Passion play this week

In this dress rehearsal photo of the Last Days of Jesus pageant, guards are seen as they are about to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The garden scene takes place in City Park Thursday.

Contributed photo
In this dress rehearsal photo of the Last Days of Jesus pageant, guards are seen as they are about to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The garden scene takes place in City Park Thursday.

The 39th annual Last Days of Jesus pageant takes place over three days this week at several locations in and near downtown The Dalles.

Thursday is the Last Supper and garden scene, Friday is the trial, crucifixion and burial and Sunday is the resurrection.

The pageant begins April 13 at 7 p.m. with the Last Supper drama at The Dalles High School auditorium, where the audience takes communion along with Jesus’ disciples.

The scene itself is kind of halted for a few minutes, said organizer Sarah Pickette, while helpers distribute communion to anyone who is interested and a pastor officiates.

The Last Supper scene, which takes about 40 minutes, features an authentic Passover meal, and the communion is unleavened bread and grape juice.

“That’s one of the really awesome opportunities for people as a community to celebrate together,” Pickette said.

Then the next scene, which takes about 20 minutes, takes place at City Park, a few blocks away. The events are finished by about 8:30 p.m., said Pickette, who has helped with the pageant for the last 25 years.

April 14 at 7 p.m., events begin with the 30-minute trial on the steps of the Wasco County Courthouse. That is followed by the crucifixion at First Christian Church, a few blocks away, and then the burial at First Christian. That evening’s events also last about 90 minutes, Pickette said.

The tomb is guarded around the clock — by pairs of guards who each take two-hour shifts —from the time of the burial until the April 16 morning resurrection scene, which lasts about 30 minutes and begins at 8 a.m.

About 100 people are costumed for the various scenes over the three days, Pickette said. The most intense scene is the trial and crucifixion.

“During the practices (actors not in costume), we’ve had 9-1-1 calls because people thought someone was getting beat up,” she said.

Night is falling by the time the Thursday and Friday scenes end, and torches are lit, using material that generates the least amount of smoke, she said.

“It’s a blaze, there are several of those, it is so dramatic.”

For the trial and crucifixion, costumed cast members mingle in with the audience watching, she said.

“I think it reaches your soul,” Pickette said of the trial and crucifixion. “We realize what the Lord has done for us. Giving his life. I think everybody was against him, I mean everybody.”

She said the pageant is meant to observe the true meaning of what Easter is all about.

Playing Jesus this year is Marty Clifford, who has played just about every other role also and has directed as well, she said. His brother, Andrew Clifford, does makeup, as does Marilyn Miller.

The passion play costs $8,000 to $10,000 a year to put on, and uses volunteers with the exception of paid sound people. Its biggest fundraiser is an auction held every March.

The committee meets monthly all year, but rehearsals begin in January. Three dress rehearsals are held before the pageant.

The committee is looking at forming its own non-profit organization. It has been operating under the umbrella of First Christian Church from the beginning, but has long emphasized that many churches, at least 15, are involved, Pickette said.

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