Dramatic Shakopee Passion play continues strong run

| February 22, 2018 | 2 Comments


Jesus falls under the weight of the cross in the 2017 Passion play at Sts. Joachim and Anne in Shakopee. Father Erik Lundgren, the pastor of the parish, will play Jesus in the annual play again this year. Courtesy Sts. Joachim and Anne

Father Erik Lundgren has grown accustomed to parishioners and community members asking about his growing beard and long hair.

“I certainly get a lot of confused looks from people when they see a priest who just looks like a hippie or Chewbacca or whatnot,” Father Lundgren said.

The parochial administrator of Sts. Joachim and Anne in Shakopee grows out both during the winter in preparation for playing the role of Jesus in the parish’s annual Passion play, “The Passion of Jesus in Music, Word and Light.”

“It adds to the realism at the same time, and … it also serves as a good marketing advertisement for the Passion play as time goes on,” Father Lundgren said about the hair and beard. “Because pretty much everyone I talk to … usually say, ‘You’ve got a pretty full head of hair for a priest.’”

The extra attention last year helped draw about 2,000 attendees, including Archbishop Bernard Hebda. This year’s promotional materials quote the archbishop calling it “a meaningful reflection that helped me enter into the prayer and peace of the Lenten season.”

Since the play was first staged 37 years ago, parishioners have come together annually to tell the story of the passion through narration, realistic costumes, lighting and music. The Knights of Columbus have sponsored the play since its inception.

This year’s Passion play will take place March 8 and 10 in English and March 9 in Spanish at the parish’s St. Mark campus, 350 Atwood St., Shakopee. Performances start at 8 p.m. with prelude music at 7:45 p.m. They are free and open to the public.

Crucifixion scene from the 2017 production of “The Passion of Jesus in Music, Word and Light,” staged annually at the St. Mark campus of Sts. Joachim and Anne in Shakopee. Courtesy Sts. Joachim and Anne

While cast members don’t have lines, they physically act out the scenes of Christ’s passion from his entry into Jerusalem to his resurrection. The narration of the Gospel passages guides people through the scenes.

“There’s a lot of lighting that is used … and so you feel that joy at both the entry and then at the end after the resurrection,” Father Lundgren said. “People are crying.”

A choir sings a variety of music related to the Passion throughout. The repertoire contains familiar hymns and religious classics.

With a high retention rate for the cast overall, they only need a couple rehearsals each year to get ready. Involvement has increased along the way.

“We’re well over 100 people committed for this production,” said Mike Bemis, the director. “There’s no acting ability required.”

Workers get the church ready for the play the Sunday before. The lights are hung Monday and rehearsals take place during the week before the weekend show.

“All of this happens in a week,” said David Schmeig, the lighting and assistant director.

Knights of Columbus member Dave Czaja and the late Father Robert Cassidy, who wrote the script, started the production in 1981 at St. Mark in Shakopee. Czaja, now a Wisconsin resident, still participates in the play each year.

“St. Mark’s historically is the German church [in Shakopee],” Father Lundgren said. “Passion plays are kind of a long medieval tradition in Germany.” He pointed to the famed Passion play in Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany, which has been performed regularly since 1634.

St. Mark’s Passion play grew with the parish as it merged with St. Mary in Shakopee and St. Mary of the Purification in Marystown to form Sts. Joachim and Anne in 2012.

Father Cassidy’s founding of the play adds to the significance the Passion play has for Father Lundgren, who had him as a pastor in Edina growing up. Father Lundgren had also reconnected with Father Cassidy while he was in seminary, and now he feels another link to him while playing the role of Jesus his former pastor created.

Father Lundgren, who has been serving Sts. Joachim and Anne the past four years, agreed to play the role of Jesus in 2016. Bemis and Schmeig said they like to find someone who can commit to playing the role for several years.

“They were looking for a new Jesus, and someone had the idea to ask me,” Father Lundgren said. “I put off saying yes thinking maybe they’ll find someone else … but they were very persistent, and I ended up thinking it was a great spiritual opportunity as well.”

For more information, visit shakopeepassionplay.org.

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