Creating a 3-night show for 2,000 viewers

Staff writer

Shortly after Klee and Jennifer Watchous purchased Wildcat Creek Ranch (formerly the Townsend Ranch) on U.S. 50, Jennifer knew the three-story stone barn was special and needed to be shared with the public. She began to think about providing a living nativity during the Christmas season with the barn and the vast landscapes around it as a backdrop.

The second annual production will take place this weekend — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, right where she envisioned it several years ago.

“My sister was going to Kansas State at the time,” she said. “When I mentioned the idea to her, she said I just had to go to a little town called Keats — about 5 or 6 miles from Manhattan — to see the living nativity they put on every year. It is called ‘Bethlehem Revisited’ and they make extensive use of a barn, sheds, and the Flint Hills themselves. It was very impressive.”

Watchous received a great deal of help from the people at Keats, including a calendar with monthly deadlines for all of the details that go into a three-night production that casts 75 people, numerous animals, narration, and music for the 2,000 visitors who attend.

“We really work on this all year long. We will start planning again after the first of the year,” she said. “I am blessed to have the support of our church, the Palmyra Baptist Church at Whitewater, as well as many surrounding churches in the area. People really seem to enjoy being a part of it.”

She said the church women make all the costumes at “sewing bees” from January to last minute adjustments just before curtain call the first night of the production. She started in 2012 casting church members and friends in the roles, but said that after that first event, people who had seen it called her and offered to participate.

“The response from the people who attended was gratifying. So many offered whatever they could do,” she said. “There are an additional 50 or so individuals who are not in costume that work hard behind the scenes. They park cars, serve meals, take care of animals, get guests from the parking lot to the show in golf carts, handle the traffic, and so many other things. Tours leave the waiting area every 15 minutes and each tour takes about 45 minutes so there are lots of people doing those things that make it run smoothly.”

Tickets to the event are free and are available at four businesses in the area. The website for the production, http://www.christisborn.org, has a new message this week that tickets are sold out at the Peabody and Newton locations.

For Jennifer Watchous, that is a good problem to have. A sell-out crowd means the message she and her family and friends want to impart will reach more people.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “But it’s a project that means something and we are blessed to have this venue and great people willing to help us share the message of Christ’s life from birth to resurrection.”

 

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