Jeremy Orrego, left, as one of the three kings, Rebecca Nish as Mary and Elias Orrego as Joseph prepare for the First Christmas Nativity Pageant, running for three nights starting Dec. 21 at Topaz Park.

Pageant brings true spirit of the season

More than 200 volunteers bring nativity scene to life

Organizers of the live First Christmas Nativity Pageant on Topaz Avenue know firsthand actors can be as stubborn as a mule, particularly if they are one.

There is a donkey which is relied upon every year for the performance’s manger scene that has memorized his cues so well he refuses to stray from them.

“I said to my daughter, ‘We’ll take the donkey on the set before the crowd comes.’  Well, we were trying to drag this donkey on, he would not go on the set,” says longtime pageant actor Peter Grill. “As soon as he heard his music he just walks on the set.”

The donkey is just one part component of a production featuring a cast of 120 people and a few other four-legged friends. With the crew behind them, in all about 200 people come together every holiday season to bring the story of Jesus’ birth to life.

Every year the pageant, put on by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, attracts more than 6,000 people to take in the performances, which run four times per night for three nights, starting on Saturday, Dec. 21 at 6:30pm. Each performance is a half-hour long.

The nativity pageant first came to life 27 years ago, when a member of the church began to eye up Topaz Park as a perfect location for a pageant.

“It changed our Christmas,” producer Lyanne Jaubert-Sanderson said. “Everybody who participates, all of a sudden it brings back Christmas and presents don’t mean as much. Even the kids say ‘This is Christmas.’”

The location itself is a pocket of peace and quiet in a city buzzing with preparation for Christmas. Topaz Avenue is closed to traffic for the event and the streetlights are turned off, leaving a still, quiet setting in the park.

“It’s like we’re in another world,” Jaubert-Sanderson said. “It’s quite close to Blanshard (Street) but it’s amazing, it’s like it all disappears.”

The production starts at the beginning, when the Bible says the angel Gabriel told Mary she was to have a child. The pageant then moves through the birth of Jesus and the visits of the shepherds and wise men.

The whole thing ends in the singing of the finale to Handel’s Messiah.

Mary and Joseph are the most carefully selected roles, with the actors chosen for being people who best represent the spirit of their characters. Many people vie for the roles, although not always for the most obvious reason.

“We’ve been actually pretty successful, we’re up to four marriages I think,” said director Wendy Yzenbrant.

Grill’s granddaughter met her husband by playing the role.

“All the girls want to be Mary,” Jaubert-Sanderson said. ‘Will you make us Mary this year, because there’s some really cute guys.’ … It’s just a running joke.”

Bleachers and chairs are available but the event does get busy, so it can be standing room only. The free show will go on rain or shine. The first two shows of the evening, at 6:30 and 7 pm, are typically the busiest.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre to host a trio of acts

Aaron Pritchett, Alex Cuba and Valdy will each play four shows

Pacific Opera takes music to the streets

Artists travel around Capital Region District this summer for live performences

SKAMpede goes live in July

Beloved annual event returns with changes, pre-registration online

Victoria Flamenco Festival goes virtual for 2020 event

The show will go online from July 23 to 26

Campbell River teen produces quarantine musical

Ryver Santos Cegnar performed for friends and family over Facebook

Nanaimo Art Gallery summer camp moves programming online due to COVID-19

Teenage artists have until the end of next week to apply to Dazzle Camouflage

Symphony pop-up concerts coming to central Vancouver Island

Only 40 tickets available for each Vancouver Island Symphony private backyard show

Courtenay theatre gets support for livestream ‘hybrid’ shows this year

Island Coastal Economic Trust funds help Sid Williams Theatre with infrastructure, training

Virtual film industry career fair offers chance to talk with the experts

Experts in 11 different departments, three film union representative will be in attendance

Victoria Classic Boat Festival cancelled due to safety concerns

Organizers say Inner Harbour doesn’t provide enough space for physical distancing

Infringing festival finds a way to dance during pandemic

Nanaimo’s Crimson Coast Dance Society holding drive-in, micro and physically distanced events

Coastal scenes at the forefront for July shows at Victoria galleries

From sculpture to landscape paintings, summer art is about nature

Most Read