WWI Christmas Drama - A Silent Night
by Ken John 10/08/2008 / Skits and Plays
A Play Director:
Computer, music and lights operator(s):
Great-Grandfather: Veteran of the First World War, confined to a wheelchair and apparently almost comatose, though actually possessing an active mind.
Four Wise Men/Women: And their camel and camel driver
Soldiers: Infantry in the trenches in France; both German and British
Platoon Leaders: German and British Officers
Machine Gunners: German and British
Angels: (choir + musicians) help the troops sing 'silent night'.
Recorded Voices: Great Grandfather; Ghost Voice and Voice reading the poem 'The Journey of the Magi'
'Pipes of Peace' Paul McCartney
'Winter Wonderland' by Amy Grant
'Wherever we go' and 'Joy' by the Newsboys, from their album 'go';
'Silent Night' and 'Stille Nacht' in German and English
'Oh come all ye faithful' in English and 'Adeste Fideles' (Latin)
The stage opens blank and unprepared. Only a screen and a computer linked to a projector and to the internet are ready to 'roll'; with an operator.
The operator clicks on the first video, it loads and starts playing, projected onto the screen...The extracts of video clips should enhance the atmosphere and enlighten the audience as to the conflict between the hope and joy of the message of Christmas and the common experience of the average man at Christmas
The story of the Christmas Truce, 'Pipes of Peace' tells the story of the 1914 Christmas Truce, then Amy Grant's 'Winter Wonderland' starts playing.
After a while the play director comes on stage, waves to the operator to pause the music, and yells...
Director: Stage hands, let's get a move on here, Christmas is coming and we have to be ready for the show! Start setting up the stage!
While the Christmas song plays on again, the stage hands quickly build the stage set.
They build both sides of the front lines of the first world war in Flanders in France, the German and British battle lines and entrenchments, including a machine gun 'nest' on each side are quickly built.
The battle field (no-man's-land) lies between the trenches and fortifications.
To one side of the stage, the stage hands prepare a living room, a warm and comfortable 'heart of the home' sort of room. It is separated from the battle field more by light than anything else.
As the stage hands finish their work, the 'Winter Wonderland' song ends. The play director walks out onto the stage and surveys their work. He then calls out to the computer operator.
Director: Alright now... let's start with Christmas in 'PowerPoint'! Take One, 'PowerPoint' Christmas!
Christmas in 'Power-point': To be presented immediately before the drama, to produce the atmosphere, message and context of Christmas, before the drama begins.
In seven simple (colored) pencil drawn pictures, tell the story of Christmas, including the angels appearing to shepherds and telling them of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
Ghost voices will read through the text in time to the animated/comic type picture presentation story. The voices will be recorded and played loudly and clearly over the speakers as each picture in turn is screened for the audience.
Picture 1: Angel to Mary, voice: You're young, and a virgin, but by God's Power and Mercy you are already pregnant and will give birth to the Savior of the world!
Picture 2: Government official to Joseph and Mary (pregnant and sitting on a donkey): Joseph, you must go and register in Bethlehem, the city of your fore-father King David.
Picture 3: Hotel manager: Sorry, no rooms available here. But, go round the back, there is a cow-shed where you can bed down for the night.
Picture 4: Mary: Joseph, wrap this Miracle Child up warmly! Here, let's use this feeding-trough as a baby bed!
Picture 5: One angel speaks to some Shepherds grazing their sheep; the Shepherds are amazed! The angel quotes from Luke's gospel ch2:
'Do not be afraid. I bring good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a feeding trough!'
Picture 6: Angels fill the sky behind the first angel singing for the shepherds.
Ghost voice: Suddenly angels filled the sky singing: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom God's favor rests."
Picture 7: Later the Shepherds said to the people in the town: "We've seen angels! And the baby they told us about. It was amazing!"
2nd shepherd: "Yes, it was awesome! And we found the baby just as the angels said! He was sleeping in a feeding-trough. Surely he will turn out to be the 'Living Bread', the promised One who will feed the hungry!"
