With our closing performance at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, I've finally been able to answer the question about what it would be like to perform The Second Shepherds' Play in a church. This one has been on my mind since my first production of it back in 2000, when I noticed that a priest and a few nuns were in attendance.
While we can't say with much certainty when, where, or how The Second Shepherds' Play was performed, we are fairly certain that theatre, along with most of the other liberal arts and sciences, was preserved within the church through the dark ages. Even if it had moved out of doors to Corpus Christi Festival pageant wagons and scaffolds by the early/mid 1400s, I think it quite likely that some tradition of seasonal plays within churches (or church halls) was maintained. While I have no historical or scholarly evidence, I am prepared to offer some sociological evidence:
1) Look at all the Christmas programming we have on television right now. Then remember that they didn't have television in the 1400s. Granted, they also didn't have Christmas (as we know it), but to my mind that only gave the Church (this was before the reformation) more reason to try to tempt the proletariat away from their pagan holiday of choice: Yule. A Christmas pageant at Christmas time gives people something less damnable to focus their energies on.
2) Everyone loves dressing kids up as things and putting them on stage. I've never been able to pull this off, but I was chatting with Kelly about the possibility of bringing 5 or 10 kids into the cast. They could play sheep (giving the shepherds a flock to leave), Mak and Gil's houseful of brood (giving Mak and Gil reason to complain), a choir of angels backing up the one named angel (because... that's why), and they could serve as tha "ass," "ox" and other barnyard animals at the manger (because those animals are described in the text). Granted, this reading is somewhat inspired by my work on Catalyst's production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever a few years back, but I don't have much difficulty finding textual support for it, and parents always like to see their kids on stage.
So what I'm getting at is that there's still places for us to take Second Shepherds' Play in future years, and judging by the number of kids we had seeking autographs from the cast, and grown-ups who thought we should perform more often during December, we probably will.
Something I take particular joy in was the broad strokes with which Kelly, Ben, Dane, and Jessica painted the shepherds this year. They are clearly written as caricatures of old-age, middle-age, and youth, and I've never quite managed to find the broad strokes needed within those types to bring the shepherds to the same level as Mak and Gil. The years shepherds (a rapper, a pirate, and Little Bo Peep) were constructed with broad enough strokes that they were very clearly inhabitants of the same fallen work Mak and Gil inhabit, and despite their empathetic rise above their conditions, they still need Christ's promised salvation to be greater than what they are.
I love when I get to learn something new about a play. Especially one I've been working on for so long, and will likely continue to work on for years to come.