Stories from Directing the Passion by Suzanne Lofthus
Suzanne was interviewed on Radio Maria last month. She was interviewed by Helena Judd about Passion Plays and the public telling of the story of Jesus Christ at Easter. Listen to her interview by clicking the link or read the excerpts below.
What has been your experience directing Passion Plays?
Passion Plays can be different. We’ve seen very traditional ones and some very modern ones. What I love about them is that they are open to interpretation, even though they stay true to the Bible story. It’s great when people think outside the box!
If you’re lucky you’ll get a real donkey. Sadly we can’t have donkeys up here in Scotland because of animal welfare, they need a passport and can’t have anyone over 8 go on them. The Winterhsall in Surrey is incredible with animals all over the place -sheep, centurions riding horses, a donkey, etc.
For the Glassgow Passion Play, we commissioned one of Scotland’s top playwrights, who was just emerging at that time, Rob Drummond to write a new version of the Passion. He set it in the future and everything was modern. At a time of an election and Jesus entered that election so we had a trial by media, Mary Magdalen was a news report. all the costumes were modern and the music was modern. Very powerful.
The first Passion Play I ever directed was in 2000 which was in Scotland in AuchterMuchty. I had no idea what I was doing, so it was a step of faith and it was amazing.
I also directed it in Angola jail in Louisiana and someone donated a camel! I think Jimmy the camel still lives there.
What are some of the most popular mistakes people make when starting out on a Passion Play?
Blood – do we buy it or make it? Well, stage blood does taste better, but you can make it with honey and ketchup – which we did one year.
Rain – what happens when it rains? One year we had a great idea of using a black plastic bag underneath the costumes when it rained.
Jesus on the cross – if it is really cold, some people try to put duck fat on them to keep warm (because that is what people do when they’re swimming in the channel), but we don’t recommend that because they could slip off the cross and it is a big health and safety risk.
Casting Jesus – it is different for everyone, but I prefer an actor who doesn’t necessarily have a Christian faith. Sometimes I think that creates a Jesus who is relevant to today’s society because if an actor is exploring the Gospel for the first time, it brings something different to the play.
Spiritual experiences – we have many stories of people having some sort of spiritual experience and often while on the cross. One actor was hanging on the cross and I remember him saying he felt something on the cross and couldn’t explain it – and he was not a Christian and opposed almost everything. We had a photograph of that performance and there was a beam of light directly on the cross.
Why do people keep watching Passion Plays? We can hear and see different aspects of the story every year. If we are doing our job correctly we are making the Gospel relevant to society, irrespective of whether it is traditional or modern production. How can we make this man relevant and approachable as if he were here today?