Carrying Baby Jesus for 20 Years
Gabriel the Donkey Lives Up to His Call
FORT MILL, S.C. - December 4, 2018 - Few actors have filled a role for twenty years. But one humble donkey has. His name is Gabriel. And he has been carrying "Baby Jesus" on the NarroWay stage for twenty years. Gabriel is making his faithful trek once again this holiday season in "The Real Christmas Story" at the NarroWay Theatre every day through December 22. Weekend shows are sold out, but tickets for weeknight performances are still available through the box office at 803.802.2300.
Gabriel was four years old when he found his forever home and landed his first role as an actor. He traveled from southeast Virginia to be adopted by NarroWay Productions.
"We were just starting out and getting ready to open our second show season," remembers NarroWay co-founder Yvonne Clark. "My brother is a large animal veterinarian in Virginia. One of his clients contacted him wanting to find a home for a lonely donkey. Sammy, my brother, said he knew just the place!"
The previous owner had not given the donkey a name. But because of his loud, early morning braying, the neighbors surrounding the farm had come up with a nickname. "We asked about his name," says Clark "and were told that the neighbors called him 'Gabriel' because 'he liked to blow his horn!' We thought that angelic name fit well for a donkey at a Christian theatre, so we chose to make it official." And so the sorrel standard donkey with the loud bray and friendly demeanor became affectionately known as "Gabriel."
That was twenty years ago. Gabriel the Donkey was immediately incorporated into the running shows. And when November came, he would be the one to carry Baby Jesus in the Christmas show.
Since that time, much has changed. Shows have changed. Actors have changed. Sets have changed. NarroWay's Christmas show has remained in production but undergone revisions. Through all the revisions, there has been a constant: Gabriel the Donkey carries Baby Jesus.
"When we started, the Christmas show had just four performances each year," notes Rebecca Martin, NarroWay co-founder. "This year, we will do 48 shows from November 3 through December 22." While actors rotate for those show dates, Gabriel the Donkey continues at his post. "He has never missed a show in twenty years," notes Martin.
With that history, Gabriel knows his cues better than most human actors. You might see him nudging Joseph or pawing the floor in anticipation of the next scene. In fact, during Act I, this sweet donkey makes a solo entrance on stage with no handler leading the way.
While Gabriel appears in a number of shows at the NarroWay Theatre, his role in "The Real Christmas Story" is one that has made him an audience favorite. "We have people come by the barn just to see him," notes Clark. "He's a big fan of carrots and peppermint candy. So occassionally, we have people that will even leave a little care package for him!"
The loud, bellowing bray that earned his name two decades ago is still intact, but this gentle-spirited donkey is far from lonely as he passes through the crowd, faithfully carrying the Christ-child. The neighbors surrounding the southeast Virginia farm may not have understood his message twenty years ago, but his proclamation rings clear today with the amazing story that changed the world one wintry night - "The REAL Christmas Story."
Gabriel can be seen on stage now through December 22 at The NarroWay Theatre in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Located at I-77 exit 90 (Carowinds Blvd), The NarroWay Theatre sits on the Carolina border just minutes from Charlotte NC. Tickets for "The Real Christmas Story" are available at narroway.net or by calling 803.802.2300.
Carrying Baby Jesus in 2018.
Gabriel makes a solo entrance in Act I.
Carrying Baby Jesus in 2008.
Gabriel is often known to nudge actors for the next cue.
One of the earliest photos of Gabriel on stage, taken around 1999.