by Founding Artistic Director Kevin O’Connell
There was not much I enjoyed about going to mass every Sunday as a child. And Holy Week was the worst. Not only did it include two extra masses, but the masses were also longer than usual.
But Holy Week also featured my favorite church moment of the year. On Palm Sunday and Good Friday the entire church would act out the Passion Play, sort of a staged reading. Priests and deacons had all the lead roles, but the congregation got to play the mob. My favorite part came when whoever was playing Pontius Pilate asked the mob which condemned prisoner he should release, Jesus or Barabbas. (There is no evidence that such a custom really existed in Christ’s time, but it lives on today in American Idol and other reality TV shows.) We the congregation, in the role of the mob, responded forcefully, “Give us Barabbas!” That moment, repeated a number of times in the service, has stayed with me, decades after my last appearance at mass, along with an eternal fondness for the name Barabbas.
I think the reason the moment resonated with me is that it was dramatically powerful. In theatre, many moments have given me that same thrill, the feeling in the gut and the simultaneous realization in the mind that what was just said or done was profoundly important: “Attention must be paid!” Those are the moments I love as a theatre spectator and the moments I want to be part of creating as a theatre artist. And for me personally, the prototype for those moments was that demand we repeated year after year on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.
So one more time, all together, “Give Us Barabbas!”