It's been some years since I wrote this, but next week I am fronting up to my four year old Nephew's ballet recital. In light of this - and the nearing of Christmas, I thought it was the perfect time to revisit a blog entry I wrote years ago. Perhaps it's time for Kenneth to cover other local events?
Network Script Executive
Mrs Jean Barber,
Director of Activities
Argyle Street Kindergarten
14 Argyle Street
Recently I attended your Nativity play, entitled ‘Argyle Kinder’s Nativity Play’. My four year old son, Dalton, played Wise Man # 2 or Frankincence Man. I thought as a professional courtesy I’d send along my thoughts.
Firstly your title needs work and I feel this may be the cause of the empty seat situation. Something with ‘Quest’ in the title may be the answer or even ‘Star of the Night’ to tap into the popularity of the Idol/Got Talent phenom. People always like the ‘hero emerging’ tale which is why they go for these shows, but in storytelling terms we're in the realm of the Matrix or Harry Potter.
The Logline on your flier really needs work; ‘The Birth of Jesus’. There’s no real hook here, so what? When my son arrived, the build-up admittedly was extraordinary, then he just lay there for months, couldn’t even lift his head. I question if Jesus is your protagonist? Try: A working class family struggle to make ends meet until they discover their newborn son is the answer to their prayers. Now I’m interested – what are they going to do with him? How does he answer their prayers? Maybe they enter him in a ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ type show? The point is I want to find out.
Now to the play itself – I didn’t feel the characters of Mary or Joseph are fully fleshed out. You say Joseph is a carpenter but we never really see this. Surely, given his wife is pregnant he could fashion some kind of cart for her to ride in behind the donkey?
Also, Mary really just sits passively and allows things to happen to her. She needs to be pro-active. Possibly when she’s denied a room in the hotel she can purposefully choose the stable as a protest. On the doorstep of the hotel, bedding down in squalor she could actively demonstrate the hotel’s heartlessness. I could see a whole Norma Rae sequence here that would open this up to a much wider female demographic. A quick note of warning on this, her demands need to be reasonable – we don’t want Mary coming off as a strong armed feminist.
The setup of the first act seems rushed. We’re given a large amount of information about a census in a quick narrative. Of course rule number one is show, don’t tell, so I would suggest we see the family at home, Joseph at work, Mary in the kitchen and they’re complaining about the bills, the neighbours, Joseph’s a little stressed by his work – maybe a dovetail joint that's just not coming together.
There’s an opportunity for some humour with heavily pregnant Mary, perhaps a sudden craving for an egg and bacon roll. How would Joseph react to this and in his very orthodox neighbourhood mayhem ensues as he tries to fill Mary’s request. We want people relating to these two as real people, so when the demand comes to travel to Bethlehem for the census we know how inconvenient this is for them.
The transition into the second act seems arbitrary. Where are the hurdles of the decision? Where are their alternative choices? Do they go to be counted or blow the Romans off and at what risk if they do? I would go with Joseph fashioning a cart, perhaps he could tie the whole trip into a work opportunity to expand his business into carts, giving us more inroads into the aspirational middle class demographic. Has he considered being a new cart dealer? There’s always good mileage in the banter of an unscrupulous salesman.
And have you missed a moment at the birth? Joseph's elation as he declares, "He has my eyes!" And a knowing look from Mary. I wouldn't overplay this, but let the observant in on the joke.
The conflict over the hotel room is well handled, except you miss a perfect opportunity for Mary and Joseph to seed a payback moment with the manager, ala ‘Pretty Women’. Imagine Mary with the glowing newborn in her arms striding back to the manager in his lobby – “Your hotel could have had free advertising for the rest of time, but you turned me away. Big mistake. Huge!” This could well become the most quoted moment if handled correctly.
The three wise men seem to be lost in a field, making me wonder whether you’re being ironic with their titles. They follow a bright star to the manger and hand over expensive gifts. I understand what you’re going for here, but it stretches believability that anyone can pinpoint a single dwelling from the rays of an orb millions of light years away. Why not a flaming meteorite? Doesn’t have to be large and it could literally explode into the manger and set the place on fire. This would appeal to action fans and serve as a metaphor regarding the role of Jesus to come – a hint towards a sequel.
Your final act, while well intentioned – savior of the world, leader of mankind, here to guide and redeem us, blah blah blah, worries me because of the passivity of the characters. You’ve told us Jesus is the chosen one so let’s see some of that in him. Dare I say – “Look who’s talking”. I really think there's a possibility of eight or nine passes with this as a franchise if played right – “The Diary of a Whimpy Jew”. The sky’s the limit if you’re willing to consider what I think is no more than a tweak towards your next draft.
Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.