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Local actors create realistic touch of Bethlehem

Jon Buss, New Richmond, will portray a wise man during "Bethlehem Revisited" at First Lutheran Church in Amery Dec. 16-19. The entire cast and support staff will total about 150 people.

Historic Bethlehem comes to western Wisconsin this holiday season.

"Bethlehem Revisited" will be held at First Lutheran Church, Amery, later in December.

A re-creation of the village of Bethlehem, as it might have looked the night of the birth of Jesus, is being constructed and people from the community will play the roles of the various shopkeepers, artisans, town beggars, royalty and so on.

Jon Buss, New Richmond, will be among those in the event's cast and support personnel, which totals about 150 people.

Buss will play the part of a wise man in this year's production.

"I'm actually trying to grow a beard for the first time," Buss said with a laugh. "I'm excited to be in this."

Preparations for the performances are continuing and everything appears to be on track, Buss noted.

"I think if people come out for this, they will be quite pleased," he said. "It's really quite effective and it's quite a scene. I've been impressed just working on the set."

Buss said each actor has a role to play, and a script lets each cast member know how to authentically portray each character. The actors mingle among the 20-plus buildings that will be constructed in the church's fellowship hall for the various performances. Some of the set's buildings include a tax collector's office, a jail and a Jewish synagogue.

Among other cast members with local ties include Roman soldier Chris Root, an employee at Bosch in New Richmond; Diane Garves, co-owner of the AKF Martial Arts Academy in downtown New Richmond, and her three daughters; and Doug Johnson, an employee of Countryside Plumbing in New Richmond.

As part of the performances, a special tent will be put up on the church grounds to house the all-important manger scene, where actors portraying Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus will be housed. Live animals will add to the realism of the setting.

The "Bethlehem Revisited" project is spearheaded by the church's Men in Mission group, in conjunction with many others from surrounding communities. The Amery church got the idea for the presentation from St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Hudson, which staged "Bethlehem Revisited" several years ago.

The first presentation of this event in Amery was last year. It proved to be successful as more than 1,700 visitors toured the village (as documented by a census upon entry.)

More than 2,200 pounds of food and $1,396 was collected for the local food shelf.

The dates and times for "Bethlehem Revisited are 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 16, and Friday, Dec. 17; and 2-5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 18, and Sunday, Dec. 19. Admission is a non-perishable food item or a cash donation for the local food shelf.