After the Power Point presentation, an old 'wise man' walks on stage and sits down on a stool in the living room. He is warming his hands next to a fireplace, (or in his case, more like an open fireplace in front of his Bedouin type tent); he leans forward intensely to narrate the TS Eliot poem: 'The Journey of the Magi' (See link: http://www.blight.com/~sparkle/poems/magi.html line 4 of the poem should read "The ways deep...").
He mimes and acts as the story teller as the poem is read loudly and clearly over the loudspeaker, the poem is read by a ghost voice.
During the reading, three wise men and their camel, make their journey across the stage, backwards and forwards through no man's land, until they find the Christ child with his parents, and they kneel and worship and then exit the stage at the end of the poem.
(They may kneel before actual actors, or simply and symbolically kneel before a spiritual Christ child, perhaps a bright white spotlight/searchlight near one of the machine gun bunkers. To make a symbolic spotlight, tape three torches together in a bundle to a broomstick and wedge it in a chair to shine a threefold light on the floor of the stage. The wise men may offer their prayers and gifts before the threefold spot of light, representing God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Their gifts and even the spotlight can be kicked over during the battle scene that follows.)
After the three wise men exit, the stage area between the battle fronts is empty; the first wise man remains seated in the living room. The director walks into the emptiness, shouts to the wise man who then exits, and deep in thought he talks to him/herself.
Director: (to the wise man next to the fire) Hey, get going! (Or for light relief, in Polish "Ej,wy, Jazda stond!" )
(Soliloquizes to himself deep in thought)
'Peace on earth and goodwill towards men? Yes, peace, to be sure, but not unlike the quiet place in the eye of a hurricane!' hmmm, I love Christmas!
(Claps hands briskly together)
Stage hands! Don't forget the mustard gas bucket!
A stage hand rushes in with a bucket of water, drops a chunk of dry ice into the bucket of water, a misty fog of 'poisonous gas' floats up out of the bucket, spreading out over the floor of no-man's land
(to approximate chlorine or mustard gas and also to give the battle scene a nightmarish dreamlike quality).
(Always make sure there is enough ventilation for dry ice in the room so that the extra CO2 in the air doesn't cause a problem. Dry ice melts (sublimates) directly into gas, so don't seal it in a container or it will burst the container.
According to wikipedia.org, dry ice can be used in theater productions in order to create the effect of dense fog. Unlike most artificial fog machines, which make the fog rise up much like smoke, fog from dry ice crawls on the ground. When dry ice is placed in water, sublimation is accelerated. See Dry Ice Safety: http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/vef/kids/dryice.php )
(Play the sound effect for just a few moments to set the scene)
There is just enough light to see the soldiers running crouched into their entrenchments.
A string of Germans file out of backstage into their 'trench' and soon thereafter, a string of English soldiers run crouching into theirs. The enemies are entrenched on either side of the stage, with 'no-man's land' between them, making up most of the stage. Some light comes on for the audience to view the battle field. The light is as wintry light at dusk.
The sound of trench warfare fades into the background. The German platoon leader is heard speaking to his men in German.
German Officer: Ja, Mannschaft, jetzt ist unser gelegenheit!
German platoon: Ach nein! Mussen wir wirklich angreifen?
Heavy groans and the sounds of men objecting quietly. They will obey his commands but not willingly.
The men pick up their rifles and crouch in readiness behind the trench re-enforcements, ready to advance.
On the English side, the British soldiers man the embankments and machine gun.
German Officer: Fur Kaiser, volk und vaterland, vorwarts!
Blows his whistle, shouts his command and leads his men bravely over the top in a charge towards the British lines
British Machine Gunner: Here comes Fritz! The Germans are coming!
Starts firing his machine gun rapidly. His platoon join him in firing their rifles. The Germans die and fall dead or injured in no man's land.
British Officer: There's a hole in Jerry's line of defense, we must advance! Counter attack! Machine gunner, cover our advance! Forward men! Over the top!
British Officer blows his whistle
The British soldiers bravely advance towards the German line, only to find that a German machine gun has opened up and is cutting them down. The British machine gunner is also killed. The soldiers, both German and British, lie dead or injured in no-man's land.
