Bethel A.M.E. Church sits quietly in New Haven, at a time when the joyful sounds of rehearsals would usually fill the air.
“Black Nativity started their holiday season. It ramped them up. It gave them that energy, it gave them that hope, it gave them those feels,” said Lisa Kellman, the producer of the Black Nativity.
The church has performed the musical for the last two years, a production of the 1961 Langston Hughes play.
“To bring the Holy Spirit into that, into this play, this is what we embody, this is who we are as a culture,” said Kellman. “The Black Nativity has always been a staple in the New Haven community.”
She shows photos that capture the recent revival in New Haven, after the original run from 1984 to 1991. Carissa Kee Conyers performed in the play as a young girl and is now the choreographer.
“The entire time I was looking up to my teacher and my choreographer like ‘one day I really want to be able to do this. One day I hope I’ll be good enough to do this,’” said Conyers.
The impact of the pandemic this year means they can’t perform in person. They’ll adapt the play and bring small performances to viewers during Bethel’s Sunday online services at 10 a.m., streamed on their Facebook page.
“The Black church has always been our place of refuge, our place of resurgence, our place of information, our place of coming together,” said Kellman.
The pandemic has hit the community in so many ways this year that they say the play is needed now more than ever.
“For us, Jesus is the reason for the season and that is what makes it so important for us to get that message out in an amazing artistic way,” said Conyers. “Just the fact that we’re able to do a little something during this uncertain time, to me is still enough.”