The Living Christmas Tree – Riverdale Baptist Church

I love the holiday season! The cold crisp air, the festive mood that everyone is in and of course the LIGHTS! driving down my block each night coming home is always a treat to see the houses lite up to celebrate the season.  Then there are the houses that put their lights to music and put on a show, I love it! It just makes me so happy to see everyone playing with light and bringing cheer to everyone.

Another thing I love about this time of year are Living Christmas Trees.  No I am not talking about a douglas fir coming to life and spreading needles all over the place.  I’m talking about huge theatrical style shows that employs vast amounts of string lights, dimmers, midi control and carolers singing within a tree.

I had the pleasure of being invited to the Living Christmas Tree, (LCT) at Riverdale Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro, Maryland the other weekend.  The LCT was a two and a half hour show which included the choir singing Christmas Carols accompanied by a full orchestra and an adaptation of Charles Dicken’s, A Christmas Carol called The Gospel According to Scrooge.

The LCT lighting was designed by Riverdale’s resident Lighting designer and iSquint Columnist, John Hathcock. There is a reason you have not seen any new columns from John on iSquint as of late due to the vast amount of time that he dedicated to this design.  Not only did he have to design and program lights from the drama, but the caroling and the Living Christmas Tree as well.

Then entire rig, consisting of 22 various types of moving lights, 20 LED fixtures, 36 source fours, 12 source four pars, snow machines, Aquafoggers, a hazer and over 50,000 string lights, was all controlled of an ETC Ion with midi time control.  In the end, John used over 800+ cues on the Ion to control the entire rig for the 2.5 hour show.

The highlight of the show for me had to be the beginning of the show.  When you walk into the worship center, I was taken back just how large of a production this is.  Center stage is the Living Christmas Tree that held all 85 members of the choir. Then off to either side was the stages where the drama was to take place. Down front, the 35+ member orchestra. While finding my seat and taking all of this in and gushing at the size of the rig over head, the four Cyberlights are slowly sweeping the audience with snow flakes. It’s at this point, I knew I was in for a good light show.

The first hour of the Living Christmas Tree was the choir singing from the LCT with the orchestra. John used his rig to it’s fullest, saturating the space with colors, textures from gobos and various movements that moved with the songs. Added to all of this was the Living Christmas Tree… AMAZING! You may have seen string lights dance to music before, but nothing compares to a Living Christmas Tree lights dancing along with a live choir, orchestra and moving lights.  It still boggles my mind how much time and effort was spend just on the string lights in order for them to move with each song.

From there was the start of the drama, The Gospel according to Scrooge.  We all know the story of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol and how Scrooge is visited by three spirits on the eve of Christmas and finds the true meaning of Christmas.  The Gospel According to Scrooge follows the same lines but finds God along the way.

After the show, I got a chance to see back stage of the Living Christmas Tree.  It was amazing to see how 85 choir members filled up the tree.  They were so tightly packed together! Then of course all the wire and dimmers connecting the tree lights… I just hope a lamp doesn’t go out, I have a hard enough time trying to fix a string on my own Christmas tree, I can’t imagine how to find a dead lamp on the Living Christmas Tree!

I had a wonderful time at the show! Everything from the lights to the singing and drama really set the mood for a wonderful holiday season.  A huge thank you to Riverdale Baptist Church and John for inviting Renee and I to the Living Christmas Tree this year.  We had a great time and look forward to the 25th anniversary next year!

Lighting Gear:

  • 36 Source 4 Lekos, various degrees
  • 12 Source 4 PAR EA’s
  • 8 HES Studio Colors
  • 6 Elation Design Spot 300 Pro’s
  • 4 Elation Design Spot 250 Pro’s
  • 4 HES Cyberlights
  • 1 Reel eFX DF-50 Hazer
  • 4 Antari S-200 Snow Machines
  • 10 Elation ELED 60 Strip lights
  • 10 ColorKey 10MM Led PAR’s
  • 2 Altman Satellite Followspots
  • 3 Rental CTI Aquafogger 3300’s