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Christmas Eve program behind-the-scenes

There has been a long blog hiatus — mostly because:

1. I have been sick and so every free moment has been spent resting.

2. I have been working on the Christmas Eve program for my church, University Covenant.

Now that it is over, it’s time to recover and catch up!

So here’s a summary of what happened…

Our team has been working on Christmas Eve actually a couple months. It started when Pastor Jamie said he wanted us to do something a little different this year, so we went for the first half to be more of a creative presentation of Jesus’ birth.

We used WillowCreek’s Imagine Christmas program but changed it to fit our church’s size, as theirs had aerial acrobats and a megabudget, whereas we are a church on a shoestring. But if excellence is “doing the best with you’ve got,” I would say that our program was done with excellence. It was a tremendous blessing to work with so many people using their gifts for God — there were dozens of people involved pulling this all off!

There were a lot of video elements, which I had to re-edit and change formats (from 16:9 to 4:3) and then two nights before the services we discovered that the videos looked awful on our screens (due to our not-so-great projectors and other sub-par equipment). So we had to do an emergency voiceover recording so that people could actually tell what those verses were supposed to say. 🙁 Thank goodness for Final Cut’s voiceover feature, which Megan knew about but had never used. She told me and it worked great! Saved me tons of time!

There were 14 different scenes in 35 minutes, all different, with video transitions. Tech was complicated — lighting, video, IMAG (live video), a confidence screen for stage people, 2 backstage monitors installed for the backstage manager and the cast in the back. The set was a bear to put together and wasn’t even done until right before the services started! (I’ll post a blog on the set another time.)

It was like running a musical, except we had only 1 rehearsal the night before where everyone came together. It was the first time we were all together. People had all been rehearsing with their teams but we only had an evening to make sure everything flowed smoothly. I think it’s the first time we’ve had a dress rehearsal for Christmas Eve — the services usually are not this complicated.

God was gracious — there were so many things that could have gone wrong. But considering the complexity, that we maxed out our tech capabilities, that we maxed out our crew and volunteer capabilities, it was awesome to see it all come together.

Now for the pictures. (A big thanks to Jack Zhang for his amazing photo skills!)

I’ll also tell some of the behind-the scenes stories (BTS). 🙂

The beginning had Megan playing violin, interwoven with video Scripture.

BTS: The set was a forest scene with a waterfall in the back. That waterfall was a pain to put together. We had never done it before and had no idea what we were doing so it was all trial and error. I don’t even know if people could tell it was a waterfall. Looks pretty cool in the pictures though!

Also our carpet used to look bright pink in comparison to other elements. We dyed it a darker shade. It’s now burgundy, though the photos make it look brown. It looks waaaay better.

 

Then Megan and the band did a rocking rendition of Carol of the Bells. It was like a violin/electric guitar battle with Megan and Keith. Keith’s fingers were flying over that guitar!

BTS: Because we had only one dress rehearsal, every time we did the show we asked Megan to go to a different place on the stage because of lighting problems. I think we finally hit it just right at the last service.

 

Meanwhile, the dancers came out and danced to the music. I love the flowing fabrics!

BTS: The Nielsens saved me hours of agony by going to the fabric store with me. I am usually totally indecisive and spend hours trying to decide, ending up with a headache. With Karen’s expert eye and Glen’s advice on what was too girly to use, we were out of there in no time!

Also, the person who choreographed the dancers is a college student — her first time in this role. Amber did a great job!

 

Mary had an encounter with an angel and the Holy Spirit, represented by a white bird.

BTS: The original musical had a kite dove. When we looked it up, it was $100. I found a cheap paper bird alternative that worked well — though Glen laughed at me for using a “bird on a stick.”

 

Matt and Kyle were angels on a cloud. They were the comic relief.

BTS: During the last service, Kyle accidentally knocked Matt’s paper out of his hand. This was problematic as the paper is a key element of the drama, and now it was lying on the floor 4 feet below them, out of reach. Matt, however, is a pro. Without missing a beat, he reached over and snatched Kyle’s paper out of his hand and opened it with a “humph” type of expression. It was awesome!

 

Matt and Kyle were hilarious! They were plotting how they could observe God going down to earth because they weren’t invited.

BTS: At dress rehearsal we noticed the thermostat was in the background the whole time, so Glen went and covered it with white paper.

