A Grotto Short Film: The Passion
Students in the University of Notre Dame’s Folk Choir explored the topic of death and new life in an original rendition of the Passion of Christ. They spent their spring break traveling up the East Coast, performing the original show and music in theaters and churches.
Director and composer J.J Wright shares, “If you can see yourself in the story, all of a sudden, it doesn’t hit you over the head. It’s just a simple invitation to be with Jesus through the Passion.”
(Students perform “The Passion” on stage)
Matt: And he is bound. The table spread against the ground — with his arms outstretched and battered legs. The air itself is bleeding.
The Passion: Three weeks earlier
Noah: As the name suggests, this is a performance of The Passion of Christ, the moments leading up to his death on the cross.
Notre Dame, IN
(Students chatter on stage)
Noah: I auditioned to be John, which was more dialogue heavy, and just a cool part to play. And then it turns out, instead of getting the role of John, I got the role of Jesus. And I was like, “That’s great. That’s not what I auditioned for.”
(Choir rehearses on stage)
Matt Hawkins: I can’t teach that. I can’t even direct that. Make it important. It’s not “Casual Friday.” This is a big story, am I right? A lot of you are in Folk Choir for a reason. Why are you in the Folk Choir? But remind yourself, why are you here? Why are you doing this? Why are you going on tour? You’re just not putting on a show, you’re just not singing, there’s a reason behind that. And it’s highly personal for everybody. And here’s how art can transcend. If it’s important to you, I promise you they will see that, and then it’ll be important.
Anna: Release this man, husband. For your sake, for mine. Release him.
J. J. Wright: It’s really light. It doesn’t need a lot. And definitely not vibrato up there, okay? We’re going to try one more time. Ready, one two, three, four…
(Student rehearses song)
J. J. Wright: To be in the Folk Choir, you’re a singer, so you’re not necessarily an actor. But for this tour, we’ve invited the students to take on those roles. And if you can see yourself in the story, all of a sudden, it doesn’t hit you over the head, it just is a simple invitation to be with Jesus through the Passion.
J. J. Wright: Good, and come away. We sing “Jesus,” right? “Jesus” is the accent. Accent on the first syllable. Let’s sing it like that. Okay, here we go.
Fifty-nine students spent their spring break performing The Passion on an East Coast tour.
Colleen: Do you guys know sad music?
Teresa: Know what?
Clare: A sad song?
Colleen: Like Ashokan Farewell.
Aubrey: I know Ashokan. Do you know Ashokan?
Aubrey: Let’s play it. Yeah, yep. One, two, three. One, two…
(Students play “Ashokan Farewell”)
Colleen: Can you guys just play all the time when we’re not on stage?
(Students chatter and unload table from truck)
Sam: Oh wow. Oh man, why is nobody filming this?
Aubrey: We have a South Dining Hall table with us, which is a lot of fun because in Folk Choir, we’ll all have brunch and dinners together. And a lot of times we’ll sit at the “Jesus table.” And now we kind of brought the “Jesus table” with us on tour.
(Choir performs in church)
Martha: They offered wine, but he refused. His cheek turned toward the cross.
Eric Styles: Places, places. Places. Sit in a chair. I don’t know. Sit in a chair.
(Choir rehearses on stage)
J. J. Wright: We thought, what if we just opened up the door to see what the students could bring to the table? Once we started to invite them into the creative process and invite them into writing songs and lyrics, it was this magical thing because the insights that they would bring to that and the vulnerability and tenderness that they would bring to those conversations around what it meant to them and what it meant to them in their life of faith were just really profound.
Caroline: …Or something like that. We just want a little bit more of a surprise factor to it.
Colleen: Stand up and maybe touch Noelle and Cassie.
Caroline: I think Gio and maybe Josh — you see them stand up suddenly and you’re like, “What’s going on?” and “Oh my God. Jesus is here.”
(Choir performs on stage)
Colleen: Now. What have you to do with me? Oh, Son of the most high God?
(Students enjoy a beach day)
Cassie: Jeff Goldblum. Right under the University of Notre Dame choir. And Noel Miller. We are stars.
Aubrey: Start over.
Aubrey: We are the…
Aubrey: And Duchess of…
Ryan and Aubrey: Doom!
Aubrey: “Funishment” is a fun punishment. So if you screw up, you’re going to get funished.
Ryan: The next person we’d like to invite up did something pretty disgusting, I think, on the bus this morning. He took nail clippers and started clipping his nails on the bus.
Noah: It was just one thumb.
Ryan: Noah, your job today is to draw a self-portrait with your foot.
Noah: Four 10s. You had that nine up your sleeve the whole time.
Aubrey: I see some of my closest friends playing these roles, like Noah as Jesus and Ryan as Judas, and now I can see these were just people and they were just friends and Jesus was their friend. And all of the love I have for Noah — and in this Passion, he’s being crucified and it just hurts. And then to think if I was there in that moment, how hard it would’ve been. As much love as I have Noah, think about how much I would have loved Jesus in that moment and to witness that.
(Noah prepares backstage)
Noah: A man dying on a cross is not just a symbol. It’s a real experience that a human will go through a wave of emotions leading up to and a wave of emotions during. That’s not something I fully realized until getting to play this role.
J. J. Wright: We’re inviting the students to experience it anew. What do you see in it? How do you see yourself in this story? And when you get to hear the piece, you really get that experience of understanding where the students in the choir are coming from while you’re listening to The Passion, which I think makes this performance really unique.
Noah: There’s a moment — the epilogue is very beautiful, after the death, and we get to a point where we’re singing about good things again. And so there’s this feeling of acceptance, I think. I have a new respect for death in a way where it’s the idea of it being a celebration of life. The show has led me to a point where I think about it as a celebration of what that person stood for and their impact on the people around them, that’s the bright side. That’s the optimistic side of death, which I’m leaning more towards.
(Choir performs on stage)