Rehearsals: the power behind a Passion Play

A young woman with blonde hair and a red top stands in the middle of a room with a script in her hands ready to speak.

How do professional directors and actors work with large volunteer casts? What happens during rehearsals for Passion Plays? How do we study the Bible using rehearsal techniques and acting workshops? Read our latest blog for a glimpse into rehearsal process!

Ben, co-director and actor at the Dudley Passion Play, described rehearsals as an ‘immersive Bible study’:

So you’re looking at a passage in the Bible. Say, for example, the trial of Jesus with Pilot, and you’re getting them to think about. What would it be like to be there? And you’ve got the aid of the modern language. But you have more space to wrestle with the thoughts and the feelings of the people in the crowd. I think that for me is really special, because then they have a great connection with the story and ultimately with God. It builds community. And what’s special is by the end of it. It feels like a family. There’s been people from a whole different range of denominations and walks and non-faith and faith, and seeing people journey together wrestling with one of the greatest stories ever told. It just is a brilliant thing to unite people.


Emily, scriptwriter and actor in the Dudley Passion Play described the journey that people go on over the rehearsal process as her most enjoyable part of the rehearsals:

When we were rehearsing with them it was really important that we kind of gave the context around each scene, and why we were doing that, and who it was for, and what we were talking about. It was one of my favourite parts of doing the show. Yeah, it’s absolutely brilliant. At the beginning, at the first rehearsal, you kind of have this room, this room of people don’t really know what they’re in for. They’ve taken a bit of a step for some people. They’re really excited. Some people are really nervous. They don’t really know why they’re there. And we’re kind of trying to sell them. This idea, which they’ve kind of been on board for it sounds a bit mad. It sounds a bit scary. The idea of going out in the streets and shouting things is probably quite terrifying to a lot of people, but they’ve got this bravery and this desire to do it. And then over the journey of the next few weeks, as we rehearse what they’re going to be doing. As we give people specific parts. You can see people just really come alive to it and get really excited about it. And I absolutely love in rehearsals where people will bring stuff that they’ve been thinking about outside of the rehearsal process, and they kind of come up. And they say, Well, I’m decided that I’m going to be this character, and it’s the woman who is caught in adultery, and I’m here  watching Jesus and this is how I’m feeling. And you’re like, oh, that’s so brilliant because we can’t tell you that we can’t tell you to do that. So what we’ll do is say, go home and read the Gospel. We don’t want you to be just like a generic crowd member. We want you to have your own journey as part of this show. So go and pick somebody in the Gospels who you think you could be. So whether it’s like one of the Pharisees who looks down on Jesus, but then is maybe going to change their mind, or whether it’s another disciple, maybe, who we don’t have in the cast, so it could be like Thaddeus, or Matthew, or someone. Or are you the little boy that came to the feeding of the 5,000 with the sandwiches and his bread. And now you’re watching Jesus, and you know what’s your story? What’s your relation to it? That helps give people a sense that they individually are really important in this story, that they’re not just playing like a group of people, but they are valuable for what they bring.

And what’s lovely this time is because we’re doing it and we’re doing it in Dudley. We did it in Stafford last year, which is about an hour away from Dudley, so we’ve got a couple of people who have come back to do it again and be part of the community cast again, which is obviously amazing, because then they help build the momentum and build the excitement. And they’re sort of starting from a point that.


Jon, professional actor in the West Cheltenham Passion Play.

It was really rewarding, which is which is why I’d say that I would probably like to direct it or direct it. A play at one point because I think being able to use your talents and your skills to help other people to tap into something that they have. Whether you have training or whether you have none, whether you’ve done it before, whether this is the first time you’ve ever set for on stage. It was just a really welcoming and loving kind of group of people. The main thing was just being there and using that experience to worship or to help others to worship and really everyone came with that desire. And so, whether they were trained, whether they had done acting before or not, there was still that desire to tell this story, to tell other people about Easter and about Christ. It was definitely an experience. And there was definitely there were definitely times where I gave feedback in terms of the scenes or I took people aside sometimes, and said have you thought about this? Have you thought about how you’re saying that. Have you thought about the scene in general, where we’re kind of sitting right now, and what’s going on the rest of the scene, and being able to help people to not just focus on their line or where they’re standing, but actually, the bigger picture. Looking at the scene as a whole and understanding why my character might be here and might be feeling this way, and that really helped people. It was a pleasure!

Is fundraising like online dating?

Online dating is trying to find the right match among many differnet people. Fundraising for Passion Plays is similar to online dating in one respect: trying to find the right match for your Play among different trusts and funding charities. Finding this perfect match is the key to raising funds to tell the Easter story!

Once you find trusts and funders who are of a similar mindset and value the things you value, you are well on the way to a perfect match.


How do we find potential funders?

The Charity Commission’s Register of Charities allows you to search for free by using filters to narrow your search. (Remember, Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate registers.)
Funding Central is another register that is free to access.
For a more expensive option, you can try the Directory of Social Change’s Funds Online website which is regularly updated.
Since Passion Plays bring many churches of all denominations together, your diocese can be a good source of information and signposting. For example, see the Diocese of Bristol and their list of funders here.
The Christian Funders’ Forum is also a useful source.


How do we let funders know our project is a good match for them?

Now is the time to do some research and really think about compatibility with the funders you are researching.

You can research their online content, websites, and also Further information will be inread through their annual reports published on the Charity Commissions website (click ‘Documents’ tab). These annual reports will give useful imformation about projects they have previously funded.

A quick phone call can also be helpful in establishing contact and goodwill as you will be able to find out more about them and let them know what you do.

Remember here that one of the key elements is timing! Some funders have a set application process that requires you to apply before a deadline. Other funders have trustees’ meetings at set times during the year and those times are good to work with.

The timing of your project also matters. Some funders like to fund projects in the early stage of development, while others like to give funding when they see other funders have already contributed.

There is a lot to think about with fundraising! But Passion Plays are such unique projects that it can also be an enjoyable process. Many funders like to hear about large community arts events that tell the Easter story in fresh and inspiring ways. Not only do Passion Plays have large outdoor audiences across the UK each Easter, they are also unique spaces of community, skill-sharing, mentoring and investing in the lives of volunteers across all sections of society. They are more than a one-off performance and the impact spreads across the whole community for many months.


Where can I find more help with fundraising?

If you want more help with fundraising, we have plenty more tips and advice on our website here.

We have recorded sessions from previous Passion Trust Conferences including sessions looking at Finance & Fundraising, Administration and Practical Considerations, and Q&A sessions. You can see more information and watch short helpful videos on our website here.

You can also find lots of helpful tips and advice at The Benefact Trust here or click on the image below.

three bullet points with rows of text and images in blue bubbles with white icons for help with fundraising


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