By Andrew Ehrkamp
News Editor

It’s not easy being Jesus. 

Just ask Giovanni Mocibob, who steps into the lead role for this season’s Canadian Badlands Passion Play July 7 to 23 in the Badlands Amphitheatre, a 30-acre canyon bowl in Drumheller meant to re-create ancient Israel.

“You feel the pressure, because everyone has a preconceived idea about Jesus one way or another. Everyone sees Him through their own eyes,” said Mocibob as he prepared for opening night.

“They want to put Him into a box, but I hope that people find something new in the story.”

The annual play uses live music, animals, 35 theatre professionals with a cast of more than 200 volunteers, and a budget of more than $1 million to share the story of Jesus’ Passion with its audience.

 “It feels like less of a play and more of a movie,” Mocibob said.

As Canada marks the 150th year of Confederation, the Canadian Badlands Passion Play is also celebrating both its 150th performance on Sunday, July 9, and its 24th year of operation.

Each year, between 12,000 and 14,000 people come from around the world to watch. Many of them are older, between 50 and 80 years old, but the play is also attracting a younger crowd.

“People have a sense of pilgrimage,” said Vance Neudorf, who has been executive director of the play for the last 10 years. “Some say ‘I want to see this before I die,’ and younger people have an interest because it’s a fresh and new way of hearing the story of Jesus. They are impacted by the life of Christ. For some it turns the light on and they say ‘I get it now.’ ”

The Catholic Church in Alberta has been a big supporter of the play. Former Calgary bishop Fred Henry attended performances in 2014 and 2015 and celebrated Mass beforehand. The Catholic Women’s League has raised funds for the play and World Youth Day delegates have attended performances.

Neudorf said that support is in large part because the Badlands Play doesn’t deviate from the Gospel. This year, the play has a new script based on the Gospel of Luke.

“We’re sticking to telling the story of Jesus and not going outside that,” he said. “We don’t have one slant, one way or another.”

Mocibob has watched the Badlands Passion Play in the past, but this is the first time he’s had the lead role. He has been rehearsing for weeks, and it’s had an impact on him personally.

The most difficult scenes are Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, His arrest, and His trial.

“That’s pretty impactful because we can relate. Many of us have said in our own lives ‘Don’t make me go through that’ on so many levels,” said Mocibob, who grew up in a Christian home. “It’s pretty hard core.”

Mocibob hopes the audience will learn something new from the retelling of Jesus’ Passion.

“I would like to see Jesus in a new way, to be ignited by a curiosity for Him. We’re trying to communicate the purpose of Jesus, which is to point us to the Father.”

There are nine performances from July 7 to 23 on Fridays and Saturdays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. Tickets are available online at CanadianPassionPlay.com or by calling 403-823-2001.