Final touches on the 21st anniversary edition of the Alapaha Easter Passion Play

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Interviews with producers Marian Dixon and Norma Gaskins shed light on “Were You There,” the 21st anniversary edition of the Alapaha Easter Passion Play, accentuated by 20 stunning Technicolor photos. In the accompanying still angel Yashanti DeBerry joyfully praises and dances for the Lord during the “Alive, Forever, Amen” finale on Sunday, March 29, 2015, in Alapaha, Georgia. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com

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,” a title tipping its hat to the Johnny Cash and the Carter Family 1962 spiritual. The 21st anniversary edition of the volunteer-driven play packed 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.”

Stick around to peruse 19 further Technicolor images captured by noted shutterbug Wenda Gaile Bailey on Sunday, March 29, 2015, during the 21st anniversary edition of the Alapaha Easter Passion Play.

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He was blind but now he can see: Bartimaeus [Alapaha United Methodist — Glory Charge pastor Larry Hauser] experiences a bona fide miracle during the 21st anniversary edition of the Alapaha Easter Passion Play on Sunday, March 29, 2015, inside the Alapaha Gym. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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Lepers Lena Fuller and granddaughter Camille White begin their journey to seek Jesus Christ for a divine miracle during the 21st anniversary edition of the Alapaha Easter Passion Play on Sunday, March 29, 2015, in Alapaha, Georgia. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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Jesus Christ, brilliant portrayed by returning actor Jeremy Hyers, cradles dead child Lathan Tucker as a miracle from on high seems imminent during the 21st anniversary edition of the Alapaha Easter Passion Play on Sunday, March 29, 2015, in Alapaha, Georgia. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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Great is the Lord our God! Mother Lisa Waller Tucker can’t fathom the miracle that she just witnessed as her once dead child [Lathan Tucker] has been revitalized by Jesus Christ during the 21st anniversary edition of the Alapaha Easter Passion Play on Sunday, March 29, 2015, Alapaha Gym, Alapaha, Georgia. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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Lisa Waller Tucker delivers a Hallmark-worthy hug to miraculously raised from the dead daughter Lathan Tucker during the 21st anniversary edition of the Alapaha Easter Passion Play on Sunday, March 29, 2015, Alapaha Gym, Alapaha, Georgia. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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The demon-possessed boy [Josh Harris] praises Jesus of Nazareth for cleansing and making him whole again during the 21st anniversary edition of the Alapaha Easter Passion Play on Sunday, March 29, 2015, in Alapaha, Georgia. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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Remember me: Disciples Jeff Chavis, Andrew Powell [Andrew], Steven Brown, Michael Davis, Jarret Dean, Marlon Harris [Peter], Jeremy Hyers [Jesus Christ], Greg Exum [John], Dave Dillingham [Judas Iscariot], Jeremy Roberts [James], Donald Stodghill, Llewellyn Boone and the late Eddie Owen fellowship during the Lord’s Supper. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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Wearing a crown of thorns, Jesus Christ [Jeremy Hyers] is ruthlessly taken in chains by Roman soldier Jason Owen to face Pontius Pilate, the chief priests, and Jewish elders during the 21st anniversary edition of the Alapaha Easter Passion Play on Sunday, March 29, 2015, in Alapaha, Georgia. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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The day he wore my crown: The multitude looks on in deep sorrow as Jesus Christ [Jeremy Hyers] and two thieves [Max Lindsey and Josh Harris] are crucified at Calvary during the 21st anniversary edition of the Alapaha Easter Passion Play on Sunday, March 29, 2015, in Alapaha, Georgia. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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Behold Emmanuel: Heavily bearded Roman soldier Kalen Dillingham ominously surveys the multitude as Jesus Christ cries out to his Heavenly father during the crucifixion, part of the inspiring Alapaha Easter Passion Play held on Sunday, March 29, 2015, in Alapaha, Georgia. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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Alapaha Easter Passion Play disciples Jeff Chavis, Jeremy Roberts [James], Greg Exum [John], Dave Dillingham [Judas Iscariot], Jarret Dean, Michael Davis, Marlon Harris [Peter], Llewellyn Boone, Donald Stodghill, the late Eddie Owen, Steven Brown, and Andrew Powell [Andrew] are seen outside the Alapaha gym on Sunday, March 29, 2015, minutes before the debut of “Were You There.” Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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Cast members of the 2015 Alapaha Easter Play include Roman soldier Jason Owen, money changer Jonathan Fuller, angel Billy Reddoch, Larry Hauser [blind Bartimaeus], Scentry Dorsey [Simon of Cyrene], high priest Harold Dillingham, and fellow Roman soldier Kalen Dillingham. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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A multitude of women, children, vendors, and healing scene participants say cheese minutes before presenting the 21st anniversary edition of the Alapaha Easter Passion Play, entitled “Were You There,” on Sunday, March 29, 2015, outside the red brick Alapaha Gym. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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The Exum family of Nashville, Georgia, has generously participated in the Alapaha Easter Passion Play since its inception in 1994. Pictured are Greg [the disciple John], wife Robin [Mary, mother of Jesus], daughter Hannah [an angel], and son Landon [a dancer], on Sunday, March 29, 2015, outside the Alapaha Gym. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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Although a few closed eyes are evident as the sun sets, the awesome 29-member Alapaha Easter Passion Play choir is seen minutes before delivering the 21st anniversary edition of the play on Sunday, March 29, 2015. Choir director Gail Powell is second from left in the forest green costume. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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Alapaha Easter Passion Play director-producer Norma Gaskins and granddaughter Morgan Jones, portraying a sure-footed angel, enjoy one another’s company moments before the debut of “Were You There,” the March 29, 2015, installment of the Alapaha Easter Passion Play held in Alapaha, Georgia. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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Alapaha Easter Passion Play creator Marian Dixon’s family is recognized during the play’s 21st anniversary edition. Husband Joe Dixon and sister-in-law Mary Ellen Dixon Crisp are pictured on the bottom row of the Alapaha gym steps on Sunday, March 29, 2015. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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A photo of Alapaha Easter Passion Play founder Marian Dixon in the foyer of the Alapaha Gym on March 29, 2015, during the 21st anniversary edition of the community-wide volunteer event. Dixon succumbed to ovarian cancer five weeks before the play’s debut. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com
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Alapaha Easter Passion Play producer-actor-writer Jeremy Roberts poses with Joe Dixon, widower of play founder Marian Dixon, moments after completion of the amazing “Were You There,” the 21st anniversary edition performance held on Sunday evening, March 29, 2015, in Alapaha, Georgia. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com

© Jeremy Roberts, 2015, 2018. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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