presents like an intimate (and very talented) gathering of friends and family on a Christmas Eve. It’s warm, cozy and the air is full expectancy. No smoke and chimney show here, the secret sauce to the evening might be in the fact that it is only loosely planned. With the musicians showing up at the theatre a few hours before show time, they let Reed know what songs they feel like playing that night. Then Reed, inspired, dips into his big green box, holding perhaps a 100 or more of his favourite Christmas stories, poems, Scriptures, and more.
“I do think the Holy Spirit guides it. I mean, I hate to put it on the Guy,” laughs Reed. “Everything else we do, we rehearse so intently, basically we rehearse at least an hour for every minute on stage – that’s the bare minimum for when we put up a show normally. And so to do it this way just leaves this kind of random factor, this kind of imperfection and spontaneity, and a lot of happy accidents, a lot of room for God to kind of guide things. There’s a lot of room here for Divine interference.”
This year’s perfomers include Carolyn Arrends, Nelson Boshman, The Kwerks, Zaac Pick, Michael Hart, Garth Bowen, Allen Desnoyers, Rachel Button, Breanne McDaniel, Jon Ochsendorf, Brett Ziegler, Chris Hawley, Becca Robertson, Peter Abando, Rick Colhoun, John Voth and more.
Christmas Presence runs Dec. 19 to 23, 8 pm (with Saturday matinee at 2 pm), at Pacific Theatre, 1440 W. 12th Ave in the Chalmers Heritage Building. It shows one night, Sunday, Dec. 17, in partnership with Gallery 7 Theatre at the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium in Abbotsford. Tickets, $20 to $36.50, are available at pacifictheatre.org or by calling 604 731-5518.