I am currently in Drumheller, AB for my second season working as the Crowd Director for The Canadian Badlands Passion Play. Not many people realize the scale of this show, or my role in it, so I thought I would write a little about it.
The play is staged in a natural outdoor amphitheatre that can seat 3000 people easily. We use real animals (a donkey named Zeke, horses, sheep, pigeons, and doves), and we baptize people in a pool onstage, work with smoke bombs, and dump large amounts of water onstage. We have an actor duct that allows the cast to make their way to their entrances without being seen by the audience, and a full temple with 9 entrances including an upper walkway. We use fake blood, and actually lift three actors up onto 12ft crosses during the crucifixion. Needless to say, it takes a lot of people (and volunteers) to make this show happen.
In the directorial team there is lead director, Barrett Hielman, who is in charge of the lead actors and overall directorial vision. Kevin Robinson, who is our fight director and mainly takes care of the Temple Guards, Romans, whippings, crucifixions, and any other violence. And my job is to plan, stage, and direct the remaining 200 volunteer cast members for each scene of the play. I organize the crowd into "villages" so that I can track their entrances and exits throughout the show. Our youngest cast member is 2 years old, and our oldest is 85, and this year we have 40 children. All of them need to know when/how to enter, where to go in the scene, and how to exit. It is a 3 hour show.
The directorial team meets for about ten hours prior to each rehearsal weekend to plan each scene and talk through the show. In our directors office there is a huge white board with the ground plan of the stage drawn to scale. This helps us immensely. We draw all over the stage with tiny little x's and huge swooping arrows dictating where the masses will be moving. It takes a huge amount of planning, communication, and dedication to make sure that our limited amount of rehearsal time is used effectively.
There are five stage managers who visually cue each group when they enter because you can't hear anything from backstage. There are over 50 speakers built into the hills and camouflaged so that you can't see them. The sound designer is tracking the action onstage and shifting where the sound is coming from so that the audience knows where to find the person that is speaking.
We rehearse Friday nights, all day Saturday (10hrs+), and all day Sunday. We rehearse regardless of rain, hail, or extreme heat. The only time we halt rehearsals is if there is lightning, which has happened a few times this season. For each rehearsal I bring 60+ sunscreen, full rain gear, gumboots, bug spray, my camel back, a huge hat, a wet handkerchief for my neck, and my really good sneakers. I put my maps and pages of the script into clear sleeves to protect them from the rain and attach them to my belt with a loop. We rehearse for 9 weekends, and then the show opens.
It is crazy, surreal, awesome, and life-changing. I wish you all could come and see it. Regardless of your religious beliefs it is a stunning spectacle of a show that I believe is really really good. I am not religious but this contract and this show are one of a kind and I am proud to be involved.