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Meet You at the Manger scriptLast night ranked among the top 20 of the most exciting and most anxiety-inducing experiences I’ve had as an artist.

I’ve dabbled in theatre, starting in high school as an extra with the Ridge Players, which started out with Gilbert & Sullivan works, eventually expanding to contemporary musical theatre. I started out as part of the chorus in my first couple of musicals, graduating to Boy #1 in the next two. I took part in church-produced production as an adult and became part of a church drama team.

Even though I enjoyed treading the boards, writing was still my first love and began writing sketches and plays. All, at the moment, unpublished and unproduced. But God intervened last December when, through an Arts Connection broadcast, I met Kim Pottruff, artistic director of Audience of One (http://www.audienceofoneguelph.ca), a new Christian amateur theatre group in Guelph.

While researching the company’s website, I noticed they were looking for playwrights. So I mentioned to Kim that I had a few plays gathering dust in my computer and wondered if she’d be interested in reading them. By the beginning of February, I was writing the script to a musical which, if all goes well, will be staged in December.

Which brings me to Wednesday, May 13, where nine people gathered to read through, aloud, for the first time the script of Meet You at the Manger.

You’d think after three decades as a journalist and author, I’d be used to setting my words free for others to read

You’d think after three decades as a journalist and author, I’d be used to setting my words free for others to read – never knowing what readers thought of them. A table reading is an entirely different experience. You’re sitting there, with your words exposed by another’s voice, disappointed when a particular word or phrase didn’t quite work and excited when people laugh at the right time.

But that’s the tension we face as artists. Without a reader or an audience or a viewer, the book or play or movie or music or painting are simply exercises in self expression that will gather dust. And for those of us who are trying to impart a Christian worldview through their art, that message is muted and our calling is unfulfilled.

While we may worry about the reaction to our work, we can’t let that prevent us from making it public. We do need to make sure our art has been polished and perfected as much as possible. But there’s a point when we have release our art even if we don’t think it’s perfect.

And that’s the point I reached with Meet You at the Manger . I know it still needs work. But I also needed to hear other voices speak the words of the characters. And I dreaded the first read-through. I feared the changes that might be suggested. I worried they wouldn’t understand what had been written.

All in vain.

For the most part, the readers gave positive feedback. Except for a few words or lines here and there that needed to be changed, and a section that relies more heavily on the still-to-be-completed song than the script, they liked it. They really liked it.

This is only the first step setting the play free. There’s still opening night and the play’s run before a live audience. And the jitters that will come.

For now, it’s back to proofing and polishing.