[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]APPLETON — John Biese spent 32 years in the military but don’t let that fool you. He’s a softy when it comes to Christmas. Biese is one of a handful of Christmas Stars cast members who have been in every production of the show since it debuted as a fundraiser for the St. Francis Xavier School System back in 1993.
Biese grew up on a farm in the Wrightstown area. After he graduated from Wrightstown High School, he committed to the ROTC and got a degree in biology from St. Norbert College in De Pere. He entered active military after college and as an artilleryman in the Army he served two tours of duty in Vietnam. When his tour ended he joined the Army Reserves and got a master’s degree in agronomy from UW-Madison. He started a career with the UW-Cooperative Extension, serving as a county agriculture agent for 21 years. He retired in 1999, six years after he got out of the reserves.
Biese didn’t have a lot of time to do volunteering when he was working. “My wife, Agnes, was raising our three kids and I was running around playing Army,” said Biese. “But I’ve been involved with St. Bernard’s since we got here.”
He started as an usher and later coordinated the ushers. “The last three or four years, Agnes and I have been greeters,” he said. His first volunteer activity with Xavier High School was assistant JV softball coach. He’s been doing that for more than 16 years now.
For quite a few years Biese has been bringing Communion to people in their homes and picking up donations for the St. Joe’s Food Program. He teaches Adventures in Dairyland, a six-session course about dairy farming, to fourth-graders in the St. Francis Xavier School System. To top it off, he’s also on the committee that puts on the JOY Conference, conducted annually at Fox Valley Lutheran High School.
Although he’s involved in quite a few things, there’s something special about Christmas Stars. Asked why he joined the cast, Biese recalled, “Somebody talked me into it.”
The first four years Biese was onstage but not involved behind the scenes. “The year I retired I was already on the steering committee, so one year you spend learning, the second year you are a co-chair, the third year you and your partner are the supervisors.”
For about 10 years he was the liaison between the show and the ACES/Xavier School System. “My primary responsibility was to coordinate the Christmas Stars use of Xavier.”
He still holds that role for The Northeast Wisconsin Passion Play performed at Xavier High School. Biese has been a part of that ensemble since its inception and was one of the first co-chairs.
It’s been more than 20 years, but the magic of Christmas Stars is still there for Biese. “I enjoy working with the people. It’s fun, it’s camaraderie. It’s a lot of work.”
Performers start practice the Sunday before Labor Day, once a week until the Sunday after Thanksgiving. “The Sunday after Thanksgiving we start at 1:00 and Lord only knows when we end,” he said. “Then we rehearse the next three nights — dress rehearsals, tune ups.”
There’s never a doubt that he’ll sign on when they start casting for the show each year. “There’s so many good people. It’s good to see a lot of them,” he said. “Some of them you form good friendships with.”
The show never grows old with the audiences either, according to Biese. “It’s a very continuous, move-along show, the audience seldom sits there waiting for the curtain to come up or looking at an empty stage. It has variety of acts. With four choirs — cherub, children, youth, adult — there’s a variety. Of the four choirs, only the adult choir stands on the platforms. They sing three songs in the first act and three songs in the second act. The rest of it, there’s something continuously happening.”
Biese said the play promotes the religious Christmas season. “Everything comes to a focus on the Nativity at the end of the show,” he said. “It’s our second year with the new Nativity scene.”
One thing that impresses Biese is the casting of Jesus, Joseph and Mary. “They use a real baby for Jesus. The children have come from people in the cast or wives of people in the cast.”
He is impressed with this year’s casting of Joseph and Mary.
“He’s older, he’s probably in his 50s, a bearded guy, and she’s in her 20s,” said Biese. “It looks like an older man married this young woman. To me I think it’s the most authentic Joseph and Mary we’ve ever had.”
Biese admits that Christmas Stars “is a lot of people working together, sharing all the work.” All of the work pays off, as every year Christmas Stars is a unique, fun-filled and faith-filled holiday extravaganza, he said. “People have told me that Christmas Stars is what gets them in the mood for Christmas.”
If you go:
Christmas Stars appears Dec. 4-7 and Dec. 11-14 at Xavier High School Fine Arts Theatre, Appleton. For showtimes and ticket information, go to www.christmasstars.org or call the Xavier box office at (920) 733-8840.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_message color=”alert-info” style=”rounded”]Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: John Biese, Jr.
Parish: St. Bernard, Appleton
Favorite saint: Blessed Virgin Mary
Words to live by: “Strive to do your best and let God do the rest.”[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]