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Dear God...
“Hate leads to fights, Fights lead to war, War leads to beautiful world no more”
Kieran Hunt
 

Saltmine Theatre Company

The Birmingham Passion Play 2019


Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen

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The success of the Birmingham Passion Play (BPP) was an incredible testament to the fulfillment of this prayer; redefining and reimagining the boundaries of theatre, witness and the church.  It provided a powerful glimpse of the reality of God on the streets of Birmingham, empowering the community to transform their city with immediacy and, hopefully, long lasting impact.

Rehearsing two separate casts with different directors was also interesting in terms of narrative cohesion. As we only had occasional weekends and one evening a week, it was necessary to begin community cast rehearsals two months before the professionals were even fully cast.

At the initial community cast meeting, we were astounded by the quantity and enthusiasm of participants; over 90 people from a diverse range of ages, ethnicities and faith backgrounds. Over the course of rehearsals, the number steadied at around 65. BPP absolutely depended on the driving framework of the community cast; and it was essential that all members felt valued and invested in.

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Overall, the BPP was truly by the city, for the city. Not just the city of Birmingham, but also the temporary city of stewards, cast, technicians, musicians, sound engineers, safety officers and many more people (160+) who dedicated their time and talents to the project. From the people in the café lining New Street who came out to watch, to the builders who turned off their machines during the Victoria Square scenes, the project served as a celebration of the power of collaboration. 

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There was a palpable atmosphere of riotous expectation from the moment crowds began to gather around the buskers, gaining momentum as we processed down New St as people danced, sang (God on the Street, God on the Street, The Liberator is here, The Liberator is here, Jesus, Jesus) and jumped with real freedom. The relative stillness of the Last Supper and increasingly sinister Gethsemane scene   provided a natural breathing point before the crowd began to turn at the point of the trial.

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Again, the community cast were excellent in altering the collective emotive mood, and using the backdrop of the council house provided an authentic authority to proceedings. Although the community cast took some encouragement to chant for Jesus' crucifixion, the effect of the same hundreds of people who had celebrated his appearance following him back down New St calling for his death was harrowing. Seeing this crowd fill the cathedral to witness Jesus' crucifixion was extremely powerful; we also gathered people who had been passing through the grounds.

Having to perform the Resurrection scene twice on the Wednesday and Thursday because the cathedral was full to bursting was an amazing indication of how the audience had journeyed with us, physically and emotionally. There was an audible gasp as Marcel re-appeared as the resurrected Jesus, and a genuine eruption of joy as we closed the play with "Joyful Joyful”.  The elation of the final scene meant the audience left the cathedral carrying a sense of real transformative hope for the city.

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With all the high hopes we had for the Passion Play, we could never have foreseen the way God superseded all our wildest expectations for it. All of the risks we took paid off and considering all the things that could have gone wrong, it was a genuine miracle that nothing actually did.  We are also incredibly thankful for all the Grant making trusts, individuals and churches that financially supported us without which it would not have been possible.   It was an absolute privilege to have been part of such an amazing project; and one which we believe will continue to inspire change in the spiritual landscape of Birmingham.