 

Stacy and Tony sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”

BTS: The original song was sung by two women, but Stacy has a low woman’s voice and Tony has a high range, so it worked out perfectly!

 

Jackson sang a solo. Man that Looney family sure is talented!

 

The kid scripture readers gave a dramatic recitation of the Christmas story. They got better each time and the last time was the best!

BTS: Hannah and I pulled out our scarves and it just so worked out that we had the right number of color-coordinated scarves to use! That hand drum was my sister Corrie’s gift to me from Africa.

 

Stacy sang to the kids, showing them the star.

BTS: There was supposed to be a video star in the corner but our video alpha-keying didn’t work, so we just videoed Stacy and the kids. It worked out fine.

 

Because her song ended, “a star… with a tail as big as a kite,” the next song was the Kite Dance.

BTS: I was trying to find a way to incorporate a kite in there but I thought of it too late and ran out of time.

Another BTS: Willow’s original arrangements were much longer. We had to shorten the songs but the only way to print out the correct sheet music was to open in Photoshop and erase the sections. The musicians had to use music that had big white gaps in it, missing section letters, and non-matching measure numbers. I also created shortened rehearsal mp3s by outputting audio track only using Final Cut (video editing program).

The kids did come out with streamers, though, representing the kite’s tail. But I’m sure it was lost on the audience.

BTS: The poles the kids were carrying were PVC pipes Sabrina found in the back room. She painted them black with paint we had around.

It was a fun song. Albert and Tony did a great job on the bass/drums section. It was a bummer we couldn’t see them because they were hidden behind the trees! Originally they were supposed to be peeking out, but we needed more room for the dancers, so they ended up hiding behind the trees. Gary and Clyde (worship leader and keyboard) were way on the side of the stage in front of the trees).

The last service, people actually clapped along!

 

The angels on earth discovered Mary and baby Jesus.

BTS: Our light board only had 10 sub masters, which I maxed out, which meant I was manually moving individual light channels during the whole time because I couldn’t program them in. Because I was calling cues at the same time, I messed up during one service. Matt was supposed to sneak out and bring the stump on the stage before hiding behind the tree, and I turned the light up right on him. Oops.

 

The kids brought out gifts for Jesus — forest greenery — and made a manger for him.

BTS: The tree stump was an experiment. David, one of our stage construction people, went at a block of styrofoam with a chain saw, electric knife, soldering iron, and spray paint. The result was amazing!!!! We didn’t even know Dave was an artist!

 

Mary and the kids gathered around the manger.

BTS: We originally wanted to raise our stage 2 feet by building platforms. That was nixed due to budget and lack of time. Our stage is kind of low ( you can see all the heads in the way), so we went for IMAG (image magnification) instead — having live video so everyone could see the action on the screens.

 

Megan walked up the aisle from the back of the worship center, playing “Away in the Manger” and ended with “O Come Let Us Adore Him.”

BTS: We called her the Ninja Violinist because she kept popping up from behind trees and unexpected places.

 

Jamie gave a sermon on “Imagine Christmas.”

 

People sang Christmas songs and then it was time for the candle lighting.

 

It was a wonderful celebration of Christ’s birth!

Not pictured: the amazing tech and backstage crew! We were all on headsets. It was very fun working together and trying to troubleshoot what to do (like when we accidentally left the tree stump out on the stage and the dancers had to dance around it). Daniel was next to me and did an awesome job multi-tasking. But once it got kind of slow (he only had like 3 cues during the sermon), he started falling asleep. Sabrina was backstage keeping everyone on cue, Glen was on the video camera, and Peter did sound (and a ton of other things too). We were short staffed due to our volunteers being out of town, but it all ended up working out.

It was also very special to do this with my whole family. Our Christmas tradition now has been get involved in the Christmas Eve service, and then spend Christmas Day recuperating! I feel very blessed to be a family who ministers together.

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2 Comments

  • Reply Glen Nielsen

    You left out the part about you being an AMAZING producer!!! Hats off to you for fighting through sickness, exhaustion and lack of sleep to make this event sing!

    Get some rest … you earned it!

    December 25, 2011 at 8:41 pm
  • Reply Carmen Lin

    I enjoyed it tremendously. You have many talented people at your church. Congratulations on a very successful production! Thank you for inviting me!

    December 28, 2011 at 4:23 pm
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