The Thorn, a Vegas-style passion play, takes Easter up a notch

For hundreds of years, Christians all over the world have been telling the story of Jesus Christ's life and death in the form of dramatic theater. From the devout actors in the Philippines using actual nails-through-the-hands, to Mel Gibson grossing $600 million portraying the bloodiest Jesus in Hollywood history, passion plays have long intrigued the minds of believers and secularists alike. With an ever increasing demand for these productions every Easter weekend, John Bolin's The Thorn has stepped up its game with a Vegas-inspired production.

Vegas, baby!

Formerly the youth pastor at New Life Church (made famous by Pastor Ted Haggard), Bolin works with the Colorado Springs Church to produce with The Thorn, assembling a volunteer crew of 3,000 helping hands. With a budget of $175,000, The Thorn has been described as a cross between "Cirque Du Soleil and The Passion of the Christ."

The theatrical behemoth will begin at 7 p.m. tonight at the Magness Arena and continues with three more shows at 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, before taking its show on the road in June to Branson, Missouri.

We recently sat down with John Bolin to discuss evangelizing, the fourth wall, and, of course, Mel Gibson.

Your event has been described as a cross between Cirque Du Soleil and The Passion of the Christ; is that how you would describe it, or is it something the media has thrust upon you?

Both. The media has given us that label on their own but when you see the show, you'll understand why. To be fair, me and my wife Sarah are big fans of Cirque and their amazing artistry has definitely had an influence on how we tell stories on stage.

Passion plays have been performing the story of the Gospels all over the world for centuries, do you feel that your play is part of an ongoing tradition?

Yes, definitely. We so admire and appreciate the longstanding tradition of passion plays in America and around the world. From South Dakota to Oberammergau, there is an incredible legacy of re-telling this great story.

How has your production changed over the years? Is there now a larger attendance and more people converting to Christianity?

The Thorn has been running for fifteen years. It began as an "illustrated sermon" for 100 high school students and has grown to include a cast of hundreds, intricate sets, pyrotechnics, acrobatics, etc. Every year, there are new dynamics and changes in order to keep it fresh. Every year the attendance grows nationally. This year, we have numerous churches producing The Thorn Live and The Thorn Easter Experience. Additionally, the Daystar TV network is broadcasting The Thorn into over 100 million homes on Good Friday.

Is this a full time job for you?

No. The Thorn does not make enough revenue to cover year-long salaries and overhead. In addition to my work with Thorn Ministries, I own a small video production company and I write books and speak as well.

Your play has been described as "interactive"; in what way do you involve the audience?

Everything is designed to engage the audience to create an experience rather than a show. The set and stage are designed to thrust into the crowd, performers act in, around and over the audience, and the narrator breaks the "fourth wall" and interacts directly with the audience members.

How has Mel Gibson's film changed the way passion plays are produced and perceived?

Mel Gibson demonstrated that the telling of The Passion can be effective when done at a high level. The story of God should be done with excellence.

How would you respond to accusations that a large theatrical production cheapens the gospel story?

I understand the criticism and I think it's valid. On the other hand, I believe we have a mandate to communicate the message of Hope and Forgiveness to as many people as we can.

The Thorn begins at 7 p.m. tonight at the Magness Arena and continues through tomorrow at 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 7 p.m.

The Magness Arena is located at 2240 East Buchtel Boulevard. For tickets or more information visit

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Josiah M. Hesse
Contact: Josiah M. Hesse