Volunteers with 'Passion'
PAMELA GLINSKI"It is a life-changing experience," said the director, Mike Graham, of the emotion evoked by this realistic Easter narrative, which includes a cast of more than 250 actors and more than 100 animals.
Published: February 25, 2013
Published: February 25, 2013
This dramatic, and at times graphic, three-hour depiction of Jesus' life, miracles, crucifixion and resurrection is being performed Friday and Saturday evenings, March 22 through April 20, on a 250-foot set at Wauchula's Cattlemen's Arena.
Just across the field from the arena, cast members poured into the Hardee County Agri-Civic Center, 507 Civic Center Drive, for one of the 11 Sunday rehearsals that began in January.
"We have 277 volunteers signed up this year, and that doesn't include the animal handlers," said Bobbi Berry, of the actors and stage hands that range in age from a 1-year-old baby to a man in his 80s.
"I do attendance, makeup, worked the concessions, and have even been a chauffeur for 14 kids from Highlands County," said Berry, as her daughter Hannah looked over her shoulder.
"About 50 are from Highlands County," added Robert Davis, a disabled former truck driver who was helping at the front table as people checked into the auditorium.
"I've been involved for seven years. I do everything I can."
This year's production will have two new elements: a completely original musical score written by Ben and Luke Graham, of the band Since October, and a patriotic preshow that will begin at 7 p.m.
The preshow is titled "Pictures of Freedom" explained Graham. "It is a tribute to our active military members."
"Every performance will be interpreted for the deaf," said SFSC American Sign Language instructor Nancy Weems. She said several interpreters and 10 deaf actors will be participating in this year's outdoor drama.
Grace Shaffer, an Avon Park resident, explained: "I like being involved. There is a lot of expression here, and people are so friendly."
She; her husband, Ron; and their children, Skyler and Kacey, volunteered for last spring's alternative production of "The Story of Noah" and are excited to be acting this year in "The Story of Jesus."
"I want people to hear the good news. To see the gospel, not just hear it," remarked retired mail carrier David Orrell, an actor since 2007, who has played Christ's betrayer Judas for the past seven years.
Podiatrist Olga Luepschen and her daughters have been actively involved for eight years. Though her daughters had scheduling conflicts this year, Luepschen is committed to the show.
Ross Anderson is another eight-year veteran. This Highlands County traffic operations employee is convincing in his role as the Jewish high priest, Annas.
His thunderous voice and sweeping movements reflect his experience working in the 1,600-seat Cattlemen's Arena.
After 10 years of appearing in the "Passion Play" and two Highlands Little Theatre Productions, Ben Turner, of Under Pressure Sports, has hopes of becoming a professional actor.
He is convincing in his role of high priest Caiaphas, who presides over the group that condemns Jesus.
Retired Highlands County businessman Chuck Detore has two very diverse roles, portraying the wicked King Herod and the meek and mild apostle, Thomas.
"This play depicts the story of Jesus in a different way, realistically, with all the cruelty," noted Detore.
Brewster's Coffee House owner Bruce Rogers sees his character Pontius Pilate as judging Jesus out of political compromise.
"I believe the leaders of Israel knew who Jesus was," he said. "They allowed hatred and jealousy to stand in the way of truth."
Joy Rogers, a sixth-grade teacher at Walker Memorial Academy, has been involved since 2004, appearing in several scenes, as well as doing interpretations for the deaf.
"This is an incredible ministry," said Cynthia Knowles, owner of Ideal Cleaning Services, who has participated for about 10 years as an actor, a volunteer and this year as an ASL interpreter.
Graham is the guiding force behind all the heartfelt passion and commitment of many of the volunteers.
A pastor at Real Life Church in Wauchula, Graham is quick to point out that this production is nondenominational, and participants come from several counties and a variety of churches.
Graham's wife, Diane, expressed her wonder and appreciation for the enthusiasm and perseverance of cast members and volunteers that continue to return year after year.
"Every year, when they all show up, we just say, 'Wow,'" she said.
Wauchula's Cattlemen's Arena is located at 800 Altman Road, approximately a 30-minute drive from Sebring. Though the roofed, open-air facility is unpaved, the dirt floors are sprayed before each performance to keep down the dust.
Tickets are now on sale for Power and Light Productions' "Passion Play" with Friday and Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m. and cost $20 for adults, $18 for children, seniors, or groups of more than 25. End section seats are $16. For information, call (863) 375-4031 or visit www.StoryofJesus.com