Rehearsing for Passion Plays

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?

Two men stand together holding the pages of a script in a rehearsal of a passion play.

Read about rehearsals from the perspective of the creative teams in Passion Plays around the UK

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!

 

Marion and Carolyn, director and producer at the Oxford Passion Play, in conversation about directing the volunteer community cast:

I haven’t worked with many professional actors, but my instinct is that you can sometimes get caught up presuming they’re going to be really good or ego problems. And what I liked about working with this cast is that they were all really willing to have a go and to learn and say, you know. Can you teach me a bit more? You know that that they’re scenes where they’ll working together and supporting each other. I would rehearse a bit, and then I’d find them off in a corner, just going over it and refining it and getting it better and I would say to people, we’re co directing, you know, you are inputting into this as well. But nobody ever took over, so they do trust you. And I love the idea of this being a community play. It’s a play by the people, for the people. I wouldn’t want to lose that I wouldn’t want to get so professional that it loses that heart.