By Ken Trainor
It's only October, but First Baptist of Oak Park, 820 Ontario St. (just north of Scoville Park) is already thinking about Christmas — the first Christmas. They're busy planning the 22nd edition of their annual live nativity scene. Not just live actors, but live animals. That includes a donkey, sheep and goats, plus the star attraction — a camel. They've even been known to include a biblically incorrect llama or two, though no kid has ever complained about the inaccuracy.
This year there's another twist. In the past, they've always used volunteers from the church community. This year they've decided to extend the invitation to the larger community to join the cast this year.
First Baptist will present "Journey to Bethlehem" from 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 14-15. They call it their "Christmas gift to the community," and it remains a popular holiday tradition in Oak Park, especially for families with small children.
Journey is presented in five scenes on the lawn outside the church along Ontario Street and Oak Park Avenue:
1) The Annunciation, when the angel appears to Mary;
2) The Journey Scene, with Mary and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem;
3) Herod's Throne Room, where the three wise men meet King Herod;
4) The Shepherds' Field, where the shepherds learn of Jesus' birth; and
5) The Stable, where Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus are visited by shepherds.
There are no lines to learn, all the action is pantomimed to music by SAVAE (San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble), played on instruments from that era. There are two full casts of 40 actors each. Each cast is out twice for a half hour, then inside for a half hour. Dinner is provided for the cast. A costume crew dresses the cast, and there is even a "beard crew" applying facial hair when appropriate.
There is a two-hour "Rookies Rehearsal" for those actors who are new to Journey, and a 90-minute rehearsal for each scene. After the last performance on Dec. 15, the cast serves as the set crew, dismantling the sets and storing costumes and props.
Those interested in participating this year should contact the director, Mary Lee Eneberg, at First Baptist Church of Oak Park — 708-848-4070, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the First Baptist website, firstbaptistchurchofoakpark.com. Click on "Journey to Bethlehem" to access the link to access a video documentary.
A "casting call" has been sent to area theaters, with a Nov. 1 deadline. It would certainly make an interesting addition to any actor's resume.