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Passion Play 'Keeps The Faith' To Return For 97th Year In Bloomington

American Passion Play
American Passion Play/Facebook
The American Passion Play in Bloomington is one of the longest running theatrical productions in the U.S.

One of the longest-running theater productions in the United States has decided it will be back for a 97th year in Bloomington.
Organizers of the American Passion Play have said the play that tells the Easter story of Christ will return to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts next year despite the production losing money for several years due to shrinking attendance.

Mike Fowler and Lars LaBounty
Credit Eric Stock / WGLT
Mike Fowler (left) and Lars LaBounty of the American Passion Play say they hope to keep the production going to 100 years and beyond.

Mike Fowler, business manager of the nonprofit group that runs the play, told WGLT's Sound Ideas they've been draining cash reserves in recent years.

He said the production costs about $50,000 per year and has been generating about $40,000 in ticket sales.

“I have several cast members who are very faithful to the show say to me, ‘Keep the faith because there’s always a way to make it go another year,’” Fowler said. “So, we are keeping the faith.”

Fowler, who plays Matthew in the production and runs the makeup department, said attendance from the local community has been largely disappointing.

American Passion Play President Lars LaBounty said many of their attendees in recent years have been coming from an Amish community in Indiana. He said following the Sept. 11 attacks, most of their bus tour business grinded to a halt and many of them never came back.

“People weren’t traveling, and then the bus tours, they were out of the habit and we just can’t get them to stop now on their cross-country tours,” LaBounty said.

LaBounty, who plays Malachi in the production, said much of the cast and crew have been around for decades and they have a goal in mind.

“Everybody in the cast wants to make it to 100 years,” LaBounty said. “That is a real, real goal and our cast is aging. Some of them are hanging on only because they want to be here when we do 100 years.”

LaBounty added he hopes the next generation can carry on the Passion Play's tradition at that time.

Fowler said the play plans to run a capital campaign later this year.

Next year's Passion Play will run on weekends from March 14 to April 4. You can get ticket information at AmericanPassionPlay.org.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.