By Kate Elizabeth Queram, Daily News-Record
This holiday season, Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg will play host to a somewhat nontraditional rendition of the Christmas story. Mary and Joseph are there, and they’re still making a trek – but this time, they’re Latino emigrants trying to make it to America, where baby Jesus is born in a hospital – not a barn.
That’s how it goes in this updated take on the traditional journey to the manger in Bethlehem. Called "La Posada" ("shelter" or "inn"), the production is loosely based on the Latin-American traditional Christmas celebration of the same name, where neighbors trek from house to house in search of shelter, until the final home welcomes them in to a holiday party.
The Harrisonburg production is funded by an Arts Council of the Valley grant, sponsored by NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center and follows a script similar to an original one used by a bilingual Latino theater group at Eastern Mennonite University called Teatro Chirmol.
Edwin Bonilla (standing), who plays Jose, a modern-day Joseph in this take on the Christmas story, checks on Armando Sanchez during a scene in "La Posada." The play was performed at 7 p.m. on Dec. 5 and 6 p.m. on Dec. 6 at Community Mennonite Church. Photo by Nikki Fox
"We’re bringing our own participants’ sensibility to it, but it is back to those original people and the great work that they did," said Heidi Vogel, an associate professor in EMU’s theater department and the show’s director.
The show has about 15 cast members, spanning a broad range of cultural and ethnic heritages. The show, said Vogel, will incorporate Christmas traditions from many of those cultures.
"This particular Posada is not aimed only at the Hispanic community," she said. "The idea is to create more of an overall community event, including voices from different minority communities as well as the majority, and bringing them together … it is not necessarily a religious event, but a cultural celebration."
Which makes it fitting for Harrisonburg. According to Tina Glanzer, special events coordinator for NewBridges, Harrisonburg has a thriving immigrant population – English is the second language for nearly half of the students in city schools, she said – so "La Posada," with its ethnically diverse cast and blended cultural interpretations of the Christmas story, is a perfect community-building event for the area.
"It’s exactly fitting for NewBridges, because [the cultures involved] are all the populations that they’re working with," she said. "And one of the outreaches of NewBridges is to pull people together and help them understand each other, and each other’s traditions, and appreciate what those traditions are."
Among the traditions incorporated in "La Posada" are multiple ethnic musical numbers. Some, Glanzer said, are traditional Christmas carols simply sung in different languages, but others are Russian or Spanish carols or bluegrass pieces by local band Daphna Creek. The songs are used as segues between the play’s vignettes, and Vogel said that while the production is in both English and Spanish, audience members don’t have to be fluent in either to enjoy the show.
"It is a chance for the many different cultures here in Harrisonburg to come together to celebrate the season," she said.
"La Posada" runs at 7 p.m. on Dec. 5 and at 6 p.m. on Dec. 6 at Community Mennonite Church, 70 S. High St., Harrisonburg. Featuring a barbershop quartet, Daphna Creek bluegrass band, Slavic Christian Church choir and Smithland Elementary Choir. Audience participation is encouraged. Free, with donations accepted for NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center. For more information, call 383-1105.