Bethlehem Revisited comes to life for a grand total of 18 hours a year. It does, however, take quite a bit more time than that to properly prepare to retell the story of Jesus' birth.
Laura McCarthy and her son, Kalen, were spotted at the grounds Thursday nailing down last-minute details and double-checking the sound among various other tasks.
The McCarthy family has a long resume with the entertainment industry, which made them utility players with Bethlehem Revisited. The family also works tirelessly to upkeep the grounds throughout the 11 months that the city goes quiet.
Laura has worked at the Scarborough Renaissance Festival since 1991 and has been a full-time employee since 2000. She also worked with a performing arts company from 1991-95.
The family has also been involved with other festivals, often building stunts and running shows with over 200 pyro mechanisms.
Laura could not pinpoint exactly how long her family has overseen the grounds but thought it had been between 15 or, maybe, even closer to 17 years.
Coy Sevier, the manager of Scarborough and Screams, was the former artistic director and was in need of a sound technician, which is what led to the inclusion of the McCarthys at Bethlehem.
“I was at home with a little kid, and my husband took over the tech,” Laura recalled. “He realized that he needed a trained hand.”
As the attraction enticed more visitors, the sets became more elaborate and the village expanded. Laura remembered her first years as a volunteer and would dress in all black, sit in the corner and operate the sound for the nativity scene without drawing any attention from the act.
“You can’t sit there for three hours in 30-degree weather. We started changing things,” Laura emphasized.
Her husband, Shawn, who is also the building and grounds manager, was in the midst of a career change when Bethlehem fell in critical need of male speakers.
“Since I do the sound at Scarborough and Screams it was a natural thing that I could take over the technical,” Laura said. “My husband could then step into a speaking role as the tax collector.”
When the event is live, Laura operates seven hidden microphone systems, lighting and migrates through the village to make sure the sound is discrete. Laura has become particular when it comes to the noises and voices of the cast.
“When Joseph speaks at the end, I want you to notice that you aren’t able to hear him,” she noted. “In a perfect world, people don’t realize I have a job. If the sound is good, most people won’t recognize that it is being amplified.”
Kalen began to volunteer with the event as a six-year-old and acted as one of the thieves. At the age of 22, he now serves as the artistic director and helps manage the grounds yearly. In the preceding weeks of Bethlehem, Kalen decorates and builds the sets as well as repairs and sets the lighting.
He explained the trick is to incorporate a combination of techniques.
“It’s a balanced technique,” Kalen elaborated. “Part of it comes from standard theme park lighting, theater and part of it is haunted attraction because it’s all three environments with the walk-through aspect.”
Throughout the year he trims the trees, repairs roofs and builds new sets. Last year the family even broke down and rebuilt the nativity scene. He said the weather is always an issue year-round and on opening weekends it’s the human aspect that runs the place down. He noted that the 2,400 set pieces are glued or nailed down and cannot be picked up to prevent them from being ruined. Kalen noted Bethlehem works with a vast library of props — more than most attractions he’s ever been part of.
The months Bethlehem is not open are essential to the success of the following year.
“We lose more equipment to inactivity than overuse,” Laura explained. “I would say our biggest secret is keeping up with inventory and trying to guestimate how many light bulbs are going to go out this year and already have them on the shelf.”
Laura walked down the cement path taken by Mary by donkey ride through the village and expressed her fulfillment with Bethlehem Revisited and the joy it brings to others. She noted that, even though Central Presbyterian Church owns the property, the City of Waxahachie and the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce work in tandem to put on the event.
She then stressed that the event is nondenominational.
“We have members of multiple religions,” Laura said. “I know we have some Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we have a lot of Presbyterians, and we I believe have some members of a local synagogue.”
Bethlehem Revisited will be open Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2, 7, 8, 9 and is located on two acres behind Central Presbyterian Church on North Jackson Street in Waxahachie. The event runs from 6 — 9 p.m. with the reenactment of the birth of Jesus Christ every 30 minutes. Admission is free, and donations will be accepted at the entrance and exit.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450