Ancient pageantry finds lasting appeal

December 31, 2018

Call it serendipitous.

Chris Toft of Chicago was in Fort Wayne for one reason Sunday : the 44th annual Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival at Plymouth Congregational Church.

A full house : 480 attendees : was expected to crowd sanctuary pews for the interactive festival that featured a costumed cast, a choir and an orchestra. Every ticket for the four weekend services was claimed before Christmas.

Toft, a cast member as a child, arrived at the downtown church without a guaranteed seat. His timing, however, was perfect: Moments before, attendee Ann Colwell handed back tickets she wouldn’t use.

“You’re lucky,” Colwell told Toft as he received his admission. “I just returned it.”

With unassigned seating, it was unsurprising the sanctuary pews filled quickly, both with regular attendees and first-time visitors, for whom Artistic Director Jim Schmidt had one question.

“Where have you been for 44 years?” Schmidt said after the new audience members raised their hands. “We’re glad that you found us tonight.”

The festival is much older than Plymouth’s annual tradition. Information in the event program described it as perhaps the oldest festival celebrated during the Christmas season; it can be traced as far back as 14th-century England.

At Plymouth, the production is supported by patrons’ contributions and this year involved a crew of 60, about 80 musicians and nearly 200 cast members ranging in age from infants to the elderly. Three people have participated since the beginning: Louise Misegades, James Clauser and Michael Popp.

Stage manager Rob Getrost is among those who grew up participating in the festival. His parents were on the committee that started it. Now, he said, his granddaughter : who once played baby Jesus : is in it.

Returning audience members had no doubt this year’s performance would live up to their memories.

“We love the pageantry,” said Ann Filler of Fort Wayne, a former cast member who played two roles : a peasant and a wassailer.

Colwell called it spiritual, adding that the music gives her a wonderful feeling.

“It’s so professional,” she said. “We love it.”

Although Toft hadn’t seen the festival in years, he was certain it would be worth the drive from Chicago, where he hopes to stage something similar at his church.

Toft has vivid memories the pageantry and spectacle at Plymouth, where he played a torchbearer and a Yule log sprite. He credited the festival for helping him make the connection between music and spirituality.

“It made a powerful impression on me,” Toft said.


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