Annual Church Pageant Features Cast of Hundreds, Animals, the Latest Gear
THE WORLD-FAMOUS CRYSTAL Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., has been welcoming standing-room-only crowds every holiday season for decades to check out the cathedral's annual “The Glory of Christmas” pageant. The basic storyline of the show is the same each year — the birth of Jesus — but show organizers still have numerous challenges to overcome when staging the event three times a day during the month of December for an average audience of around 2,500.
This year's event once again took place on one of the largest indoor sets in the world — 80ft. high by 124ft. wide in the heart of the cathedral — a set designed to recreate the ancient version of the holy city of Bethlehem.
The show traditionally combines theatrical performances with 17 musical numbers, choreographed dance numbers, and more than 200 performers on stage. And that's only the humans — the show this year also featured several live animals, including donkeys, sheep, goats, and a camel.
Sandy Boselo serves as production coordinator for Glory Productions, Garden Grove, an outside production company that the Cathedral hires each year to stage the event. She says that a private donor in Corona, Calif., who wishes to remain anonymous, provides the animals annually to the show. According to Boselo, the animals are penned and cared for in a special area on the Cathedral's Garden Grove campus during the show's run, with volunteer handlers looking after them.
Even without the animal cast, any event of this size and complexity would pose challenges for organizers.
“Preparation is the key to our success,” says Boselo. “There will always be the unexpected, but if we're prepared, we can better handle the problem and resolve it quickly. This was the 22nd year we have staged the ‘Glory of Christmas’ show, after all.” (Over the last two decades, the same group has also presented a smaller sister show each spring at the cathedral — “The Glory of Easter.”)
Light, Effects, Angels
The event is particularly well-known for its innovative use of lighting and special effects, its sheer size, and the fact that it's staged mainly by volunteers. Collaborating with director Paul David Dunn, Boselo coordinates the volunteers — mainly industry professionals in the Los Angeles area who donate their time.
In the last couple of years, the show has added a new effect — eight angels flying simultaneously over the Cathedral audience, using the patented Flying by Foy theatrical aerial harness system, manufactured by Foy Enterprises, Las Vegas, and frequently used in movies, concert tours, and numerous Las Vegas shows.
“With these productions, lighting and special effects are [crucial] in making the production more interesting to the audience,” says Boselo. “Our production is performed in an all-glass cathedral at night, so the use of lighting and special effects is dramatic and essential.”
Boselo adds that the late Terry Larson designed the production's basic lighting scheme, with in-house lighting specialist Glenn Grant actually running the cathedral's lighting system during the show in recent years, essentially retaining Larson's original plan. The lighting scheme includes a special 80ft.-high backdrop (with thousands of small twinkling lights sewn in, creating a panoramic, star-studded, evening sky) and innovative use of Xenon Super Trooper spotlights to highlight actors from across the church.
The show also uses a specially configured, 2,000W Pichel light to create the Star of Bethlehem effect — a fixture that shines 90ft. above the stage. Boselo says that because the cathedral has a glass ceiling and walls, it takes the better part of two weeks to prepare to rig the light correctly, requiring construction cranes and professional third-party riggers to lower the light in from an opening at the top of the cathedral and put it in place.
Tom Patrick McAuliffe is a freelance writer, entertainer, and A/V maven living in Northern California. He also writes for Video Systems and Security Solutions Magazine. Email him at [email protected].