Great Passion Play gears up to celebrate 50th anniversary
The Great Passion Play has been part of Eureka Springs for 50 years now, and the outdoor venue is still filled with at least 600 spectators each show. Kent Butler, director of marketing for the play, said he’s excited for what this landmark year holds in store.
“We’ve got a big year planned,” Butler said. “It is going to be something.”
He’s been working to continually make improvements to the play and its grounds, Butler said, including introducing Noah’s Ark Park, the Holy Land Tour and five miles of trails for hikers and bikers of all ages.
“We’re looking for year-round activity now,” Butler said. “We have new animals at Noah’s Ark Park, baby goats that are going to be really fun for the kids to play with. We just put in a 1,000-pound pool for ducks. That attraction was new last year, but our belief is every year we need to add something new, especially since it’s our 50th year.”
The trails open May 1, with the National Day of Prayer breakfast scheduled for May 3 and the 50th anniversary opening of the play taking place May 4. In the meantime, Butler said, he’s been thinking about how much the play has evolved over the past few years. Butler said the play had one smoke machine five years ago and has 10 today.
“It’s not that we’re trying to smoke people out. We’re trying to create that atmosphere you’d get at an indoor drama in an outdoor setting,” Butler said. “The technology that’s going into the play is to modernize not how the story is told but the equipment itself.”
July 14 is the day the play was first performed 50 years ago, Butler said, at the soft media open. The play opened to the public July 15.
“We’ll celebrate on July 14, because Sunday is July 15 and we don’t have a Passion Play on Sunday,” Butler said.
He’s ecstatic to celebrate the play’s anniversary, Butler said, because its future was uncertain just a few years ago.
“We didn’t know six years ago if we’d have a Passion Play still. A lot of people pulled together to make it happen, and a lot of people are still pulling together,” Butler said.
Recently, he said, a local church donated $1,000 so the play could purchase seven large maple and dogwood trees.
“It’s fun to be able to plant something that’s been alive for a few years and know 50 years from now it will still be here to celebrate our 100th anniversary,” Butler said. “It’s neat to try to push ahead and make sure we don’t just rest on our laurels. That’s a little bit of what happened in the past. It had so much success, it didn’t press forward to the future.”
The story of Christ never changes, Butler said, but that doesn’t mean your perspective can’t.
“You can kind of get in a trap when you’re telling the story of the Passion Play, where people believe it’s the same old story,” Butler said. “It’s not about changing it. It’s a matter of seeing it from a different perspective.”
He continued, “It’s not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Many people like to have it multiple times, because there’s so many things to see. There’s so many things you miss.”
He’s been in the play since he was 16, Butler said, and it still feels like a unique experience every time.
“When you put over 150 actors and actresses on the stage … when you put birds, donkeys, camels, horses, a dog and sheep together and you have an audience that’s spectating on that, it’s really something miraculous,” Butler said. “There’s something special about watching a story and everyone being engaged.”
It’s not like a movie, Butler said, where you can press pause.
“It keeps going. It’s amazing when you’re able to engage in something larger than you,” Butler said. “I think that’s what Eureka Springs in general helps people to do. We live in a beautiful world, and what better place to see it than in the Ozark mountains?”
For more information on the Passion Play, visit www.GreatPassionPlay.org.