Two Baton Rouge area families — the Lanfords and the Fishers — have bonded once again over a love of church and theater.
Les and Connie Lanford, of Baton Rouge, attend Bethany World Prayer Center North in Baker, along with their eight children: Joshua, 22; Daniel, 20; Stephen, 19; Nicole, 18; Sarah, 17; Anna Joy, 15; Rachel, 14; and Jonathan, 11.
About four years ago, the home-schooled siblings and their parents began hosting a small nativity scene during Christmas at Baker’s Heritage Museum.
“It was simple — some caroling, angels and a donkey, but that quickly grew into a full production with sets, costume changes, scripts, sound effects, lighting and music,” matriarch Connie Lanford said.
After that first nativity scene at the Heritage Museum, Baker Mayor Harold Rideau offered the Lanfords the use of the city’s Municipal Auditorium for their production, which grew and eventually included the Fishers, Jessie and Marcia, of Baton Rouge, who also home-school their five children: Jessmar, 20; Marjessa, 17; Jessica, 15; Marcion, 13; and Jamaria, 10.
The play, titled “Emmanuel: 4,000 Years of Redemption,” includes elaborate sets and costumes that have been built and hand sewn by the two families.
“We all have a role to play, whether it’s on stage or behind the scenes,” said Connie Lanford.
The Fishers, formerly of Alsen, attend Bethany South in Baton Rouge and join the Lanfords in playing angels, shepherds or soldiers and some speaking and singing parts.
Marcia Fisher teaches drama at a co-op theater, so her role was defined from the start.
Joining the families for their production — which tells the story of Adam and Eve, the creation of Earth and includes stories from the Old Testament through the three Wise Men’s trip to Bethlehem — are friends from church, Jamie and Tracy Johnson, and Steve Landry.
Others volunteer, such as Vanessa Williams, who is the show’s musical director, and Wanda Pass, who helps out as the set designer.
In November, the families and friends begin meeting at the Baker Auditorium about three times a week to rehearse and work on a punch list of items for the play, which usually draws about 200 people over two nights in December.
There is no charge to attend, but Heritage Museum Director Jean Byers, who also oversees the Zachary Historical Village, says donations are encouraged to help the families absorb some of the costs, such as for costumes and set materials.
“They’re such an awesome group of kids. Wonderful families,” Byers said. “This production is inspiring in so many ways. To see these families working together and doing something for a community just because they love doing it, is really admirable.”
“We do this because we love it. It’s a good way to think about Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas,” said Marcia Fisher. “Doing this play also helps keep our kids centered.”
Between scenes and during rehearsals, many of the children can be found studying schoolwork or reviewing their lines.
Two of the Lanford brothers recently went through the welding program at the Workforce Development Center in Baker and have put their newly honed skills to use by helping build some of the sets.
Before each rehearsal, the families and their friends join hands in prayer. Patriarch Les Lanford always asks for the play to be a success.