Behind the Scenes:
Holy Grail

Arkansas actor finds his calling in a dream job
with Eureka’s Great Passion Play
By Barbara Gibbs Ostmann

Conventional wisdom has it that the happiest people are those who enjoy their jobs. For Kent Butler, of Berryville, Ark., “enjoy” is an understatement.

actor

Above: Kent Butler is a cast member at The Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs. One of the Biblical characters he portrays is David as a shepherd boy. (Barbara Gibbs Ostmann photo)

Below: The Great Passion Play is the longest-running outdoor drama in the country. This year marks its 41st season, which will end Oct. 24. (Arkansas Parks & Tourism photo)

Play

As a cast member of The Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs, Ark., Butler feels blessed that his job also is his passion.
   
“I see this not as a job, but as a ministry,” he said. He’s not alone. Several other actors are pastors, and almost all of the cast are members of local churches. One reason the play isn’t open on Wednesday or Sunday is because most of the cast is involved in church activities.
   
Born in Eureka Springs and reared in Berryville, about 12 miles east of The Great Passion Play, Butler always wanted to perform in the drama.
   
“I didn’t see myself doing anything else,” he says with a smile. As soon as he turned 16 and got his driver’s license, he started working at the play. That was five years ago, and he still loves what he’s doing.
   
Depending on the performance, Butler portrays Jesus Christ, Pontius Pilate, one of the priests, a thief on a cross or a Roman centurion. Before the play, he gives a one-man show as David the shepherd boy, telling the story of facing Goliath. His slingshot demonstration at the end of the performance delights the youngsters in the audience. 
   
In addition to his work with The Great Passion Play, Butler is a professional motivational speaker, working primarily with high school groups. This fall, he’ll be a junior at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, where he is studying speech communication and political science.

Doing what comes naturally
   
Butler practices what he preaches, living his faith each day. His father has been the pastor of a church in Berryville for 29 years, so “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” as the play is subtitled, is a message that has shaped Butler’s life.
   
“I want the story to come alive for people, for their faith to become stronger,” says Butler. “Faith is a journey, not an event. Our prayer here at The Great Passion Play is that through what we do and the people who we are, you would come to know our Lord Jesus Christ.” 
   
Portraying Jesus is a heavy responsibility for a young man. Butler, who began playing Jesus last year, is one of five people who take on that role during the season. It’s physically and emotionally challenging.
   
“Nobody is worthy to play Jesus,” says Butler. “It’s something I’m called to do. I’m a recipient of the same grace I am portraying. I am simply playing a role that is already being performed by the real Jesus. Playing it changes the way I look at life.”

Updated and improved

Billed as the new Great Passion Play, this 41st season has a different script and scenes,  plus digital sound. The basic story of Jesus’ last days on Earth, his death and resurrection is the same, but the way it is portrayed has been expanded, with new scenes illustrating additional parables from the Bible. The character of Satan has been added and appears in several scenes. The dialogue is in easy-to-understand modern language.
   
The outdoor theater itself is impressive. The 550-foot stage in a 4,100-seat amphitheater features historically accurate sets and props. Audience members sitting in the hillside seats at twilight on a warm summer evening with the sunset turning the sky pink, yellow and orange behind the outstretched arms of the Christ of the Ozarks statue in the background are treated to a visual spectacle. Hundreds of cast members and live animals bring the Biblical story to life. The play is the country’s most-attended outdoor drama.
   
The actors enjoy their jobs, and that helps to ensure that the audience enjoys the show.
   
“The play asks a lot of the audience,” he says. “There are messages there for non-believers, new believers and strong believers–something for everyone.”
   
Barbara Gibbs Ostmann is a contributor from Gerald, Mo.

Sept/Oct 2009 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

The Great Passion Play, 935 Passion Play Road, operates seasonally from early May through late October (Oct. 24 this year) on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with special Sunday performances on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. Admission to the play is $25 for adults; $12 for children (younger than 5 are admitted for free).
   
In addition to the play, guests can see the Christ of the Ozarks statue, a section of the Berlin Wall, Sacred Arts Exhibit, Bible Museum, Living Bible Tour, the Museum of Earth History, and the Top of the Mountain Dinner Theater. For package rates, attraction fees and performance times, visit www.greatpassionplay.com or call (800) 882-7529.
   
Eureka Springs is in northwest Arkansas, about 50 scenic miles southwest of Branson, Mo. For information about Eureka Springs, visit www.eurekasprings.org
   
To visit Eureka Springs, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. List of offices

Order free information about Arkansas through online Reader Service
http://southern.ai-dsg.com.


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