Tuesday, 28 June 2016 14:18

Zeke the temperamental ‘Jerusalem Donkey’ returns to the Passion Play for nine performances (maybe), July 8-24

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The Canadian Badlands Passion Play is pleased to welcome Zeke the donkey back to the stage for nine performances from July 8-24 in Drumheller.

Over the past 23 years, the Passion Play has seen eight different actors play the role of Jesus, but during that same time only three donkeys have taken on the role of carrying Jesus into Jerusalem during his triumphant entry.  Since 2012, that donkey has been Ezekiel — affectionately known as “Zeke” by his fellow actors.
Zeke is actually a Nubian burro, a breed known as “Jerusalem Donkeys” or “Christian Donkeys” due to the distinct markings on their back.
Zeke, like his ancestors for the last 6,000 years, has a fur cross over his shoulders.
An ancient legend says the original donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday also wanted desperately to carry the cross for Jesus, and that desire was imprinted across his back and carried for all future generations.
At times, Zeke can be a bit of a prima donna and has been reluctant to walk through any puddles on stage. He also has to be careful with his diet. He has a diabetic condition and if he eats too much of the sugar-rich grass on stage, his feet will hurt to the point where he will refuse to let anyone ride him.
Last year, during one performance, our actor playing Jesus had to run by himself onto the stage during the triumphant entry as Zeke “put his foot down” and would not go onstage for that show.
Like most actors, Zeke loves attention from the audience and from those around him. If you pass by his corral, he will bray to get your attention, and will keep braying until you come over for a visit.
He is also protective of his animal co-stars, and will stand next to the sheep pen all night if there are coyotes in the area.
His best friend is Zar, the Arabian horse that appears in the new Gospel of Luke script. Donkeys and horses don’t always get along, but when a separate pen was built for Zeke a few years back, he escaped one night and went over to join Zar in the corral. That friendship continues to this day.
After borrowing Zeke for his first few seasons at the Passion Play, animal wrangler, Marlies Ohlhauser, was so taken with the gregarious donkey, that she purchased him so Zeke and Zar could stay together throughout the off-season. Her three-year-old daughter, Monroe (who also acts in the Passion Play each year), enjoys riding Zeke on trail rides as this unique donkey is also capable of wearing a harness, saddle, and bridle.
When she was just learning to talk, Monroe would say a simple prayer each night, “Thank Jesus for donkey.”
At the Passion Play, officials are also grateful for Zeke and all the other animals that join the event each year as “The Greatest Story Ever Told” is presented.
New script, new musical score and new lead director
This year will be a ground breaking season for the Canadian Badlands Passion Play.
The new script, an adaptation of the Gospel of Luke titled Face to Face, written by Alberta playwright, Barrett Hileman, will encompass the entire life of Christ, beginning at his birth.
Alberta composer, Luke Ertman, has created the score for the new play.
Brian Jensen, who played the role of the apostle John for the past five seasons, has become the lead director.
“With more than 200 actors on stage, supported by 40 backstage support staff, the Passion Play is a mammoth undertaking resulting in an incredible outdoor spectacle,” says Executive Director Vance Neudorf.
Performances this year run July 8-24 with evening performances starting at 6 p.m. on July 8, 10, 15, 22, and 23. Afternoon performances are at 4 p.m. on July 9, 16, 17, and 24.
For more information, visit www.canadianpassionplay.com or phone 1-403-823-2001.

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