(Not too many special effects. This is to be like a game of cowboys and Indians. The soldiers can shout 'bang' when they shoot, and the effect of the battle scene, though tragic, may even seem somewhat comic. The soldiers all lie mixed up together until the part of the song starts where the (metaphorically) dead are called to put up their hands and join in the dance.)
This scene should be carefully choreographed and timed.
They dance without seeing or taking any notice of the scene in no-man's land. They pull a large Christmas tree into position in the 'living room' to the side of no-man's land. They decorate it (Plug it in and switch it on).
Two thirds of the way through the song, the drums volley as in a firefight. The challenge is thrown out to the 'living dead' to join the dance (in this context, those lying in no man's land between the German and English front lines.)
In response to the song, the dead and injured begin to join in the dance, they move, start by throwing their hands up (in a gesture of surrender) and stagger up and help each other back to their battle lines (trenches).
The dancing young people see the soldier's efforts to move back towards their battle lines and reach out to them and help them as best they can.
Once the soldiers are back in the protection of their entrenchments, the young people continue their dance to the remaining lines of the song, and after they finish dancing they run off and come back on stage wheeling their aged great-grandfather into the living room (in a wheelchair).
The grandfather is a kind of foil for the young grandchildren. His youth is to be re-enacted on stage, but his current state is aged - almost comatose.
While physically he is immobile, his memory awakens; and as the young people excitedly work and fuss about him, his thoughts run over the loudspeaker, in a wry commentary on the young people's activities, until he begins narrating the story of the 1914 Christmas truce.
G.Grand-daughter 1: Now that we've got that mess sorted out, let's get the presents!
G.Grand-daughter 2: What, to put under the tree?
G.Grand-daughter 1: Yes, until after church and present opening time tomorrow! Let's go!
G.Grand-son 1: Alright Grandpa? Are you comfortable?
Over the loudspeaker the Great-Grandfather's thoughts are spoken as he sits silently with his head slumped on his chest, perhaps moving restlessly from time to time.
G.Grand-Pa: Thanks for asking boy. Yes, just fine, except for a little pain in my back. fortunately though, it's nothing like that back-ache of the winter of 1914.
G.Grand-daughters 1&2 come screaming into the room with presents which they spend some time 'feeling' and arranging under the Christmas tree.
G.Grand-Pa: Which reminds me of how difficult life was for us in the Great War.
The young people continue to feel and arrange the presents excitedly whilst the Grandpa starts his narrative.
G.Grand-Pa: Oh, it was nothing like you youngsters have ever experienced. By that first Christmas there were a million young men dead!
And there we were... facing each other across the space of a couple of rugby fields, just a muddy mess of war between us - and anything that moved was shot.
Oh it was sad, horrific! I can normally never speak about the things that happened then.
But that Christmas of 1914! I'll never forget it as long as I live!
The Young people laugh and snatch at the presents to feel them and they eat chips and drink soda, and they talk quietly amongst themselves and laugh, as the grandfather narrates the story.
G.Grand-Pa: On Christmas Eve at midnight, through the murk and the mud, we heard the sound of church bells in the distance, ringing Christmas day in: http://edwardpicot.com/churchbells/churchbellsindex.html (or see the YouTube Play list or for more immediacy, record church bells ringing a fanfare of bells in the local neighborhood.)
The lights fade out as the focus moves to the German and British lines and no-man's-land between them. The sound of a church bell is heard in a distant village.
German Officer: Bring den weihnachts-baum junger mann: zund die kerzen an.
The Germans raise the Christmas tree above the parapet of their trench, so that it is visible to the enemy.
A group of angels, (choir and musicians dressed as angels) slip into the trench with the Germans.
German Officer: Komm, wir singen "Stille Nacht" zusammen.
The Germans and angels sing loudly and clearly in German. At the end of a verse, the British troops applaud (clap hands)
German Soldier: (shouts across to the English) Ja British, Vaai not you sing mit uns?
