Carroll County News
EUREKA SPRINGS -- What if there was a crucifixion and nobody was there to see it?
For Huey Logsdon, that is something to think about. Logsdon, like many other local residents, is a member of the cast of the Eureka Springs Great Passion Play, which this week said it is in danger of closing forever. Logsdon has worked there for about a decade, playing the role of Barabbas, the outlaw who is freed instead of Christ during the trial with Pontius Pilate.
In the face of declining numbers and difficult times, The Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs now faces the very real possibility of closing its doors to the public, for good. Earlier this week, Sam Ray, executive director of The Great Passion Play, explained the situation in a press release.
"The needs are great," he said, "but we serve a God who is greater. God works through people, and we are asking people for help."
The Great Passion Play offers a unique and affordable opportunity for visitors to experience live the events that unfolded during the last week of Christ's life, performed by over 150 actors, with live animals on a real-life set of buildings and props. However, the opportunity for people to witness the Scriptures come alive first-hand is under threat.
The GPP has been losing money annually, Ray confirmed, but not as much as has been reported elsewhere, he told Carroll County News on Thursday.
According to the Arkansas Times blog, in tax year 2010, the foundation that operates the GPP "reported revenue of $1.7 million and expenses of $2.2 million, a loss of more than $500,000, compared with a loss of about $100,000 the year before. Assets were valued at $3.1 million and liabilities at $2 million in mortgages and notes. But virtually all the assets were in land and buildings, with only about $59,000 in cash and investments."
Ray acknowledges some truth to the reports that losses have been accumulating for some time.
"Although a decline was evident for years, it began in a major way in the 2008-2009 season. From then to now we have averaged a loss of roughly 30,000 visitors a year. That's only for the play, not affiliated features. The decline in tourism has been pervasive everywhere, and we are one group that got hit hard. But we have had lots of positive feedback from articles on radio, on TV, in the newspaper. People are rooting for us," he said.
On the other hand, Ray says, the half-million-dollar figure is erroneous.
"We did not lose half a million dollars last year, as was reported elsewhere," he said. "We were only down 1 percent last year and came within a hair of being in the black. We stopped the bleeding a year and a half ago, and all our bills are paid -- we are still large enough to cover our costs -- but unless something changes, at the end of this season there will be no money left, and we will have to close the doors."
There are 22 performances remaining for the 2012 season on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. beginning Friday, Sept. 28 through Saturday, Oct. 27.
Because time is running out, GPP officials have decided to publicly ask for donations and assistance.
"Under the strain of rising costs and a tight budget, The Great Passion Play needs help," said Chairman of the Board Keith Butler. "The Great Passion Play is at risk of being unable to support its ministerial efforts to spread the 'Good News of Jesus Christ.'
"Cornerstone Bank of Eureka Springs has partnered with us for decades, providing much needed financial support to facilitate the continued operation of the Great Passion Play and its projects," Butler continued. "Cornerstone Bank has never wavered in its support of the Play's leadership as the Play seeks out prospective investors, new ownership, or long-term sustainability through potential partnerships."
The GPP has encouraged millions of people in their faith, he added, but many more people need to be touched by "The Greatest Story Ever Told."
"In order to have a 2013 season, we need people to either 'Give or Come' now," Butler said. "The Great Passion Play is a significant part of Christian Culture," said Butler. "Now we are making a heartfelt plea to businesses, organizations, partners and the general public to help us keep this long-standing tradition running so it may continue to be a blessing for generations to come."
The Eureka Springs site hosts not only the Great Passion Play but also the Christ of the Ozarks statue. Built in 1966, the local icon, which is 67 feet tall, was primarily the work of Emmet Sullivan, who also worked on nearby Dinosaur World. He also had assisted in the work at Mount Rushmore under Gutzon Borglum as one of the sculptors.
Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce Chairman and CEO Mike Bishop expressed regret at the news on Thursday.
"The Great Passion Play is an anchor for us in terms of family-oriented business," he said, "and we don't want to see it go away. From what I have been told, they are trying to raise capital to continue their efforts, and we wish them luck. We certainly don't want to lose them. They have been a mainstay of the local economy for 45 years."
According to Butler, CEO of the Elna Smith Foundation that manages the Passion Play, the site is for sale, in hopes a buyer with funds to re-invigorate the business will take the reins.
In the meantime, Ray has said that while the GPP would benefit from donations -- including functional used vehicles, up-to-date computers, LCD monitors, software, office supplies, lumber, gravel, and other material goods -- its greatest need is funds to keep the attraction running.
"We are a 501(c)3 non-profit," Ray said, "and this is the first time in 46 years we have had to do a fundraiser, so I feel our record is pretty good. I am hopeful."
Barabbas, a.k.a. Huey Logsdon, agrees.
"I am confident the Passion Play will be open again next year," he said. "I believe they will be able to get the money together. It's good, clean fun. It's a good thing to be involved in."
Donations can be made to The Great Passion Play online at www.greatpassionplay.org/donations.asp. Also, donations may be made via telephone by credit card by calling the toll-free number 1-800-882-7529.
Donors should mail checks or money orders to: The Great Passion Play, ATTN: Accounting, P.O. Box 471, Eureka Springs, AR 72632. Donations of goods are also accepted by calling the same toll-free number and making arrangements for delivery.