Christmas brings most families together. But while most families gather around the tree to open presents or around the dinner table to devour turkey, The Daugherty family gathers on stage.

For nearly a decade, mother Linda, father Paul, son Evan and daughter Linn have performed in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” produced by the Dallas Children’s Theater.

“The play has become our Christmas,” Linda says. “Dec. 24 is presents, Dec. 25 is dinner, but this is what Christmas means to us.”

The play is based on a Barbara Robinson book featuring the Herdman children – hooligans who became involved with the local church’s Christmas pageant as a way to receive free sweets. The mother in charge of the pageant, played by Linda, must control the mayhem that ensues, but in the end the Herdmans learn the true meaning of the holiday.

Paul, an attorney by day, plays an appropriate role in the play – Linda’s husband.

For several years, Linn, 13, played an angel in the pageant, but this year she’ll play the pageant narrator. Evan, 15, has played every Herdman boy as he has grown taller. This year, he’s the understudy for the oldest Herdman.

It was Linda, a professional actress, who involved the family in the play. When she and her husband moved from New York to our neighborhood in the 1980s, she looked for acting opportunities that would allow her to pursue a career while still caring for two young children, she says.

Linda studied acting in college and has performed in the Broadway show “Happy End” and in several off-Broadway productions. She performs a handful of shows for the Dallas Children’s Theater each year.

The theater tries to appeal to families with toddlers to teenagers, Linda says. Most of the actors are adults, but the Christmas show puts 50 children on stage, she says.

The acting experience has instilled responsibility and a love of theater in her children, she says. Linn’s dream is to play Miss Saigon, and Evan’s dream is to be a film director, she says.

“The theater teaches discipline,” Linda says. “You can be late for some things, but you can’t be late for the theater. We have an obligation and a joy.”

Performances of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” will be Dec. 6-8, Dec. 14-15 and Dec. 20-22 at El Centro College, located Downtown at Main and Market streets. Friday shows start at 7:30 p.m., Saturday shows at 1:30 p.m., and Sunday shows at 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Tickets are $11 for adults and $9 for children. Call 214-978-0110.

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