One of only three Nubian burros to be used over the past 23 years of the show, Zeke has been known to put his foot down and refuse to go on stage.
An ancient legend says that the original donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday also wanted desperately to carry the cross for Jesus, and that desire was imprinted cross his back and carried for all future generations.
Drumheller, Alberta — The Canadian Badlands Passion Play is pleased to welcome Zeke the donkey back to the stage for nine performances from July 8-24 in Drumheller.
Over the past 23 years, the Passion Play has seen eight different actors play the role of Jesus, but during that same time only three donkeys have taken on the role of carrying Jesus into Jerusalem during his triumphant entry. Since 2012, that donkey has been Ezekiel – affectionately known as “Zeke” by his fellow actors.
Zeke is actually a Nubian burro, a breed known as “Jerusalem Donkeys” or “Christian Donkeys” due to the distinct markings on their back. Zeke, like his ancestors for the last 6,000 years, bears a fur cross over his shoulders. An ancient legend says that the original donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday also wanted desperately to carry the cross for Jesus, and that desire was imprinted across his back and carried for all future generations.
At times, Zeke can be a bit of a prima donna and has been reluctant to walk through any puddles on stage. He also has to be careful with his diet. He has a diabetic condition and if he eats too much of the sugar-rich grass on stage, his feet will hurt to the point where he will refuse to let anyone ride him. Last year, during one performance, our actor playing Jesus had to run by himself onto the stage during the triumphant entry as Zeke “put his foot down” and would not go onstage for that show.
Like most actors, Zeke loves attention from the audience and from those around him. If you pass by his corral he will bray to get your attention, and will keep braying until you come over for a visit.
He is also protective of his animal co-stars, and will stand next to the sheep pen all night if there are coyotes in the area.
His best friend is Zar, the Arabian horse that appears in our new Gospel of Luke script. Donkeys and horses don’t always get along but when a separate pen was built for Zeke a few years back, he escaped one night and went over to join Zar in the corral. That friendship continues to this day.
After borrowing Zeke for his first few seasons at the Passion Play, our animal wrangler, Marlies Ohlhauser, was so taken with the gregarious donkey, that she purchased him so Zeke and Zar could stay together throughout the off-season. Her three-year-old daughter, Monroe (who also acts in thePassion Play each year), enjoys riding Zeke on trail rides as this unique donkey is also capable of wearing a harness, saddle, and bridle.
When she was just learning to talk, Monroe would say a simple prayer each night, “Thank Jesus for donkey.” At the Passion Play we are also grateful for Zeke and all the other animals that join us each year as we present “The Greatest Story Ever Told”.
New script, new musical score & new lead director
2016 will be a ground breaking season for the Canadian Badlands Passion Play. The new script, an adaptation of the Gospel of Luke titled “Face to Face”, written by Alberta playwright, Barrett Hileman, will encompass the entire life of Christ, beginning at his birth. Alberta composer, Luke Ertman, has created the score for the new play. Brian Jensen, who played the role of the apostle John for the past five seasons, has become the lead director.
“With more than 200 actors on stage, supported by 40 backstage support staff, the Passion Play is a mammoth undertaking resulting in an incredible outdoor spectacle,” says Executive Director Vance Neudorf.
Since its first performance in 1994, www.canadianpassionplay.com has gained provincial national and international reputation as one of North America’s top ‘must see’ cultural and tourism events. Located in Drumheller, Alberta approximately 90 miles northeast of Calgary, the annual ‘Theatre in the Badlands’ attraction provides its audiences with a dramatic retelling of the life of Jesus Christ. The production, supported by an additional 200 volunteers, is presented in a 30-acre natural badlands canyon bowl, the largest of its kind in Canada, whose stark and dramatic geographical surroundings mirror those of ancient Israel.
Evening Performances (6:00 PM)
July 8, 10, 15, 22, and 23
Afternoon Performances (4:00 PM)
July 9, 16, 17, and 24
For more information, visit www.canadianpassionplay.com or call 1-403-823-2001.
All Photo Credits: Ron Nickel
The Canadian Badlands Passion Play – Celebrating its 23rd season in 2016
Since its first performance in 1994, The Canadian Badlands Passion Play has gained a provincial, national and international reputation as one of North America’s top ‘must see’ cultural and tourism events. Located near Drumheller, Alberta approximately 90 miles northeast of Calgary, the annual ‘Theatre in the Badlands’ attraction provides its audiences with a dramatic retelling of the life of Jesus Christ. The 200+ performer play is supported by 200 additional volunteers and is presented in a 30-acre natural badlands canyon bowlwhose stark and dramatic geographical surroundings mirror those of ancient Israel. In 2016, The Canadian Badlands Passion Play will have nine performances July 8-24. www.canadianpassionplay.com 1-888-823-2001. @CBPassionPlay Like us on Facebook
The idea for staging The Canadian Badlands Passion Play started in the 1960s when the Honorable Gordon Taylor, Minister of Highways for Alberta, and a local MLA, helped form a local society to produce a Passion Play in Drumheller, Alberta.
In 1988, LaVerne Erickson, founder of Rosebud School of the Arts, formed a steering committee, and gained the support of local community organizations to work toward bringing the dream to reality.
In 1990, The Canadian Badlands Passion Play Society had its Charter meeting. Mr. Gordon Taylor was made Honorary Chairman. The site was chosen – one that formed a natural backdrop, very similar to the Israeli countryside, that had the properties of a natural amphitheatre.
From 1990 through 1994, local community support and a growing volunteer base enabled the Society to target the summer of 1994 as the date for its first production. Hundreds of volunteers, thousands of dollars of generous gifts of materials, government grants, and the theatrical expertise of the Rosebud School of the Arts, all combined to make it happen. The 1,150-seat amphitheatre was completely sold out for all five shows.
Since its first opening night, there have been many changes and additions. Not only does the play improve every year – so do the facilities. Hundreds of volunteers make it all happen each and every year, and volunteers remain the backbone of the organization.
In 1995, seating capacity doubled. A choir loft for 300 was also built into the hillside behind the audience.
In 1997, more seats were added and further enhancements were made to the main staging areas.
In 2001, the Jerusalem Wall was opened. The wall is similar in appearance to the wall of ancient Jerusalem and houses the production offices and audience services.
In 2006, the performance was entirely revamped with a new script by Royal Sproule and new music by Bill Hamm, both of Rosebud. Auditions were held province-wide to develop a broader base of acting talent. Musical instrumentation was added to the production. The play featured the inclusion of a narrator who helps to make the story more personal while “connecting the dots”, helping the audience understand the changes of locations and times.
In 2011, the John script was introduced and the Canadian Badlands Passion Play was featured in an award winning documentary.
In 2013, the Passion Play was awarded the Alto “Pride of Alberta” award from Alberta Tourism.
In 2014 the American Bus Association named the Canadian Badlands Passion Play one of the top 100 events in North America. The only other two Alberta events were the Calgary Stampede and Calgary’s Heritage Village.
In 2015, the Chambers of Commerce of Alberta presented the Passion Play with the Award of Distinction in Arts and Culture.
In 2016, the Passion Play unveiled a new lead actor to play Jesus, a new script, a new musical score and new lead director.
The Canadian Badlands Passion Play continues to be a must-attend outdoor theatre attraction that brings to life “The Greatest Story Ever Told”.