St. Thomas Passion Play celebrates 40 years

The St. Thomas Passion Play turns 40 this year. Above, a scene from last year’s play.

By SHERIDAN CYR

STAFF WRITER

For four decades, Southington’s St. Thomas parish has been hosting an annual Passion Play performance, free of charge, during the Easter season. This year marks the 40th consecutive year that church members have been performing the traditional, biblical Easter story.

Each year, the parish tries to include small changes designed to make it a fun, energetic, and exciting play for everyone, so to celebrate the 40th anniversary, this year’s performance will reflect on the history of the event, including past songs and other details.

The storyline of the performance itself stays the same and follows the traditional story laid out in the Bible, but new music and props are included each year.

“We try to keep it contemporary,” said a spokesperson for the church. “This year, we surveyed past and present members and decided to go back through some old music and only use things from the past.”

This year’s cast is composed of about 80 people. The spokesperson explained that this year’s play has enticed families who were involved in the past, but have since moved away—as far away as California—to return to Southington and take part in the performance.

“This performance, though it takes place long ago, is contemporary. It speaks to a lot of issues of today’s world,” the spokesperson said. “A lot of people may think it’s an old story, but in fact it’s everlasting.”

St. Thomas Parish tells the biblical story of Jesus Christ’s life, from his birth to crucifixion, and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Three musical components – the pit, adult and youth choruses – and actors rehearse once or twice each week for about 10 weeks to prepare for the week of daily performances leading up to Easter Sunday.

The church member who started the St. Thomas Passion Play was inspired by an Easter pageant she attended with neighbors.

“For the first time in my life, the whole thing of sacrifice and unconditional love made absolute sense to me,” she said. “This thing had changed my life. I told everyone who would listen to me about my experience of the Passion Play.”

The first St. Thomas Parish Passion Play began on March 24, 1978, complete with a couple of hand-held microphones and some cardboard props. It has come a long way since then, the founder recalls.

The spokesperson said the cast re-imagines the whole room as a stage, and interacts with the audience. In the past, they have even had cast members sitting in the audience who would suddenly pop out and become part of the play.

Cast members, from actors to stagehands and directors, prefer to stay anonymous in order to keep the focus on the story and away from individual recognition.

“We keep it lively, keep it moving, and act with lots of energy,” said the spokesperson. “The people who do it come back year after year because they love doing it. We come to think of it as a family, where everyone cares for one another and supports each other.”

The church’s pastor said while the play itself has seen many changes over time, the desire has always been the same.

“This ministry reminds us that the horrors of crucifixion gave way to the glory of the resurrection,” he said. “This Passion Play is the product of love: the love of God and the love of neighbor. This is a gift for you.”

Tickets are free, although a monetary donation is greatly appreciated in order to continue the tradition. The play will be performed at the Southington Catholic School auditorium, located at 99 Bristol Street. Dates and times for the performance are: March 24 at 7:30 p.m., March 25 at 3 p.m., March 26 at 7:30 p.m., March 27 at 7:30 p.m., March 28 at 7:30 p.m. and March 30 at 7:30 p.m.

For more information, visit www.stthomassouthington.org/passionplay, or contact one of three church members at (860) 628-4197, (860) 426-3841 or (860) 621-0411.

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