Picking the Church Nativity for Christmas can be a daunting task! To make your decision a little easier we’ve caught up with Mark & Helen Johnson, writers of Everyone Loves A Baby!. We hope we’ve captured some of the thinking behind one of this years new releases. Everyone Loves A Baby! is an endearing take on the traditional Nativity story, told from a child’s perspective. The normally cheerful children of a Bethlehem innkeeper aren’t so sure about babies. Heading off to see their friend, the children discover news of a special baby about to be born… baby Jesus. Will they end up liking babies after all?
What first sparked the idea for Everyone Loves a Baby!?
It’s been a long time since we wrote a Christmas project for younger voices. “It’s A Baby!” was our first early years nativity and it’s one of our most successful publications - so it was something of a challenge to ourselves to write something super fun and relevant for the same age group. Strangely, it’s the simplest songs that are often the most difficult to write! But it’s so important to us to find fresh ways of communicating and celebrating the original Christmas story. Everyone Loves A Baby! was very much born out of that heart.
Where do you usually start writing, with the song or the story?
We’re normally asked ‘What comes first, the melody or the lyrics?” And pretty much 99% of the time it’s the melody that comes first. Then it’s a case of interpreting that melody and finding out ‘who it is’ before we embark on the rather longer process of carefully crafting the lyrics.
With a Nativity Musical, the basic story and framework is already in place – and we’re always very keen to keep the Biblical narrative intact. So then it’s all about finding a fresh approach to delivering it - finding the ‘voice’ or perspective we’re going to use to tell the story. Once we’ve settled on an ‘angle’ of approach we work very closely with Sue Langwade, our brilliant scriptwriter. We’ve enjoyed working with Sue for enough years now for the process to be wonderfully collaborative and a whole lot of fun. With an early years nativity there aren’t going to be any unexpected or complicated plot twists to accommodate, so the songs and script can be written pretty much in tandem.
Do you experience writers block? If you do how do you get over it?
When we’re in a song-writing phase, and we’ve committed to a project, it’s really a case of showing up at the piano every morning, and putting the hours in. I don’t remember having the kind of writers block where we have no ideas to work with. We both keep voice memo recordings of song ideas on our phones, and we have too many of those still waiting to be explored to ever have a total writers block. That said, there are times in the middle of writing a song where we might get a bit stuck on lyrics – trying to find just the right word or turn of phrase can be quite a painstaking process. (Distilling complex things into simple words that capture the essence of an idea can be quite a challenge). There are times when we might get stuck on one word for way too long. But we’ve learned over the years that getting up and walking away from it for a few minutes is sometimes all that’s needed to land upon the very word you’ve struggled to find. And it’s always a great excuse to put the kettle on!
What makes Everyone Loves A Baby! a good choice for a Church nativity?
Everything! But we might be just a little bit biased on that! Everyone Loves A Baby! has been carefully tailored for the younger years (3-7’s), so it’s ideal for anyone wanting a nativity play that’s both SIMPLE and hugely ENJOYABLE. We’ve done all we can to create a musical that is stress-free to learn, and great fun - both to stage and sing. Whilst it stays faithful to the original narrative, ELAB has a real fresh feel to it. With a good dose of humour in the script, and songs that are both catchy and moving, we think you’ll agree with us, that it’s a great choice. Like all our publications, it’s been written very much with the busy teacher or volunteer in mind, and with the usual priority on quality and enjoyment. We understand what it takes to create a memorable, enjoyable and meaningful Christmas celebration – for the whole community - and Everyone Loves A Baby! has been written to do just that!
What’s your favourite song in the production?
Favourite song? That’s like asking us which of our three kids is our favourite! Couldn’t possibly say!
How did the writing process for Everyone Loves a Baby! compare with previous nativities you have written?
Interesting….. We’ve been writing together for three decades now (crazy huh!?) – but however ‘familiar’ the process itself might be, there’s never any guarantee what will happen when we sit down to create a new project. We do have certain routines and rituals that feature whatever the project we’re working on - but each one brings its own distinctive feel and flavour as it emerges and takes on its own unique shape. Everyone Loves A Baby! was a lot of fun to write – and a really satisfying process seeing it come to life, with songs, characters and script.
Do you have any top tips for someone putting on their first nativity?
- I guess for starters, don’t panic! We’ve done as much work as we can in the creation of this nativity to make it as simple and stress-free for the busy teacher or volunteer. So the resources we provide really are geared very specifically to taking as much hassle out of the process as we possibly can.
- It’s always good to get some context around the story before ‘doing a nativity’ with children. Especially if it’s with those younger years. Great to explore their knowledge of the Christmas story as a part of the process.
- This one’s a bit of a contradiction: Keep it simple….. but don’t underestimate what children are capable of.
- Don’t worry about mistakes! It’s often the things that don’t go quite to plan that become the most memorable parts of the Christmas play….. (“My name’s Joseph and this is the Virgin Megastore……..”; Joseph to Innkeeper no 1: “Please sir, have you got any room? IK: “Off course, come in!”) And proud parents are very forgiving!
- And lastly, enjoy the process as much as you can. It’ll be well worth all the hard work!
What’s your hope for the children who will be performing Everyone Loves a Baby! this year?
We’d hope firstly that they would enjoy every bit of it – the learning of the songs, the script, the costumes and dances…… as well as the final performance. There’s something very special about everyone working so closely together, and we’re sure they’ll enjoy building community as well as confidence. Putting on a great nativity musical is unlike anything else in the school calendar, and our hope is that the children would really prize that experience - and hopefully they’ll remember the story and songs for a long time after the show is over and done with.
Do you have any ideas for your next project?
That’d be telling! We’re currently in the middle of an exciting collaboration with our daughter Naomi….. working on a musical we’ve wanted to write for some long time…. And we’ve got at least two more projects lined up for when that one’s finished. There’s certainly no shortage of things we’re planning to write – but we’re always open to suggestions!
Mark & Helen Johnson interviewed by: Hannah Rayson