Every summer, a very special and memorable theatrical tradition unfolds in the heart of the Badlands near Drumheller.
The Canadian Badlands Passion Play runs July 7th-9th, 14th-16th and July 21st-23rd. Performance times are 6 p.m. on July 7th-8th; 12th-15th and 21st-22nd. Curtain is at 4 p.m. on July 9th, 16th and the 23rd.
According to the web site, in 1990, the Canadian Badlands Passion Play Society had its charter meeting. The very first production ran in 1994.
Gordon Taylor was made honourary chairman. “The site was chosen – one that formed a natural backdrop, very similar to the Israeli countryside that had properties of natural amphitheatre.”
Since that first opening night there have been many changes and additions to bring us to today. Not only does the play improve every year – so does the facilities. Hundreds of volunteers make it all happen – and volunteers remain the backbone of the organization.
In 1995 seating capacity doubled. A choir loft for 300 was also built into the hillside behind the audience and in 1997, more seats were added and further enhancements were made to the main staging areas.
Other historical highlights – in 2011, the John script was introduced and the Passion Play was featured in an award-winning documentary. In 2014, the American Bus Association named the Canadian Badlands Passion Play one of the top 100 events in North America and in 2015, the Chambers of Conference of Alberta presented the Passion Play with the Award of Distinction in Arts and Culture.
Of course it’s all set in the strikingly beautiful setting of the Badlands, a set which has been described as being so intrinsic to the feel of the play it’s almost like another character.
“It’s been an interesting year because we’ve had a bit of a changeover in some key staff and in some departments,” said Vance Neudorf, executive director. “Amongst our group, we’re calling this the ‘year of the new’,” he said, adding that it seems every time the crew turns around, there are new aspects to bring into or feature in the highly-acclaimed production.
“That just goes across the board,” he said.
One of newcomers to this year’s rendition is Vancouver actor Giovanni Mocibob as Jesus. Mocibob was recently featured in the critically-acclaimed film She Has A Name, which was produced and directed by Red Deer natives Andrew, Matthew and Daniel Kooman.
Neudorf said Mocibob brings plenty of exciting new sensibilities to the part of Jesus, and he’s looking forward to audiences seeing how the actor makes the role his own.
“Another really interesting thing we are doing in terms of sound this year, is we are getting inside the actors’ heads through the use of voiceovers,” he said, adding that this year’s tagline for the production is ‘an epic story of faith, hope and love’.
Voiceovers will richly enhance the performances of the actors playing Jesus, Mary (the mother of Jesus) and of Peter.
“It’s really kind of neat – I wasn’t to sure about it, but really it sounds just fantastic,” he said. “You hear these ‘heart cries’ – kind of like their prayers coming through,” he explained.
Other new features can be seen via the dedicated and very hard work of the production crew.
“Our scenic designers have created two new boats, a new home for Peter the Fisherman, a beach, and a new market place. Our incredible wardrobe department is also creating 300 new costumes for this season along with a new costume for Gabriel the archangel which has a 10-foot wingspan.
“Every time I go out there, there is something new that is popping up,” said Neudorf. “We are so excited – crews are just creating and creating – and that’s why (the concept of) the year of the new keeps coming up,” he added.
Barrett Hileman and Jessica Hickman are serving as co-directors this year. This year’s version is based on the Book of Luke, he said, adding that each Gospel provides a different perspective and feel to successive productions. “John was so confrontational and dark and Matthew was very accessible in the sense that Matthew was such an interesting character to follow through the whole story.
“This one has this intriguing, story-book kind of feel to it,” he said. “There’s a really human and heartfelt feel to this play.”
For more details, including ticket information, check out www.canadianpassionplay.com or call 1-888-823-2001.