Online Format to Provide Greater Audience for Christmas First Night
With the approach of the 2020 holiday season, COVID-19 forced many people to cancel or reschedule many beloved and anticipated holiday celebrations. However, the South Carolina School of the Arts at Anderson University adapted to the limitations of the pandemic by offering Christmas First Night: A Gift for the Soulin a virtual online format.
In past years, people have come from all around to experience the beautiful and rich tradition of Christmas First Night. Dr. Richard Williamson, lead coordinator of Christmas First Night, said the celebration has taken many forms over the years since its beginnings in the 1930s. According to Dr. Williamson, this shift to a virtual celebration provides a new and unique experience for guests of the celebration.
“Anderson University realized that we were dealing with severe restrictions for performing and gathering, so an in-person First Night was not possible this year,” Dr. Williamson said, “However, the School of the Arts knows the importance of the First Night tradition to the school and the community. Through the help of volunteering departments and individuals, we have been able to pull together this new streamed event for people to enjoy.”
Over the past weeks, students and staff have been working hard to record their performances for Christmas First Night while maintaining Anderson University’s Journey Ahead health and safety protocols. Dr. Williamson said that performing groups observed social distancing during their performances, wore masks when rehearsing and utilized more technology to make the process as safe as possible. According to student and Christmas First Night performer, Hannah Stephens, these adjustments have not only allowed for the safety of performers and audience members, but also for a new way of keeping the arts thriving through this difficult holiday season.
“I am proud to say that I attend a university who is dedicated to keeping the arts alive during a time when most have remained dark,” Stephens said. “Christmas First Night brings the same warm holiday entertainment right to the comfort and safety of your home while actively working to protect faculty, students and audience members.”
Because of the online format of Christmas First Night, there is more potential for the celebration to reach a larger audience. In previous years, tickets for Christmas First Night sold out in days because of the limited amount of audience seating. This year, anyone can access the performance on December 1 and it will remain available to watch for an entire month.
Christmas First Night performer Georgie Kelley said that she is excited to reach out to this larger audience.
“I believe that this experience, for both the participants and the audience members of First Night, is truly inspiring and therapeutic,” Kelley said. “This year has brought so much heartache to the world. But our team has been able to see God’s light at the end of the tunnel. Through Christmas First Night, the School of the Arts has been given the opportunity to point others in the direction of that light.”