The Black Hills Passion Play is No More
January 11, 2011 22 Comments
Well, hopes of creating one family memory this summer have been dashed. It’s looking like this summer’s family vacation will find us heading to western South Dakota, and I was really hoping that our plans would be able to include a visit to the Passion Play in Spearfish, South Dakota. It’s one of my own earliest family vacation memories, I was looking forward to providing that experience to our kids as well. But it’s not to be.
I searched the Internet, and my searches hit dead ends. Uh Oh. Is it not in production any longer? My next step: an e-mail to someone at VisitSpearfish.com:
Hello, We are just starting to plan our summer vacation and I looked for info on the Passion Play. I remember going to that production when I was a kid, I was hoping to find info about it online, but I’m not finding anything. Is the Passion Play still in production?
The reply (in part):
Thank you for contacting Visit Spearfish, Inc. with your visitor inquiry. We regret to inform you that the Black Hills Passion Play retired August 31, 2008.
Bummer. I was really looking forward to sharing that experience.
Well, now the best I can do is use the Internet to take a stroll down memory lane. In doing so, I uncovered at least part of “the rest of the story” that I would have never known as a kid. Here are some of the interesting things I found:
The Black Hills Passion Play was performed every summer for almost seventy years in Spearfish, South Dakota; this production was an American version of the Lünen Passion Play that was brought over in 1932 by immigrants who claimed that it had been produced since 1242. The production was Americanized by seventh-generation Passion Player Josef Meier, who toured it around the country before bringing it to Spearfish in the 1930s; until its last performance on August 31, 2008, the show was produced under the auspices of Meier’s daughter Johanna, a world-famous opera singer who had her debut in the play at the age of five weeks.
An article from Time magazine, published during World War II, gives an interesting historical perspective on the production: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,777543,00.html
And here’s a wonderful writeup of the play’s history and purpose: http://www.catholicdigest.com/articles/travel/no_sub_ministry/2009/03-31/passion-for-the-passion. This article revives some of my more vivid memories of the Passion Play:
With Lookout Mountain as a backdrop, the play’s magnificent three-block-long stage readily transports viewers back to the days of Christ. All the characters and animals of ancient Jerusalem are here: donkeys, water girls filling jugs, flocks of sheep, Roman soldiers on white horses, unscrupulous merchants, and cages of doves.
Portrayed by an interdenominational cast of more than 150 people, the play’s imagery is both simple and profound. As the Last Supper fades to black, the Lord’s chalice begins to glow, the symbol of his blood illuminating the very essence of Christianity. Each of the 22 scenes — triumphal entry to Resurrection — unfolds into the next, with no intermissions or set changes.
When the Christus is carried into the tomb, the shrouded body imparts a personal revelation for many playgoers. “The Bible was no longer words; it became flesh for me,” one viewer said.
I had really hoped to personally experience this production one more time as an adult, to fully appreciate it from both an artistic and spiritual perspective. Time moves on, but it’s a disappointment to me that this is one event that will no longer be experienced.