Giant puppets and dancing children could steal anybody’s show. They didn’t have to steal a show or a scene during La Natividad, because this show belonged to them, and to all of the actors and to us in the audience, too. Like In the Heart of the Beast’s MayDay parades, La Natividad is part of the community it has taken place in these past three years. As much as its Christmas story belongs to the ages, La Natividad belongs to today and here and now, rooted in Minneapolis and in the experience of immigrants and carpenters and angels and babies and mothers.
Angels lead Mary out of Mercado Central
La Natividad, a not-to-be-missed theater experience, closes on Sunday night with no scheduled return. While it is sold out, rush tickets are likely to be available at the box office, starting at 5:30 each night through December 21. And five days after La Natividad closes, so does In the Heart of the Beast Theater—a response to the economic downturn, a closure planned as a temporary measure. The press release announcing the closing says HOTB plans to re-open in February, and that Saturday morning children’s puppet shows will continue during the closure.
A child with a “ferocious” wolf betokens the peaceful world of a promised future.
From the press release announcing HOBT temporary closing
This difficult decision is a response to the economic downturn, and is intended to shore up the long-term health and vitality of the theatre. The souring economy is having an immediate and significant impact on current and future funding for arts organizations across the nation, including HOBT. Government, corporate and non-profit funding agencies are finding their ability to give dramatically reduced in this economic climate resulting in a reduction in number and size of grants.
La Natividad begins with angels telling Mary that she is about to become a mother, following quickly with her encounter with a god-like giant puppet. Joseph’s astonished disbelief gives way to solid support. The journey to Bethlehem occasions analogies and parables of the immigrants’ plight today. The audience is drawn in as participants in the journey from Mercado Central to Plaza Verde and the theater and then down 15th Avenue. In an echo of the Mexican custom of Las Posadas, Mary and Joseph knock on doors and are turned away. Finally, passing a forbidding border guard and fence, they come to St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, where the birth of the baby is greeted with dancing and followed by a shared meal.
Words cannot convey the warmth of community feeling or the charm of giant puppets, shaggy animals, and winsome children. Much of the audience lives in the neighborhood, but no one feels like an outsider while that old In the Heart of the Beast magic warms the freezing night.
In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre has been part of Minneapolis since 1973. In addition to the annual MayDay Parade and Pageant in Powderhorn Park, HOBT creates and produces plays, teaches workshops, offers Saturday morning children’s puppet shows, and works with students and teachers and communities.
Cold weather, family plans, and inertia made me put off seeing La Natividad last year and the year before. I’m glad I had the opportunity to see and walk with the play this year. La Natividad is more than theater, as HOTB is more than a theater company. By helping people to cross boundaries and meet one another, they strengthen the fabric of our community. In these tough economic times, we need the magic of theater and the warmth of community more than ever.
Mary Turck (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of the Daily Planet.