Jane Henson, the wife of Jim Henson and co-creator of the original Muppets, was also an accomplished ceramicist, painter, and puppeteer. Throughout her life she was inspired by the classic story of the birth of Christ. The genesis of her own version of the Nativity Story began 15 years ago. At that time, Jane was studying sacred art at Catholic University and was particularly interested in both written and visual depictions of the birth of Jesus, including those three-dimensional Nativity scenes whose appearance in medieval Europe is traditionally credited to St. Francis of Assisi. Her long association with puppetry and her Catholic background made the idea of a Christmas crèche whose figures “come to life” attractive to her.
In early 2008, Jane Henson put her vision into action and called like minds together, notably Sean Keohane, Director of Pinocchio’s Marionette Theater near Orlando, to create a new show that could tour churches. “Probably Episcopal churches,” Jane said, adding, “we’ll never get puppets in the Catholic Church.”
Her daughter Heather Henson’s own company IBEX Puppetry designed and built the set; Jane Henson sculpted the heads for the puppets and oversaw their design as Jim Henson’s Creature Shop built and costumed each unique character. After a successful workshop performance of early vignettes at the Eugene O’Neill National Puppetry Conference in 2009, the full “Nativity Story played several times at Pinocchio’s Marionette Theater, always to sold out houses, and went on to tour churches and schools in Central Florida, including, among others, Winter Garden’s Episcopal Church of the Messiah as well as St. Margaret Mary Catholic School and St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, both of Winter Park.
Following Jane’s funeral in early April 2013, Father Eric Andrews, C.S.P., then President of Paulist Productions and a Jim Henson Company alumnus, approached two of Jane’s daughters, Cheryl and Heather Henson, with the opportunity to showcase their mother’s “Nativity Story” during CBS’s annual Christmas Eve Prayer Service, thus honoring the legacy and artistry of their amazing Mother during a truly lovely holiday event.
For that national broadcast of “A New York Christmas to Remember,” new puppets were added to the cast, including shepherds, sheep, a bowing donkey, and an endearing baby Jesus in the manger. Television personality Regis Philbin was host, proclaiming Scripture as the biblical scenes came to life through the magic of Jane’s puppets. The vignettes from “Nativity Story” were performed and filmed at Manhattan’s magnificent Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Columbus Circle, the mother church of the Paulist Fathers.
A Catholic Church! Jane would have been most pleased.
Thanks to the generosity of the Henson family and our own family of donor friends, Jane Henson’s “Nativity Story” is now available for touring to parishes and communities like yours. Learn more about this amazing opportunity at our HOME page.
Send us your questions, comments, and requests for bookings of “Nativity Story” at the CONTACT page.
For more on the generous and talented partners and friends responsible for this work, see our ACKNOWLEDGMENTS page.