Drumheller, Alberta – Alberta-based music has always been an integral part of the Canadian Badlands Passion Play. The performances began in 1994 as a choral-based presentation with a custom-built, 300-seat choir loft, at the rear of the Badlands Amphitheatre. Executive Director Vance Neudorf refers to the music of the play as an emotional language that draws people more fully into the story about the life of Christ.
July 2018 marks the silver anniversary of the play and the creative team chose to celebrate that milestone in a way that would build on the play’s musical history. The non-profit society hired Alberta composer and performing musician Luke Ertman to weave music into the performances.
Ertman, who grew up in the town of Millet, just south of Edmonton, says he wanted to be a composer since he was in high school. “I fell in love with music. I don’t even remember why. I just remember thinking it would be awesome to write music for the rest of my life.”
After graduating from high school, he decided he wanted to go to university to compose. But one thing held him back. “You need to choose an instrument to get into the university program,” explains Ertman. “the only instrument I played at that point was a rare ten-stringed instrument. Nobody teaches that. I realized I couldn’t actually audition. So I took classical voice lessons because I thought it was the only thing I could learn quick enough to get in.”
Ertman was accepted into the program, and three years later began to wonder, “How am I ever going to make money at this?”
His father, a theatre artistic director, told him he should write music for theatre. “So, I actually went into theatre for the money,” Ertman laughs. “I started scoring theatre shows before I was finished university. And, from there I continued to score for live theatre.”
“Today, I own a recording studio and play in a couple of performing groups. It’s the classic wearing of five hats to make a living. I haven’t had a day job in 12 years,” he marvels. “I’m married with two young children and own a house. No complaints. It’s been amazing.”
Ertman describes his creative process in terms of inspiration and perspiration. “There’s a common idea that artists get inspired and then something happens. But it’s like an athlete. You don’t get inspired one day and then run faster. It doesn’t work that way. But if you train and run continuously you will run faster. Same with creating music. Work at it and the inspiration happens. If you don’t work and expect inspiration to hit you, you’ll be waiting a long time.”
In February, Ertman started to compose eighteen new songs for the 2018 performances of the Badlands Passion Play, and for the first time in the play’s 25-year history, seven musicians will be on stage performing the new music live throughout the three hour performance.
“Live music is the best thing in the world and I love it. It’s so much fun,” says Ertman. “This year, we have actors speaking some lines and singing others. It’s a full performance and there are 300 pages of score that gets played on stage. That’s very rewarding. But it’s also frustrating,” Ertman says. “We have a very short time period to work. But it’s a ridiculously cool story on a ridiculously cool stage.”
He describes his experience with the natural setting of the Badlands Amphitheatre as both inspiring and challenging. “You go to a smaller theatre and actors can use their face and their bodies to access their emotions and help us engage the story,” says Ertman, “but on the huge passion play stage, the music is the vehicle to convey the emotion in a more immediate way. You really need to experience this first hand.”
The Badlands Passion Play performances run July 6-22 at the Badlands Amphitheatre in Drumheller, Alberta, a scenic drive from Calgary and Edmonton. For more information, visit www.canadianpassionplay.com or www.badlandsamp.com
For more details, including ticket information, check out www.canadianpassionplay.com or call 1-888-823-2001.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2018, the Canadian Badlands Passion Play has gained provincial, national and international reputation as one of North America’s top ‘must see’ cultural and tourism events. Located near Drumheller, Alberta (approximately 90-minutes northeast of Calgary) this annual attraction uses live music, animals, and a cast of more than 150 volunteers to share with its audience an epic story of Faith, Hope, and Love. Nestled within a 30-acre canyon bowl, the Badlands Amphitheatre is Canada’s largest outdoor theatre stage, and dramatically mirrors the geographical surroundings of ancient Israel. For more information, visit CanadianPassionPlay.com or call 1-403-823-2001. Twitter: @CBPassionPlay