‘The Passion’ Popularity:
The Netherlands’ Annual Passion Play Has Re-Introduced the Story of Christ
By Rachal Marquez and Ben Kayser
The Passion story is reaching audiences in the Netherlands through pop music. Now going on its sixth year, the annual live-broadcasted performance of the Easter story, simply titled “The Passion,” is more successful than ever.
Each Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter), “The Passion” retells the Easter story in a live production that features music adapted from well-known mainstream songs, and a large neon cross carried through the city in a large procession. Each year, the event is also broadcast live for viewers across the Netherlands.
The production was created and is produced by Jocco Doornbos in 2011, and has been an increasingly popular event throughout the Netherlands since its introduction. In a recent interview with Movieguide®, Doornbos said that the impact of the play can be seen in how many of the Dutch people are now familiar with the story of Christ.
“Well for me, what makes it really special or worthwhile for all those years is when we started in 2011 … only 25 percent of the Dutch population knew what the story of Easter was about, and now five years later they did a new survey and now it’s 60 percent of the Dutch population,” Doornbos said. “I’m very grateful for that.”
Now, “The Passion” show generally has around 20,000 live attendees, and its 2015 broadcast had 3.5 million viewers.
Staged in a different city each year, the event is also updated annually with a new cast and new music. The event’s popularity is evident in the buzz that stirs before the show, particularly regarding who is cast and what music will be played.
“It’s gone bizarre in the Netherlands. They even hired private detectives to find out who’s going to be Jesus this year, or which songs are going to be in,” Doornbos said. “So it’s all over any television entertainment show, magazine, newspapers… every year, the day after the Passion, all Dutch newspapers on the front page have a huge photograph of the cross.”
Mark Bracco, the executive vice president for programming and development for Dick Clark Productions in the United States, said he was visiting the Netherlands with Adam Anders, a Grammy-nominated Swedish music producer, during the 2015 staging of “The Passion.”
“Adam and I were there this past year, and we were in a car going to the airport the next morning, and the driver had the radio on, and again it’s in Dutch, but the whole conversation all the time was, ‘This, this, this, Passion! This, this, this, Passion!’ And they were playing the songs. The entire drive to the airport was them reliving what had happened the night before. It was pretty amazing,” Bracco said.
Particularly given that most of the Dutch population is not religious, Doornbos said the success of “The Passion” is truly remarkable.
“Only 7 percent of the Dutch population attends church regularly. Only 35 percent still calls itself, in some way or form, Christian. Which means that’s a huge thing,” he said. “So where people maybe can’t identify or relate to church anymore, what happens with the Passion is that they can identify and relate to the story again, and that’s what I find is most important.”
In addition to being broadcast live and widely publicized in the Netherlands, the event continues its outreach. Doornbos explained that through something called the “After-Passion,” in which, after the show, churches open their doors to everyone and people can come in and enjoy company, talk about the event, and ask questions.
“Then the great thing is that in Holland, it also gives churches the chance to reconnect with people again,” Doornbos said. “For me, I would grab any opportunity to bring people in contact or helping people to have an encounter with the love of the man that this story is about because that is what has been the most important [thing] in my life.”
When asked if he views himself as an evangelist, Doornbos said that the purpose was more important than the label.
“I think a lot of people would say I’m an evangelist in what I do, yes,” he said. “Wherever I can I will use the talent or position I have in media to bring people in contact with the love of Jesus Christ — the unconditional, inclusive, nonjudgmental love of Christ. That’s what is essential for me and that really crosses any church border or mark of what I am.”
In addition to preparing this years’ “Passion” show, which will take place in Amersfoort, Netherlands, Doornbos is working with American entertainment personalities such as Tyler Perry to bring “The Passion” to the U.S. on Palm Sunday in 2016. Read more about the American version, including an interview with Tyler Perry here…