I’ll admit that I wasn’t exactly sure the Passion play would get off the ground. After the initial auditions, I’d needed to double cast Jesus as one of the prophets as well as Zacchaeus (which would’ve gotten tricky during conversations between those characters). I’d written the script to include as much as I could with the limited cast I had and then had the narrator filling in all the blanks. I’d considered dressing up as a man just to fill in male characters and had thought the play would need to be shortened to a simple prayer meditation. I sent a brief prayer to heaven, asking for a few more cast members and I was amazed with what happened. That next week, I’d had phonecalls, emails, and people simply showing up at rehearsals asking to be in the Passion play. I thought, “yeesh, well this certainly isn’t due to my bright blue auditions sheets…this is all God.” So, by the next week we had a cast!! Where we’d begun with just around 20, by opening night we had nearly 40 up on stage. If that isn’t God’s providence at work, I don’t know what is!
I had written in my director’s note in the program about how the initial idea had developed in my mind. I’d had the thought of doing a Passion Play in the past, but never really imagined it would be plausible in the way I’d been thinking. Here is an excerpt from the program:
During a long and rainy jog one day last October, I recall suddenly having the image of Jesus on the cross enter my mind. I wondered why I was thinking about the crucifixion at such a random point, (besides the fact that I was soaking wet and rather miserable). Before I knew it, however, the idea of holding a Passion Play in Clonard began to unfold within my mind and by the time I had reached home, I had hold of an entire production in my mind. It was as though God was taking the precious few spare moments I had away from work to allow the idea to form. Of course, at the time it was just a tiny thread of an idea, but it has since expanded into a colorful fabric of Biblical characters, scenes from the Gospels, and a great many fibers that tell Jesus’ story so beautifully.
You see, the unique part of this story is that we can each see ourselves in one way or another during the Passion. We can realize our own shortcomings but also our positive qualities and, even more, our beautiful faith. We see all sorts of human dysfunction throughout the Passion; the cowardice of the apostles when they leave Jesus’ side, violence when Peter cuts off the ear of a guard, lying when false witnesses testify against Jesus in the Sanhedrin, the betrayal of Jesus by the hands of his dear friend, and ultimately the refusal to accept forgiveness and the taking of one’s own life by Judas. It’s a harsh story to enter into, yet through this, we see Jesus walk amidst this sin in order to heal us and rid the world of that taxing burden. My hope was to convey this story, even with all of its pain and suffering, but to have love be the underlying thread that bound the play together. And, in the words of an audience member, “there was such a gentle quality to the play. We all noticed the loving community that had formed among the cast.” Truly, this love was what I’d hoped to share…to have each person on stage and each person in the audience to realise the love that exists in our own church community and that defines our Catholic faith.
I couldn’t be more pleased with the responses from the members of the audience and the entire parish. Here are a few:
-Every aspect of it was professional and engaging
-We were captured by the story
-I don’t think my son will ever forget the story of the Passion of our Christ
-So engaging, neat to see the Bible stories beforehand and come to understand who Christ was before his passion.
-The whole play was a prayer. Was nice to pray along with you all.
-You gave a lovely pen picture of Jesus’ life on earth
-A meaningful and superb performance
-A practical exercise in preparing those in the audience for Holy Week Ceremonies
Of course, the final product that an audience member sees lacks the…zest…of the backstage happenings. I like to think of a play as a duck: calm on the surface (stage) and paddling like the dickens underneath (backstage). At one point, Nick was changing his costume while simultaneously radio-ing to the backstage area to get ready for the scourging scene and also speaking lines in a soft, snakelike manner as the voice of Satan. So here is a top 9 list of funny things that happened during the Passion Play:
9) The top of the wooden hammer that was kindly made for the production flew off while Jesus was being “nailed” to the cross. It sounded something like this: BOOM BOOM BOOM (hammer flies off) dink. I couldn’t tell if Mary was laughing or sobbing… maybe the sobs were meant to cover the laughs?
8) Jesus’ crown of thorns began to loosen and slide down his face from the “way of the cross” to the “crucifixion”. In order to avoid being blindfolded by his own crown and unbeknownst to the audience, he was whispering “CROWN OF THORNS” repeatedly out of the corner of his mouth to the guards while he was being put on the cross.
7) One of the little girls somehow didn’t get her mic for her speaking line in Act II. So when the mic that she was supposed to have was turned on, she opened her mouth and all we heard was Father Denis’s hearty voice saying, “are you happy enough, Sam?” Now, I’d written a good portion of the script, and I didn’t recall any of that being in that scene. Or anywhere in the play.
6) Nick had a set of walkie-talkies to act as backup if a quick call needed to be sent backstage. However, apparently he would just walk to the green room, hold up the walkie-talkie and announce to the room, “children get ready for scene four” and the man with the other walkie-talkie would simply look straight at him, hold up his walkie-talkie and say “copy that.”
5) We rigged the cross to a motor to be lifted at the end of the production, but since the nature of the cross was to swivel around as it was being raised to the roof, we’d secured the two arms of the cross with thin lines to be held by a couple of people at the sides. Somehow, they’d forgotten about that part, so as the cross was being raised, it just took off spinning around until word got back to the guys to “hold that cross steady!”
4) One of the girls broke her arm a few days before the play. In keeping with theatre traditions, when I made sure to wish good luck upon the cast beforehand by saying, “break a leg”, someone noted that I should watch who I wish broken bones upon because, “Anna’s already taken care of that for us.”
3) Before Jesus went out for Act II, one of the little girls said, “Give me a hug before you go, Jesus, and I hope I see you in heaven.”
2) One of the girls in the cast said to Fr. Denis, who was playing Herod, “Are you against Jesus?” “Yes”, he said. “Wow, I didn’t think priests could be against Jesus.”
1) The lighting guys had a panel of “extras” which included a gobo projection with an image of Jesus on the cross, meant for the end of the production. However, sometimes when they were hunting around for a particular lighting effect, they would press that button and Jesus on the cross would pop into some scene in the first act with the children talking about creation or sumthin’. Talk about foreshadowing. Here’s a photo to show what I mean:
All in all, it was an exceptional experience and one that was shared by so many in our Clonard community. I certainly hope it has lit a small spark for future years and has ignited the fire of Christ’s light for all this Holy Week and triduum. And many blessings upon your Triduum this year.
Here are a couple more pictures to close:
Oh right! Finally, we had a beautiful Holy Thursday service last night. The childrens’ liturgy group sang along with the Vigil choir. All were invited to have their hands washed and then to wash the hands of the person directly behind them in line. How cool is that?! Then there was a procession to the day chapel where they’d created a sacred space around an area meant to be the garden of Gethsemane where they held adoration until the church closed. Here is a daytime pic:
And a nighttime one!