For a few years, the high school students acted in the Shepherd’s Play and beautifully brought those archetypal images to the school community. Their performances were always heartfelt and lovely in their simplicity and purity. One year, I sent the young women playing the Shepherds this letter to encourage them to dig down even deeper as they crafted their characters. Reading over the letter recently, it seemed it might be of value to audience members coming to see the show for the first time (or perhaps even for the second or third or fourth time!) This is the sort of thing a director tells his/her actors, but also the kind of thing we humans share with each other when we feel we need more light. Enjoy! David Barham
David Barham’s Letter to the Shepherds:
Dearest Gallus, Huckle, Muckle & Crispin~
As your Director, there is much I can do to help you bring to life a wondrous, funny, warm and profound performance as the Shepherds. I can help you with the singing and the blocking and a more effective way to say your lines. I can help you find your character in the way you move your feet, or the way you sit on the bench or the way you listen when others speak.
But there is one profound thing I cannot do for you and this one profound thing will make all the difference in the world on Wednesday, December 21.
I want to try to explain that one thing:
You three Shepherds represent something very profound. This deceptively simple script actually is speaking to the greatest of all Mysteries- and it is given to the Shepherds to communicate to the audience the profundity of that Mystery.
The first part of the Shepherds interactions are meant to warm up the audience to you. You are funny, you are goofy, you are warm. You bicker with one another like old friends which is actually endearing.
But then the Shepherds have a revelation. You can say an Angel comes to them in their sleep if you want. But do you know what that really means?
It means that these simple, uneducated people of the Earth are among the first to understand the true meaning of being Human.
You Shepherds, as “Men of Good Will” are the true teachers and leaders of humanity. And what are you leading us toward?
Love. Kindness. Seeing the true worth of all people despite their station in life. Fulfillment of all one holds dearest and deepest and more profound. The secret you don’t even dare utter to yourself about what you truly hope life to be and to become.
Substitute the Christ Child in the manger for a world free of lies and deceptions and all that separates one from another. A world that is True and Free and Noble. A world where you love and are loved- no holding back.
The feeling you should all have at the crib should just about bring tears to your eyes. In fact, tears would be fine. The audience already loves you and will follow you as you reveal the True Meaning of Life: Everything is Possible! We don’t need to protect ourselves from a cruel and cynical world. It is Love from Top to Bottom!
When you are working to transform yourselves into Shepherds, these are the thoughts and feelings you must hold nearest and dearest so they flow through you and the specific words you speak. The true meaning of Advent, Christmas, Chanukah, the Winter Solstice and Life Itself is that We Descend into the Darkness AND We Ascend into the Light at the same time and we are never again the same!
Your real job as Shepherds is to communicate all this profundity to an audience of all ages. They all want to be moved and filled with hope. Your job is to give them that.
You can only provide that for the audience if it first becomes real for you.
This is your real work over these next weeks. Not just learning your lines (though that would be important!), but inner transformation. When you peer into that cradle and SEE (truly see- even though there is no baby there), we need to see/feel/sense that in your entire bodies and beings.
In that baby’s eyes, you need to see the world as it ought to be, as it could be, as it needs to be- no longer as it is. You are to be transformed and changed. Made new and whole.
And then you can offer that as a true gift of measureless worth to your audience.
Only these Shepherds, whom the audience has already loved and laughed at/with, can offer forth such a gift.
If you do this inner work over these next weeks, you will communicate this to the audience and We will have done something priceless for the world.
I will accompany you every step of the way, but you have to go deep.
I am laying down the glove here- are you up for the challenge?