British soldier: (Shouts back) Sing in German, Ha, I'd rather die!
German Soldier: (Laughingly) Ja, You singing in German! It vould maybe kill us to hear you trying ha, ha!
The group of singers and musicians dressed as angels slips out of the German's trench and into the trench with the British troops.
British Officer: Come on men, we can't let them outdo us.
The British sing loudly and a bit raucously, 'Silent Night' in English
'Pause' the soldier's acting activities here for the Old Man's narrative to catch up with the action and to give the audience a chance to participate.
Father Christmas rushes out and distributes song-sheets to the crowd with the help of the waiters/waitresses/assistants.
A conductor comes out with long hair/wig and a conductor's stick and raps on the table until all is quiet. He/She starts the musicians and then the choir who sing, 'Oh come all ye faithful'. Then he faces the guests and starts the musicians, the choir and the guests in singing the carol again.
The choir and musicians exit.
While the old man continues his narration of the events of that Christmas long ago, a recording of 'Oh come all ye faithful' in English and 'Adeste Fideles' (Latin) plays in the background, (see playlist video recordings of vintage John McCormack-1915; 'Wise Guys' and Enya. Mix sound bites into background of the Great-Grandfather's narrative.)
Throughout the playback of the great grandfather's narrative recording, the German and British soldiers on stage act the events as they are narrated.
And that's how the great Christmas truce started. The German's all along the front line had prepared Christmas trees. We saw the lights burning strangely and wondered what was happening. We soon got the message they wouldn't shoot if we didn't shoot - on Christmas day. Then a white flag appeared and a German officer came toward our line carrying presents, meat and beer.
German Officer: (Lifts a white flag, shouts) If you don't shoot, ve don't shoot.
German Officer: (He stands and shouts) Ve not want to fight this day, don't shoot, don't shoot, I hav preezents, I'm bring meat and beer.
Our commander met him in the middle and then all along the front, small groups of German troops stood with English speaking troops in the middle of the battlefield, lighting each others cigarettes and talking as if meeting on a street corner.
We wished each other Merry Christmas and then helped one another bury the dead.
By the time the day was advanced we saw many strange sights. One man swapped bully beef and Jam for a German spiked helmet. *
Later, I saw one of our machine gunners, a hairdresser, giving a German a haircut, and using a razor blade to shave his neck - no more and no less!
The old man suddenly 'puts his hands up' with great dramatic effect. One of the dancers rushes over to comfort him and settle him in his seat.
It wasn't long before the troops improvised footballs and there we were on Christmas day, celebrating Christmas with the enemy, by playing football matches! In the middle of a vast battle field where a million men of both sides had already sacrificed their lives!
The soldiers play and watch a game of football
Oh, we were already sick of the war, it was all so pointless and gross, the mud, the killing and the dying. Nobody seemed to know why we were fighting anyway.
There we were, just ordinary men, and how quickly we came to like each other too much to be killing and dying!
Of course, nobody could bring himself to shoot the enemy for about two weeks after that. We only got on with the war because we were controlled by 'high ups', but the men on the ground, those busy with the daily battles would happily have quit the fighting right then.
Those few of us who survived the war never forgot that day. 100 000 men took part in that oasis, a Noah's Ark of a truce, in which all kinds of ordinary men shook hands across the battle field!
Let all men, women and children, the living and the living-dead-victims of all kinds of suffering: the poor, aids sufferers, the lonely, orphans, slaves, addicts, the ignorant, the self-indulgent, the degraded and the victims of original sin ...all mankind..., Let all wonder at God, the inventor of Christmas! Until the dead and the living rise up to meet their Maker, to lay down their gifts or weapons, and bow the knee before the throne and the judgment seat of Christ, Who first came to save at Christmas. Just a new-born, manger-wrapped Babe of Christmas....
* Scene 8 is a narrative based largely (and perhaps too closely for copyright purposes) on extracts which I found on the net of "Silent Night: The Remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914" (Paperback)
by Stanley Weintraub (Author)
Some "Christmas truce" internet references of interest