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TAFE presents 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever' this weekend in York

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Diane Crews spent a large portion of her life traveling to New York City — not for the iconic buildings and museums, but for Broadway and its stars. But, much to her chagrin, Crews couldn't help but notice theatergoers were mostly adults and senior citizens. 

Aiming to bring theater into the lives of children, Crews founded DreamWrights Center for Community Arts in 1997 and then founded TAFE in 2017, both community theater organizations. She is TAFE's artistic director.

"You have to give the love of theater to people," Crews said. "That's the main tenet of what we do." 

Leroy Herdman (Riley Bell), right, steals the lunch bag of Charlie Bradley (Brock Gilson) during a dress rehearsal performance for TAFE's production of, "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in York City, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Crews' latest production for TAFE, "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," runs Friday through Sunday, Dec. 13-15, with performances at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. All performances are at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 700 E. Market St.

Tickets are $8 in advance online and $10 at the door. For groups of 12 or more, tickets will cost $7. Nonprofit groups pay $5.

"We shouldn't let go of the classics," Crews said, when talking about the choice for this year's holiday production.

Dress rehearsal for TAFE's production of, "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in York City, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" was originally a children's novel written by Barbara Robinson in 1971, and it was later adapted into a play.

The plot revolves around six misfit children who are volunteered by their teacher to star in the school's Christmas pageant. 

This is the sixth time Crews has directed the play in York.

In its fourth year as an organization, TAFE, also known as Theatre Arts for Everyone, aims to educate young people about the benefits of participating in community theater.

Dress rehearsal for TAFE's production of, "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in York City, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Earlier this year, TAFE also presented "The Snow Queen," "Little Old Ladies in Tennis Shoes" and "Robin Hood." 

Auditions for "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" were in October, with rehearsals starting shortly after.

Before each performance, York native and singer/songwriter Amber Nadine will be singing to theatergoers. Additionally, after each show, Santa will make an appearance to take photos with children.

More than half the cast of 40 actors in "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" are newcomers — children ages 7 and 8 — a big challenge Crews worked to overcome when rehearsing.

Dress rehearsal for TAFE's production of, "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in York City, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. The show runs Dec. 13-15. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"They don't know stage right from stage left," Crews said. 

Despite initial struggles, Crews said the cast has come a long way, with many young children embodying their characters and exploring how they can make their role special. 

In one instance that made Crews well up with tears, one young cast member playing a sheep got into character and interacted with others, as opposed to standing on stage doing nothing. 

"It's great to see them grow," Crews said. "They're finally getting it." 

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.