PLAYWRIGHT PATRICIA HILL TALKS ABOUT HER MUSICAL
A BIRTHDAY IN BETHLEHEM
Q: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THIS MUSICAL?
A: Inspiration for A Birthday in Bethlehem came from Christina Rossetti’s poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” a song titled, “The Jesus Gift,” by Gilbert M. Martin, and our congregation’s advent theme that year: “What Shall I Offer Him?” We wanted to do a musical, but the “theater people” in our congregation had moved away. So I wrote a play and a song, “What Shall I Offer Him?” and we did A Birthday in Bethlehem as a reader’s theater, adding “The Jesus Gift,” from our Christmas choir book.
Q: WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE PART OR LINE IN THE PLAY OR WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SONG? WHY?
A: My favorite song in A Birthday in Bethlehem is “A Carpenter’s Son.” My favorite line in it is “Or maybe Messiah’s fish swim right into His hands.” (I think about it every time I am fishing!) I like the song because I relate to Joseph, feeling inadequate to serve the King of kings. I also relate to Aaron’s perspective as a Note to Self: Be you, do your best and let Jesus be who He is. Love Him. Spend time with Him and do life with Him. To teach our children to love and honor God is the best thing we can do for them. Another favorite line is Balthazar’s description of the Bethlehem night sky: “Those stars are like diamonds on velvet. A million fragments of brilliant light.” (Memories of sleeping under the stars at Girl Scout camp on a summer night in southern Michigan and a line from “The Jesus Gift”: “Shall I spangle jewels like stars above?”)
Q: WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART IN CREATING THIS MUSICAL?
A: The writing was not difficult. It all sprang from “What would I do if…” Lyrics rose from the dialogue and music from the sounds and rhythms of the words. The most difficult part of creating this musical was having only me to speak the lines and sing the songs over the years as the book and music matured. It is a thrill for them to come to life in production.
Q: WHAT DID YOU TRY TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS MUSICAL?
A: The people of the Christmas story were real people. I wanted to make a connection with them, and with the reality of the Good News of Christ’s birth: God is with us!
I thought about Joseph and Mary, living in Bethlehem with Jesus. Everyone knew who Jesus was, because of the shepherds’ testimony. Surely the innkeeper, mortified, would give his best rooms to the family. Children would beg their shepherd friend to tell about the angels over and over. They’d listen as Mary sang Jesus to sleep. Girls would hope to babysit.
The Wise Men would dream of fame and fortune as they pursued the meaning of amazing signs in the sky. (We saw a planetarium “time rewind.” There really were prodigious signs.) When they realized who the stars proclaimed, they’d “sacrifice all glory and fame to bow at His feet and whisper His name.”
Joseph would worry about rearing a king. Any of us would feel as if nothing we had could be good enough for Jesus.
“…Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” (Christina Rossetti: “In the Bleak Midwinter”)
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