Canadian Badlands Passion Play in Drumheller
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Disclaimer: This post is about seeing the Canadian Badlands Passion Play in Drumheller, Alberta. A Passion Play is a theatrical production of the Biblical story of Jesus Christ (specifically the crucifixion story), and therefore holds significance for some. The characters and events referred to in this post are done within the context of a theatrical performance. This post is not an endorsement of any religious organization or theology.
My Birthday Trip to Drumheller
For my 31st birthday I wanted to go on a trip. I only had a few days off, and a small budget. I love theatre and was looking to go somewhere where I could indulge in this activity. I decided to go to Drumheller, a small town in the Alberta Badlands. Drumheller is known more for its fossil discoveries and geological treasures than theatre, but there are some unique theatre experiences to be had in the region. I had visited Drumheller before, but had never experience its theatre scene. For this trip I planned a couple of nights in the region to see some shows and check out a few sites as well.
The Canadian Badlands Passion Play
The Canadian Badlands Passion Play runs outside of Drumheller every summer. I know this show won’t appeal to everyone. It was something I wanted to see, for the theatrical experience of the event. Passion Plays happen all over the world, usually around Easter. The Canadian Badlands Passion Play occurs outside the town of Drumheller, against the backdrop of geological rocks and hoodoos. This makes it reminiscent (or what many people would imagine) of ancient Israel, where the play is set. Of course, is it actually the same? I don’t know – I haven’t been to that region of the world. I have been to Drumheller, and it’s a great place to visit. The natural setting and backdrop of the Drumheller Passion Play is really cool to see.
You’ll notice that I wrote most Passion Plays are usually held around Easter. The one in Drumheller is in July. Why? Having an outdoor show during spring involves fickle weather. While the weather in July isn’t always perfect, it’s usually pretty close.
When I got my ticket, I got a pamphlet with some tips on what to bring. I brought
- Rain Poncho. Note that umbrellas aren’t allowed because they block the view of people behind you.
- Insect repellent.
- Baseball Hat.
- Water bottle.
I saw an evening performance (which began at 6 pm), and it was nice out. When the sun started going down my wrap came in handy. The sunscreen and hat were very useful. You don’t want a sunburn. It didn’t rain, so I didn’t need the poncho, but I’d bring it in case. I didn’t need the bug spray (which is pretty rare in the summer, but no complaints from me). Since the sun is behind the audience in the evening show, I didn’t need sunglasses. For a matinee performance, when the sun is higher in the sky, I’d definitely wear sunglasses.
The venue is outside, but it is at an amphitheatre, which is also used for other events in the summer. It’s a neat venue. There is a stage, but the set goes out way beyond this. The seats are wooden benches, but I was pretty surprised at how relatively comfortable they were. These are not the most comfortable seats ever, but they’re not bad. If you wanted you could buy seat cushions to sit on. Tickets here have assigned seating. I’m tall, and I often find my knees will cramp up in most theatres because of a lack of legroom between rows, but that wasn’t an issue here.
This was the Easter story of Jesus’s crucifixion death and resurrection. This story is significant to people of the Christian faith. I’m not going to summarize the story here, but I think it’s interesting to know they do a new script every year. When I went, they used the Gospel of John as their source material. This is a play, but there are music and some singing for a few scenes. This version had a narrator, which was an interesting choice. I did feel that in some scenes the narrator wasn’t needed. The show was close to 3 hours with the intermission. I thought the play was engaging and easy to follow, even for those who wouldn’t be familiar with the story.
This play is set against the ancient geological rocks of the Canadian Badlands. This makes seeing this show a unique experience. Since this is an outdoor show weather changes, like thunderstorms, can occur. This could add an exciting element to the show. As mentioned before the weather was beautiful and calm during my performance. While there is a central stage used for a lot of the show, it’s not the only thing to focus on. During several parts, the performers would run up from behind the hills. At one point I thought “damn these actors run a lot in this show.” I won’t spoil anything, but the setting definitely helped add a unique impact to the finale.
The People Involved
The scope of this play is pretty enormous. There are a few professional actors in the show, but most are volunteers. Some are students who are part of the Canadian Badlands Summer School program. There are over 170 people in the show (including understudies and musicians). There are also many people behind the scenes as well. A few animals (a couple of horses, and some donkeys) are in the show too. There are also hundreds of donors and volunteers who help to make this show possible. The scope of the Canadian Badlands Passion Play experience is pretty amazing.
The Odd Things
The gift store aspect was odd. I’ve been to shows before and I’m familiar with merchandising. I knew there was a gift store at The Passion Play. Some of it was local artisan items. There was also was official Canadian Badlands Passion Play merchandise. Still, it was a little strange (to me) to see that I could buy a Jesus bobblehead to commemorate my experience. It’s like having a gift store in a church. I know it happens (I’ve seen it before), but it’s still kind of weird to me.
What was even weirder was the photo ops with the actors. During intermission actors, playing Roman soldiers, stood outside the main stage. I can’t tell you how many people in the audience went up to take photos standing next to the actors. The same thing happened after the show (lots of people wanted pictures with the actor playing Jesus). This seemed weird to me because these people are only actors. I’m all for going up to performers after a show and telling them that you enjoyed the experience. Queuing to get a selfie with an actor playing Jesus seems strange. To each their own though.
Anyone with an interest in the Biblical story of Jesus will enjoy this event. The Canadian Badlands Passion Play is worth checking out for people who love theatre in a unique setting.
Things To Know
The Canadian Badlands Passion Play begins performances in July. The show runs on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Ticket and show information can be found here. Ticket prices range from $29 (for youths) up to $64 for adults. The venue is at 605 17 Street in Drumheller, Alberta. The Canadian Badlands Passion Play is located just outside Drumheller, and there is no public transit here. You’ll need a car to get to the venue or to contact a local taxi service. If you drive parking is free. You can book your stay in Drumheller here.
This isn’t the only place to see great theatre in the Alberta Badlands. Nearby Rosebud, Alberta has a great professional theatre program with shows (in an indoor venue) year-round. Read about my experience in Rosebud.
I partnered with Travel Alberta for this trip to the Canadian Badlands. I was provided with a complimentary stay at the locally run Heartwood Inn and Spa. As well the Canadian Badlands Passion Play gave me with a complimentary ticket to this production. I would like to thank Travel Alberta and the Canadian Badlands Passion Play for their support. All opinions in this post are my own.
Have you been to Drumheller? Would you see the Canadian Badlands Passion Play?