A cherished, longstanding Ashley Hall tradition, The Christmas Play assumed a digital format for its 2020 production in response to pandemic safety concerns. Against the backdrop of new technology, creative staging, and the need for the cast to socially distance, one thing remained clear: the love for this shared generational experience runs deep.
“This year we reimagined The Christmas Play in order to adhere to public health and safety protocols, and the spirit of this Ashley Hall tradition came to life in an entirely new way. Filmed outdoors on campus, the play allowed us to take full advantage of our cherished Senior Lawn as well as the Bear Cave, which served as the perfect backdrop for the Holy Tableaux.” —Head of School Jill Muti
Ask any alumna to name her favorite Ashley Hall memories, and The Christmas Play makes the list more often than not. Now in its 97th year, the annual performance is nearly as old as the School itself and draws together generations of graduates who relish memories of assuming roles of angels, shepherds, and jesters, reciting time-worn lines, and singing a repertoire that embodies the holiday season.
“The fact that you can reconnect so well with your Ashley Hall experience through watching the play makes it so special,” said Assistant Head of School and Upper School Director Anne Weston ’73, who treasures many fond memories of watching and performing in the play. “This year we worked hard to preserve the tradition of The Christmas Play in the face of challenging conditions.”
Historically, the logistics of The Christmas Play have adapted through the years to allow for location changes and staging demands, and the digital version represents the latest of these transformations. While the medium of delivery may change, it is reassuring to know the essence of this beloved tradition remains very much the same.
View the 2020 Christmas Play
The Christmas Play Alumnae Telegrams
Another special Ashley Hall tradition is the sending of alumnae “telegrams.” Each year, alumnae cast members of The Christmas Play share warm wishes with members of the current cast. Filled with fun memories and loving support, these “telegrams” offer a glimpse into the special bond our alumnae have to their School and each other. Happy reading!
Read the Alumnae Christmas Play Telegrams
In honor of Miss McBee’s 138th birthday, we wanted to share this incredible excerpt found in the 1949 annual titled: “History of Ashley Hall and Miss McBee” written by her niece, Corina “Nena” McBee ’49.
History of Ashley Hall and Miss McBee
“During the year of 1909, an ambitious young woman came to Charleston with an idea. The young woman was Miss Mary Vardrine McBee, and the idea was to start a school for young ladies. Miss McBee realized that the South lacked a school which gave the necessary college requirements to Southern girls, and so, on a day in late September, in the year 1909, Ashley Hall began. The idea was not new to Miss McBee. It had come to her several years earlier when she entered Smith College. A young girl from Fairmont, Tennessee, Miss McBee had been out of school for four years when she made application to take the college entrance examinations. For three long days she wrote away and passed all except two exams. In order to be admitted she had to make up one of these two. Immediately she sat down and took the algebra examination. And so it was that on a cold rainy Fall day in 1902, a joyful sub-Freshman, who had just passed her algebra entrance examination, picked up her heavy long skirts and hurried behind Dr. Brady, the Latin Professor, across the campus toward the administration building. She fixed her eyes on Dr. Brady’s old-fashion high boots and saw water fly out in every direction with each step he took. It was in this atmosphere created by the sight of the stern old gentleman wading through the water that the idea, the dream of Ashley Hall was born. Miss McBee was then, still, a very young lady but despite this she had the determination and strength of purpose to last her through four years of college and many hard years after that until her dream was completed.
As we all know this dream culminated on a day in September of 1909 when forty-five students came to the old Witte house which has since become Ashley Hall and began the first day of school. The first enrolled day student was Josephine Pinckney and the first enrolled boarder was Pauline Sanders. These girls, this class of forty-five students, became the first members of a school which has grown and improved to become one of the outstanding preparatory schools in the country. The first year there were no graduates. But in 1911 three girls: Lucille Lebby, Katherine Paul and Ethel Thrower, were the first graduates, and in 1912 and industrious young student, Mary Howden, took the college entrance examinations and gained for Ashley Hall the prominence it needed to become a certified school. And so three years after its beginning Ashley Hall was well on its way to success.
Of the school itself much can be said. The classes which at first could be held in the main building soon required new buildings that extended for a block. The students, originally forty-five girls, have increased to two hundred and forty young ladies. The teachers have been an impressive group of intelligent, thoughtful and if not famous, certainly well equipped ladies and gentlemen.
Such foresight, perseverance and good natured kindness have gone into developing the cultural tradition of the school–a tradition which through the years has been increased and tempered with the utmost care, and which we regard as our backbone for the work of later life.”
Written by Corina “Nena” Louise McBee ’49, niece of Miss Mary Vardrine McBee (founder of Ashley Hall)