Eighteen years ago, Brian Andre stood out back of the pretty new chapel on Altisima overlooking Oso Reservoir thinking, “What a waste.” This seems like a strange reaction to the blessing of a beautiful new church building in the growing city of Rancho Santa Margarita, but he was thinking only of the grounds behind the church, and at first, he was thinking only with the practical part of his brain.
“I kept looking at all the unused space and wondering why we hadn’t just made it a parking lot,” he admitted. It seemed like a better use of the land. But very quickly, a new picture began to form in his mind’s eye, and the artistic part of his brain went to work as a prompting of the Spirit worked on him. Suddenly, the rolling hills on the gentle slope behind the chapel looked like the perfect place to stage a show. Brother Andre knew exactly what the show should be: the beginning of the greatest story ever told, when the Savior was born to change the world.
To do the scriptures justice would require professionals, and Brother Andre tapped the rich vein of talent running through the wards in the stake. Soon he had lined up Jeff Frazier to consult on professional lighting, then moved on to a set design firm, Gothic Moon Designs out of Santa Ana, to build the inn and manger. Gifted seamstresses in the stake sewed gorgeous costumes from the Kings of the Orient to the angel bearing glad tidings. Even the Santiago Canyon 4-H got involved, with Nancy McKibben supervising some animal wrangling to populate the manger with gentle creatures to watch over the Christ child.
This vision of gifting the community with a live presentation of the nativity gained incredible momentum, and Brother Andre knew that it needed to be a seamless experience for the attendees, most especially when it came to the story itself. The organizers wrote a script, and the narration we hear play each year as we watch the events of two thousand years ago unfold is spoken by the same beautiful voice that narrates the Pageant of the Masters each year.
The generosity of the people who donated their talents or otherwise lent their expertise to making Follow the Star happen would have been a miracle in and of itself, but there were other small miracles along the way. When Brother Andre and Brother Frazier conceived of their vision for lighting the program, they knew that it was going to be tricky trying to run all the electricity from the building. Extension cords bristled from all kinds of outlets inside, but to their astonishment, for reasons to this day that no one can explain, the concrete outside had been laid with perfect conduits for running the cords out to the performance area, eliminating their concerns about the safety of having so many trip hazards for people to navigate around.
As if that weren’t enough, they’d quickly realized they would soon need to install another junction box, an expensive proposition, in order to accommodate the electrical demands of the lighting. Again, they were astonished to discover that once more for no discernible reason, the chapel had been constructed with a second junction box just waiting for them to discover it.
Other miracles have occurred over the years as people have been touched by the story of the Christ-child. Once, when one of the wise men was running late for the first performance, Brother Andre grabbed the first bearded guy he saw to fill in. He was a large biker who was not LDS and not at all certain how he felt about suddenly being drafted as a wise man, but he yielded to gentle persuasion and ended up having the time of his life as he played the wise man for every performance that night. He called his sister in Ohio to tell her about the experience. Not too long after, missionaries came knocking on her door, and she opened it because she was curious after hearing about her brother’s experience of being in a play at the Mormon church in California. Soon, she had taken the missionary lessons and joined the church. And not too much later, when her brother, the bearded biker, came to live with her during a period of unemployment, he too took the lessons and joined the Church.
Because of the unique interfaith nature of Follow the Star, stories like this have multiplied through the years. Parts are played both by members of the church and community members of other faiths. For example, Bill Suman has been one of the wise men in every performance since Follow the Star began, but it’s not at all unusual for one of the infants representing the baby Jesus to be the newborn child of a ward member’s neighbor who has never before stepped foot inside of a Mormon church. Our friends from other churches have been inn keepers and angels, and we love having them join us to tell this wonderful story.
Follow the Star is Friday-Sunday December 11-13 2015, from 6-9 pm every night. Come and enjoy this beautiful program with your family and neighbors. Bring your friends, tour the incredible crèche display inside the cultural hall, enjoy the music and performance of the story of Christmas, and a lovely hot cocoa after.