Family Ties: Production makes stars out of community members

2013-12-19T00:00:00Z 2014-07-03T12:32:27Z Family Ties: Production makes stars out of community membersSarah McKeown For the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

With Christmas just around the corner, my family and I are eager for the festive season to begin. So when my son Zachary and I were invited to be a part of the Arts Express “Follow the Star” production, which tells the story of the birth of Jesus, we jumped at the chance.

Zachary, now 2 years old, played a toddler John the Baptist in this recent performance, held this year Dec. 7 and 8 at Sahuaro High School, which hosts the show every other year in December.

The story of Christmas is interpreted through beautiful melodies — singing and instrumental — and includes acting and some dancing.

When Artistic Director Joan Ashcraft asked if Zachary would be in this year’s performance, I was thrilled. As a former “Follow the Star” participant myself, I was excited to give my son the opportunity to be in it starting at such a young age.

While I would be playing a small role in the performance, Zachary was going to have a stage mom. Kristina Graham played Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, so we planned to get Zachary to know Kristina well over the next few weeks.

Zachary and I made our way onstage along with the rest of the cast for rehearsals. He was a bit squirmy while stage director and “Follow the Star” soloist Dennis Tamblyn helped block out scenes. Not happy with being held for so long, Zachary wiggled out of my arms and ran off stage to check out the piano and props.

When not needed on stage during the dress rehearsal, Zachary and I watched some of the show. The majesty of the production radiated across the theater — it was a beautiful, awe-inspiring sight with incredible singing and a realistic and heartwarming story of the birth of Jesus.

Zachary would be on stage twice during each of the two performances. The first appearance came when he was to run from offstage and into the arms of Kristina as she finished singing a song.

Zachary and I stood offstage waiting for our cue, as I whispered reminders of what he was to do. When we got the cue, Zachary took off, right into the arms of his stage mom.

Smiling and teary-eyed, I was one proud momma as I hustled backstage to be reunited with my son, who had just made his official acting debut. I couldn’t have asked for a more inspirational play for this to happen in.

I walked with Zachary onstage during the second time he was in the performance. From there, he went with Kristina to see an infant playing baby Jesus as well as actors portraying Mary and Joseph.

Kristina did a great job making Zachary feel comfortable with her. And that’s a neat aspect of “Follow the Star” — it consists of a community of people who quickly become close to one another. While it’s open to anyone who is interested in being a part of the production, it’s also one in which many families tend to come back year after year.

Kids often grow up with the performance, changing roles as they get older. And many adult cast members tend to continue on with the same role.

In fact, 28 years ago, my brother-in-law Chris Ashcraft played the role of a child page to King Caspar, played by a man named Jim Cromwell. During the most recent production, Chris’ 4-year-old son Andrew played the same role as his dad did years ago. And it just so happened that Jim was still playing the role of King Caspar.

It was fun to compare pictures of a young Chris to Andrew today, both wearing the same costume.

“Follow the Star” has been around since 1985 when Joan created it at a church. She wanted to tell the story of Christmas while including the congregation as active participants in the choir, cast and stage design.

When both cast and audience members grew in size, Joan helped develop Arts Express, a local nonprofit group that offers a variety of fine arts youth programs as well as musical concerts and performances.

“Follow the Star” is now put on through Arts Express, allowing the production to have a larger impact on our community, as it is open to anyone wanting to see it.

I’ve been a part of the show for many years, whether it be as an actor, part of the makeup crew and now helping Zachary in his role onstage. Year after year, “Follow the Star” truly is wonderful and inspiring, and it holds fond memories that allow my family to look forward to each production to come.

Sarah Mckeown works at a local charter school and lives on the east side with her husband and son. Email her at east@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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