During the 20th anniversary of the Alapaha Easter Passion Play in 2014, founder Marian Dixon reflected, “Many talented people deserve praise for the jobs they do and the hours they spend to present the program.
“And on that night! Oh! God comes down with his power and enables the characters to perform, sends angels to sing with the choir, and puts final touches on the sound and lighting. Our goal is not to entertain but to touch hearts with the story of Jesus, his death on the cross, and his resurrection.”
Exemplified by fortitude and a noticeable absence of “why me” syndrome, Dixon’s hard-fought three and a half year battle with ovarian cancer came to a heartbreaking end just five weeks before the debut of “Were You There,” the 21st anniversary edition of the volunteer-driven play that continually packs the rafters of the historic Alapaha Gym in Alapaha, Georgia.
Scenes were faithfully recreated of the disciples fishing near the Sea of Galilee, the Son of God’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his encounter with greedy merchants inside the Temple, Jesus’ miraculous healing power, the Samaritan woman’s transformation at the well, the Lord’s Supper, Jesus praying to his Heavenly Father for leadership in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas’ incomprehensible betrayal, Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ultimate ascension to Heaven.
Norma Gaskins, who had previously helmed countless school and church performances, was asked by Dixon in the late 1990s to take over for departing director Mark Dixon. Remarkably adept at corralling 100 actors, choir, and crew members, Gaskins admits her favorite and not-so-favorite aspects of the production in an exclusive interview. “The planning is the most time consuming and having everyone at practice at the same time is probably the most difficult,” said Gaskins. “I think the most rewarding is seeing how God uses ordinary people to perform in extraordinarily ways to present such an amazing, emotional and heartfelt performance.”
As to how she would convince a stranger with no prior Passion Play experience to consider attending, the personable Southern lady with a penchant for Elvis Presley pauses for a moment before declaring, “It is an incredible interpretation of the last days of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. You will be touched with the beautiful musical and amazing talented actors and actresses as they perform.”
A slideshow accompanying this article uncovers 19 images captured by noted photographer Wenda Gaile Bailey on Sunday, March 29, 2015, during the main extravaganza. In case you’re curious about all the hubbub or simply wish to revisit the community-wide event that left patrons astounded and sharing the gospel for days afterward, it’s only a click away in glorious Technicolor (Author’s Note: Fifteen photos from the Friday evening dress rehearsal are available for optimum viewing here).
- DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! Retired Alapaha Fire Chief Steve Brown risked his life on multiple occasions to protect innumerable citizens of South Georgia. Shortly after his family moved to the friendly Alapaha community and settled near the bustling town’s railroad tracks in the early ‘60s, early one morning his father was awakened by the whistle of an approaching train. Venturing inside their small living room, he quickly realized the house was on fire. The distinguished gentleman sheds further light on the rest of that excruciating morning in an engrossing feature entitled “Walk a Mile in His Shoes: In Step with Former Alapaha Fire Chief Steve Brown.”
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Exclusive Interview: Did you know that Steve McQueen was a Christian? The King of Cool actually rivaled John Wayne as the most popular actor of the ’60s and ’70s, scoring with audiences in such iconic films as The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, Bullitt, The Getaway, and Papillon. Noted evangelist Billy Graham visited McQueen and inscribed his personal Bible to the star. His widow, Barbara Minty McQueen, sat down and spoke about her husband’s faith and how it became his bedrock during a painful struggle with mesothelioma. Their wedding day also receives much attention in the charming “When You’re in Love with the King of Cool…” feature.
Exclusive Interview No. 2: Kent McCray served as Michael Landon’s best man and proverbial right hand on three beloved television series: Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, and Highway to Heaven. In an illuminating conversation commemorating Landon’s birthday [“The Brother That He Never Had…”], McCray recalls their strained debut encounter during a location shoot for Bonanza, Landon’s burgeoning progress as a writer and director, memorable practical jokes, visiting a terminally ill teenager and ensuring her controversial last request happened, and what happened when the actor didn’t have a driver’s license at a major Los Angeles airport.
Exclusive Interview No. 3: Rodney Dillard was the lead singer of ’60s bluegrass-folk-rock combo the Dillards, better known to classic television buffs as silent hillbilly clan the Darling Family on the beloved Andy Griffith Show. Dillard granted a heartfelt interview regarding his long and winding path to becoming a born-again Christian. Dillard originally grew up in a Baptist church in Salem, Missouri. But the bright lights of show biz beckoned, and he lived a hedonistic rock and roll lifestyle in Los Angeles for decades. In essence, Dillard’s journey represents a modern-day retelling of the prodigal son Biblical narrative. Don’t miss it.
- Exclusive Interview No. 4: Ken Mansfield’s name may not immediately ring a bell, but his notable accomplishments most certainly will. The proud son of an Idahoan lumberjack, Mansfield ultimately moved to California and became a highly respected A&R representative for Capitol Records, navigating the careers of such luminaries as the Beach Boys, the Band, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, Jimmy Buffett, Glen Campbell, and “Ode to Billie Joe” chanteuse Bobbie Gentry. The Beatles even befriended Mansfield and put him in charge of Apple Records’ American division in 1968. In a candid two-part conversation, the born-again Christian motivational speaker revisits his colorful past, along the way revealing the Elvis Presley meeting that nearly happened and his ongoing struggle with cancer.
Exclusive Interview No. 5: The Pointer Sisters effortlessly blended sweet, gospel-laden harmonies on a plethora of pop nuggets during the ’70s and ’80s including “Fairytale,” “I’m So Excited,” “He’s So Shy,” and “Slow Hand.” Ruth, the eldest Pointer, bares her soul in a far-reaching conversation tracing the African American group’s roots in gospel music. Along the way, Ruth uncovers strict parents who refused to let her wear makeup, jewelry, or attend dances, what it was like to attend a Sunday service at West Oakland Church of God, her favorite hymns and whether the trio has considered cutting a gospel album, getting pregnant at 19, and why she disagrees with the theory that posits women marry their father.
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