From 'The Nutcracker' to church pageants, holiday productions are going online this Christmas

Across the country, Christmas shows are going virtual. (Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)
Across the country, Christmas shows are going virtual. (Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

People are finding creative ways to safely celebrate the holidays during the COVID-19 pandemic, from virtual caroling sessions to visits to Santa through plexiglass. Now there’s a growing trend of bringing Christmas plays and productions online for audiences to enjoy from the safety of home.

“We started at the very beginning of the year in August, trying to figure out a way that we could still do the Christmas show, but do it in a way that kept everyone safe,” Anne Bridges, the theater director at NSITE High School in San Antonio, Texas, told local ABC affiliate KSAT of her students’ original play, called Fixing Christmas, which was recorded remotely — in a Zoom-like format — and then uploaded to YouTube. The show is about a group of characters in the North Pole problem-solving how Santa can safely make his Christmas deliveries during the pandemic. Characters include lots of other mythical favorites including the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, along with real-life figures like Dr. Anthony Fauci.

“I wanted to make sure that this was something special for them and something that they could show to their friends and family, even family out of town this time,” Bridges said of the decision to go online.

Meanwhile, in California, Salina High School South is showcasing their take on The Best Christmas Pageant Ever online as well. The show, based on the bestselling book by Barbara Robinson, tells the story of a Christmas pageant put on by the Herdman siblings, a.k.a. “the worst kids in the history of the world.” Students were able to gather in person to rehearse and record the performance, which is now viewable online. “The big obstacle was keeping social distance during the practices,” Yesenia Torres, a junior in the production, told the Salina Journal.

Churches have similarly taken their plays and pageants online. At St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Mass. the Christmas pageant — starring 70 children who are a part of the church community — has been recorded to be shown online during Christmas Eve service.

The move to streaming is not just happening among high school and church productions. Across the country, local theater companies from New Mexico to Massachusetts are streaming their holiday performances in lieu of live audiences. “We had a blast, it was a sharp learning curve,” Cheri Costales, the director of Elite Dance & Theatre in Albuquerque, told local outlet KRQE of recording A Christmas Carol which is now available to rent on the theater’s website.

The Mid Columbia Ballet Company in Washington, similarly posted a Christmas performance of The Nutcracker ballet to YouTube, notably with much of the performances occurring outdoors. The annual production, usually performed at Richland High School, was instead filmed with 125 dancers all over the Tri-Cities area and renamed Clara's Tri-Cities Nutcracker Dream.

In Virginia, the Barter Theater opted to turn their traditional Christmas performance into a drive-in experience for audience members to enjoy from their cars. They are performing both A Christmas Carol and Frosty.

The country’s premier arts venues are also taking streaming in stride. Lincoln Center in New York City is streaming George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker on their site, and the famous Radio City Christmas Spectacular is available for viewing on Peacock and The Rockettes are also offering virtual dance lessons through their Instagram page.

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