Talented actors found way round lockdown to produce moving piece of Easter theatre

An innovative Christian theatre group based in Hamilton will bring the Easter story to life online.

Drama Kirk have been hard at work ensuring their fifth annual Passion Play is available to enrich Easter celebrations, despite the current lockdown.

The group, which includes professional actors as well as performers from across the town’s churches, have filmed ‘With Arms Wide Open’ by Peggy Barnell for broadcast on Saturday 3 April on YouTube.

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Over the last few years Drama Kirk have staged a production in their local area over Easter, and in spite of the coronavirus pandemic they were still determined to bring the story to life through theatre.

Speaking about the logistics of filming, director Liz Blackman said that each scene had to be thought through “very carefully.”

“Some flashbacks we would have loved to have included were not possible – for example Jesus couldn’t wash his disciples’ feet.

“We needed to keep everyone safe – and often this meant being inventive. We duplicated props to ensure no two people had to touch the same thing.

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“We used body doubles and we were extremely fortunate that a number of household bubbles wished to be involved which allowed us to film some characters in close contact, making the action seem much more natural.”

Mrs Blackman explains that a Passion Play traditionally tells the story of the last week of Jesus’ life but that this year’s production has a “fresh perspective”.

“It is told through the eyes of the Gospel writer Luke, putting Jesus’ story together years after his death and hearing from the disciples what their encounters had meant for them.

“The film presents key characters talking about their experiences with Jesus, including Mary Magdalene who describes the joy they felt as they journeyed with Jesus throughout his ministry.

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“We also decided to add parts of the story of Jesus’ life to be told in a series of flashbacks, which allowed them to film safely in small groups to show a range of biblical scenes.

“It meant Drama Kirk could involve more of their community actors in the project.”

‘With Arms Wide Open’ was written by American writer and actor Peggy Barnell and has never been performed in Scotland.

Ms Barnell has worked with the team to adapt the script.

“I was so pleased to learn my work, ‘With Arms Wide Open’ was to be filmed and performed by Drama Kirk. I’m excited to see this story of the hope our Saviour offers portrayed by the people of Scotland,” she said.

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Professional actors Nicholas Elliott and David Rankine lead the cast, in the roles of Jesus and Luke respectively. However, in order to involve as many people as possible the script was adapted to include additional roles.

The 30-minute film was shot in Hamilton, utilising many locations where the group have performed Passion Plays in previous years, although the current regulations meant filming had to take place outdoors.

Speaking about the various locations, Mrs Blackman said: “Hamilton has some wonderful locations that double nicely as a Roman palace or the wall of the great temple.

“However, beyond that, I still wanted to see identifiable areas of our town in the film.

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“So, yes, you will see our biblical characters alongside some shops or cars – but for me that is all part of the joy of producing a Passion Play in 2021 – it reminds us Jesus is still here with us.”

Further information can be found at www.facebook.com/DramaKirk or on twitter @PlayLanarkshire “With Arms Wide Open” will be broadcast on YouTube on Easter Saturday (3rd April) at 2pm on the following link - https://www.youtube.com/hamiltonold or on the Church of Scotland website.

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