By MOLLY WESTFALL
It was 38 years ago that a small group of parishioners at St. Thomas Church started the tradition of the St. Thomas Church Passion Play, a prayerful presentation from their Christian community which tells the story of Jesus’ life, specifically in his last days. The cast of Passion Play uses acting and music to bring the gospels to life.
Although the ending of the story does not change, the cast of Passion Play uses different gospels each year and changes the music often to keep the presentation fresh. Passion Play is open to any person who is interested in participating, and participants are only identified by first name so that the focus remains on the story, not the actors or crew.
Bonnie, an active member of St. Thomas Church said, “No one is ever turned away as everyone has something to give.”
The adult and youth choruses are open to all, with the opportunity to audition for the speaking and singing roles. “We are just regular people, working regular jobs and choosing to join this community each year,” said lighting technician, Lia.
Participants of the Passion Play presentation said that they think of themselves as a family. Aside from having the opportunity to spread the messages of Jesus from 2,000 years ago, the members of Passion Play benefit from this presentation year after year because of the relationships the cast builds with one another.
“We comfort and support each other,” said Bonnie, “not only during our Lenten journey but all year long.”
Preparation for Passion Play begins in the fall, which gives the cast and crew 11 weeks to prepare themselves for opening night. They break down their preparations into a schedule, beginning with script reviews and rehearsals to lighting installation and sound equipment set up. Then it all gets broken down and tucked away in storage after their final performance on Holy Saturday.
“What took weeks to prepare is stowed away for another year in a matter of hours,” said Bonnie.
Since this is the 38th presentation of the St. Thomas Church Passion Play, there are members of the church who have grown up with this presentation, and it has become a tradition in some families. Bonnie joined with her family when her children were young, and now her grand children are involved.
Passion Play’s ticket manager Lois was a member of the original starting cast. A young member who is now off at college in Philadelphia comes up with his fraternity brothers to assist the stage crew on set up day. There are so many ways in which members of St. Thomas Church and dedicated Passion Play members stay involved even after all these years.
People come to see the presentation year after year because it is described as the true meaning of Easter, as St. Thomas Mission statement states: “We seek to offer a true and heart-filled prayer to God in thanks for the offering of His Son, as well as the blessing of community through the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.”
“It’s an emotional reminder of what Jesus went through to save us,” said Bonnie.
Passion Play is made up of 150 cast members and 60 members of the behind-the-scenes crew. The entire presentation is put on by volunteer efforts with the help of local merchants donating or discounting their services or equipment.
There is no charge to attend Passion Play, but tickets are required. There will be five presentations during Holy Week, beginning on March 20 at 3 p.m. and contining on March 21, 22, 23, and 25 with 7:30 p.m. shows.
You may still contact Diane at (860) 628-4197 or Lois at (860) 621-0411 or visit www.st-thomas-play.org to get your tickets while they are still available.