Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

Journalist and writer

‘But I wanted to be Mary’: the politics of the school nativity

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"I wish mum hadn't complained about me not getting the main role"

It’s that time of year when parents run around like loons, finding last-minute costumes for the school nativity, Christmas production or festive service.

(I dread the letters that emerge out of the school bag a week after they were sent from a stressed teacher, asking for nigh-on impossible costumes. Especially when you realise you have two days’ notice to find a Major General uniform from 1844 or a Tudor-style dress, complete with ruff. And what have they got to do with Christmas, anyway?)

But, for some parents, it isn’t the costume that fills them with dread: it’s looking at the cast list.

Over the past few weeks, you might well have heard the complaints: “I see Tabitha is Mary AGAIN. She was Mary in Reception and took the lead singing role in Oliver last year.” Or: “I see it is the Smith/Jones/Peters [insert appropriate family name here] show again. Why do teachers always pick the same children?”

I certainly have.

I have had conversations with parents whose children are at different primary schools complaining that it was usually the same girls and boys who took the starring roles.

They were not bemoaning the fact their own son or daughter hadn’t been given the main part, but cast doubt on whether the schools offered the same opportunities to all.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=nativity+play&iid=3013096″ src=”9/8/a/d/Pennywell_Farm_Hosts_4ed8.jpg?adImageId=7846866&imageId=3013096″ width=”500″ height=”303″ /]

It was an interesting point: so, armed with neither evidence to support assertions nor an agenda, I asked the question on Twitter: do you think your school always chooses the same children for the lead roles in plays/team captains etc?

I posted the same query on Mummy Bloggers. It was also picked up by Jim Hawkins on Radio Shropshire and he had parents contact him in droves.

The responses were interesting, to say the least.

One caller to Jim claimed that when she was an active member of the PTA, her children were given main roles; when she left, they were no longer considered for major parts. Coincidence? Who knows.

Others were insistent it didn’t happen. A few callers suspected it did.

Here are some responses I received:

Yep, the same girl at my sisters grammar got picked every year. It’s always the kids with the starry names too! At my school it was Antoinette. She got to play Eliza Dolittle-she’d actually left our secondary school, but they brought her back to play it! (Claire)

At our school it’s always the same kids who get the lead roles and while we all moan and groan about it, they are the kids who have charisma on stage and are capable of remembering all those lines! (muummmeee)

I don’t think this goes on at Amy’s school, but I do believe it goes on at another school I know of. It also seemed to be the same kids with the better roles – the ones that have all the best lines and all the best scenes etc. I remember mentioning it once and was hit with excuse after excuse about the fact that some kids are just shy and others really want to be in the limelight. But you could guarantee whatever the play, the “shy” kids were never given a chance. Shame. (Crystal Jigsaw)

I think at my daughter’s school they definitely choose the same children over and over for the big speaking parts. I think that’s because they are the loudest, but that does mean other kids don’t get a crack. Until you know that you can stand up in front of the lower school and say a handful of lines…you don’t know it. (Jennifer Howze)

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=school+nativity&iid=4586952″ src=”d/7/d/a/Nativity_Play_9ce6.jpg?adImageId=7847112&imageId=4586952″ width=”380″ height=”290″ /]

There are some children who shine on stage. Should we turn it around and say they shouldn’t have the opportunity to do that so a child who doesn’t gets to have the main part? I’ve sat through countless school productions and I’ve noticed the ones who are good in shows are the ones who are most comfortable on stage. Not all children want to be in the spotlight.Our school is excellent at ensuring there are five or six decent parts for the oldest children. They also give solos to the ones who are good at singing. It’s lovely to see someone you perhaps thought of as quite shy singing like an angel. (Deb)

Other comments via Twitter included:

So far, they’ve been really fair at my kids’ school, with kids who don’t have parts in one play getting them in next one … Last year someone was really put out their daughter wasn’t Mary & told us all. Pathetic. (@VWallop)

If they think that is a big ‘problem’ then they need a reality check (@LindaSJones)

It’s a snapshot; it’s not scientific; for me, it is an interesting topic for discussion.

I hate unfairness and hate to think that a school teacher would favour one child over another, although I know/strongly suspect it goes on in SOME schools.

I know that there are a goodly number of children who aren’t interested in the starring role; some prefer to be the giraffe (I know, in a nativity, too. How does that work?) or the third tree on the left, but there are many who want to be given a chance, if only their teachers would offer them encouragement.

Let’s give those shy children – who deep down would love to be given  a chance to shine on stage as Mary, Joseph or the inn keeper – a chance. It might just give them the boost they need.

What do you think?

(two photos of nativity courtesy of PicApp)

Written by CommonPeople

November 26, 2009 at 4:33 am

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