There were plenty of toes tapping and hands clapping on a recent rainy early December afternoon at L’Arche Antigonish.
With the sounds of The Barra MacNeils spurring them on, core members, assistants and volunteers were kicking up their heels.
The square dancing session – fun, in and of itself – also served a broader purpose, as a rehearsal in preparation for L’Arche Antigonish’s annual Christmas gift to family, friends and the broader community.
“It is a lot of fun,” L’Arche Antigonish core member Heather MacGillivray said, with her signature wide smile.
The ensemble will kick-up their heels this weekend as part of The Gift – The Journey of the Fourth Wiseman, a production L’Arche Antigonish staged, for the first time, in 2010.
“It is really exciting,” core member Angela Brosha said of her first participation in The Gift.
The ‘journey’ of the fourth Wiseman centers on, when he wakes from a slumber, the one who has fallen behind his companions, so he must make the trek alone to see the Baby Jesus.
“He has no time to get a gift,” L’Arche Antigonish assistant Natalie Cameron explained.
Along the way, the Wiseman meets many people, who provide him with entertainment – including singing and dancing – and, most importantly, several ‘gifts.’
These ‘gifts’ aren’t ones that are wrapped – they are life lessons, including ‘acceptance,’ ‘faith’ and ‘truth.’
Upon arriving at the nativity, he apologizes for not having a gift, but Mary explains being ‘sorry’ is unnecessary.
“She tells him that ‘yourself and your love,’ are the ‘best gift,’” Cameron said.
The long-time L’Arche assistant, who penned The Gift, came up with the idea while watching one of the community’s variety shows.
“Looking for a thread that connected everything,” Cameron said, when asked about the genesis of the production.
She added the focus on providing a “sense of doing things together.”
As with other L’Arche shows, core members and assistants, along with volunteers, collaborate.
“It starts in September,” Cameron said, with a laugh, of the timeline for when core members begin discussions about the production, providing ideas and suggestions for their respective roles.
During the fall, groups from various segments of The Gift gathered for rehearsals, fine-tuning their contributions.
“We, actually, only have one group rehearsal,” Cameron said, noting it, usually, comes on the day of opening night.
Between 60 and 70 people, including L’Arche core members and assistants, along with volunteers, are part of the cast and crew.
“We always have tremendous support,” Cameron said.
She added St. F.X. students, traditionally, have been great contributors to the L’Arche production.
This year, because The Gift will be staged later in December, after most students have headed home for the holidays, there are fewer taking part, but other volunteers have stepped in.
“It is a great way for them to show their creativity,” Cameron said, when asked about what core members get out of the experience.
She added they have “great input” into what happens on and off stage.
“It brings us together,” Cameron continued, adding the experience “creates new relationships and bonds.”
She said “something magical” happens when they take the Bauer stage.
“We have made a lot of great memories,” Cameron added.
As for that venue, she said L’Arche Antigonish has formed a “sense of belonging,” while noting its intimacy.
As for magic moments that will be created this year, they will include an East Coast twist, with the fourth Wiseman travelling across part of Canada in his journey to the nativity scene.
Noting the production has received Canada 150 funding, Cameron said they wanted to put a focus on “honouring our country” during this special anniversary year.
There will be First Nations music, along with O Canada performed in sign language, as elements of the show.
Tickets for The Gift are $15, with a $10 price tag for seniors, students and children under 12.
They are available at Antigonish 5¢ to $1 and L’Arche Day Programs (4 West Street).
“We have always had tremendous community support,” Cameron said.
Proceeds go to the L’Arche Hearts and Hands creative arts program, which provide myriad opportunities for core members to ‘connect and inspire.’
“It helps sustain those opportunities to be creative,” Cameron said.