and I just got home from a trip to Arkansas. While we were there, we visited family, did a tiny bit of geocaching (and I have a story to tell about that - later), and attended a reunion. It wasn't a school reunion, or a family reunion, but for most of us it really was. Perhaps especially for me. It was a reunion of the cast of The Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs.
Brett was a cast member as a child and again as a teenager and newlywed. I was a cast member for four years. That's longer than I ever attended any one school, so for me this was like a high school reunion. I've never particularly wanted to go to an actual school reunion; I never bonded with a school or a community or a group of people in my youth enough to want to go back and see them again. One or two people, perhaps, but not all my classmates together. But as the cast reunion approached, I started getting excited and I finally understood why people want to go to school reunions.
There were many cool things about the reunion I could talk about. The coolest was reconnecting with some dear friends with whom I'd lost contact more than 20 years ago. But that's not what I'm going to talk about. I'm going to talk about the set tour. Not even the complete tour, just one part of it. The best part. The Tunnel.
Here is a photo taken during a performance that shows most of the street level set. (Ignore the watermark; I didn't take this photo.)
From left: Herod guards standing beside a building, Herod's palace, Pilate's porch, the temple The stories these passageways could tell! First kisses, breakups, children falling asleep and waking up hours later to find their way home in the dark, snakes, pranks, injuries. One year (not while I was there) a sudden storm with baseball-sized hail caused a mass run for the tunnel entrances from the set.
with Roman soldiers on the steps and Sanhedrin guards holding back the crowd, (the Via
Dolorosa runs between the temple and the next building), the Upper Room, the Sanhedrin Palace,
and (not shown) the Ascension House at the right end of the street.
There is also an upper set consisting of rooftops, Simon's house, the Garden of Gethsemane, the cross, the tomb, and now also Lazarus' tomb which was not there during my era at the play. Connecting all the buildings in the lower set, and providing access to the upper set, is a backstage tunnel.
We walked into the tunnel and 30 years melted away and we were back at the Play, making our way to our gate, waiting for our cue to enter the set. It was the smell. Mold and pigeons, sheep and kerosene, dirt and hay and sweat. It was a fabulous smell. If you've ever been an actor, you know what I'm talking about.
The kerosene smell was from the torches. They were made by nailing a tin can to the end of a broom handle, painting it all black, stuffing the can with kerosene-soaked cotton, and setting the cotton on fire.
It must still work pretty well because the torches look exactly as I remember them.
During the arrest scene, some of us would carry torches as we ran up the hill to the garden. I set the hill on fire one memorable night when I fell and dropped my torch on the way up the hill.
The arrest scene with torches lit.
But I digress; this post is about the tunnel. There were cue lights above the set entries (or "gates" as we called them).
In my day, the cues were four colored lights - red, green, yellow, blue. They flashed singly, then in various combinations. There was an index card for each role that told which gate was to be used and which light combination was the cue to enter on the 1st day and 2nd day scenes. It was carefully planned so that, say, a fruit merchant pushing a cart didn't enter the set just as the Roman soldiers were galloping around the corner by the temple. There were horse, camels, sheep, donkeys, chickens, and a chariot to coordinate along with all the merchants, shoppers, children, thieves, beggars, priests, guards, royalty, etc. It was choreography on a grand scale.
That photo above was the gate I used when I played the role of leper. I had to glue nasty latex scabs all over my face with spirit gum, paint around them with greasepaint, and stand at the end of the set with a bell around my neck being shunned, chased, and sometimes having rocks thrown at me.
During the first day scene, the leper made sure to turn toward the audience at every opportunity so they could see the scabs. Then, after Christ entered the set and was teaching at the temple, something scared the leper, who would run around the corner of the building. Here is what it was like for me.
I entered the tunnel, clutching the bell to keep it quiet, and ran like the dickens around all the twists and turns, up and down the steps, slipped across the Via Dolorosa, and out by the wardrobe rooms.
I climbed the stairs to Wardrobe Room 3 (upstairs on the right), dashed into the tiny dressing room and ripped off the scabs.
The combined smell of spirit gum, Pond's and Sea Breeze is also very nostalgic for me.
Then I slathered my face in Pond's Cold Cream, washed it off, applied Sea Breeze astringent, put on makeup, ran like the dickens back to the far end of the tunnel, pulled the shawl over my face to hide it, entered the set keeping my back to the audience and threw myself at Christ's feet when he entered a couple of minutes later. I would be panting and gasping for breath as he lifted the shawl off my face and "healed" me. The audience was always amazed.
The Play uses a different script now. There is only one "day scene" and there is no room in it for a leper. Or maybe I should say there is no time in it for a leper. Because some miracles need two days.
And that's my story of The Tunnel. I've always thought being in the Play is one of the cooler things I've done in life, and The Tunnel is one of the coolest memories of that time.