"As of today, (state) Sen. Dick Kelsey of Kansas will be the main contact for day-to-day affairs here at the Play," said President of the Board and CEO Randall Christy, whose Gospel Station Network has spearheaded the recent effort to save the Passion Play. "We are blessed to have Sen. Kelsey coming on board. He had an illustrious career in the Kansas Legislature and is now a business owner out at Beaver Lake."
Kelsey was a Republican member of the Kansas Senate, representing the 26th District from 2008 until his retirement late last year. Prior to that, he served in the Kansas State House of Representatives for four years. He sits on the Board of Directors of Barclay College at Haviland, Kan., and is a former executive director of the Wichita Alliance of Evangelical Churches.
"One thing I have learned in the past 10 days is the tremendous latent well of support for the success of the Passion Play," said Kelsey. "A lot of people want to see it survive and thrive. They call to say they saw the play when they were kids and they want their own children to see it."
Along with Christy and Chairman of the Board Keith Butler -- who is the only one remaining from the previous eight-member board -- Vice President Tom Bush, an executive at Christy's Gospel Station Network, makes up the new Board of Directors.
As with the previous Board of Directors, Christy explained that the new board, as well as the other new team members, were donating their time to the project.
"We do believe in paying people for their work, when the time comes, but for the time being we are all just focusing on getting things up and running again," he said. "We also have several others joining us to get the play up and going," Christy said. "Director of Public Relations is Kent Butler, and Director of Special Gifting and Underwriting is Arch Bonemma."
Kent Butler is Chairman Keith Butler's son, and a longtime part of the Passion Play, having played the part of Jesus over the last several years.
Bonemma, of McKinney, Texas, is a Christian entrepreneur and philanthropist whose My House ministry works primarily with other nonprofits to provide housing for orphans and widows in Africa. A magazine article in 2010 said he is an investor in many types of enterprises and has also launched expeditions to search for Noah's Ark and the Arc of the Covenant. My House works only with ministries that have worked with orphans for years on their own, "doing a really good job," according the article at www.mannaexpressonline.com. My House builds new and better facilities so the ministries can expand their work helping orphans.
The new group of Passion Play directors and managers was meeting Monday to strategize for major funding and underwriting opportunities.
PR Director Butler said one of the new fundraising efforts, the "Save-a-Seat" campaign, is already beginning to take off. "In exchange for a donation of $250, you get a season ticket with a metal plate which can be designated in memory of a loved one or whatever the donor wishes it to say," Butler said. "Someone called and made donations for three such seats just in the past couple days."
The Gospel Station Network, which consists of 25 FM, AM and online stations throughout the South and Midwest, has donated $100,000 of free advertising for the next year, and Butler said they are actively working to use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about the Passion Play re-opening.
"We are also co-partnering with a number of newspapers and other radio networks and large ministries to promote the play," he said.
Online ticketing is also available now at http://www.greatpassionplay.org. "Tickets are on sale earlier than ever," Butler said.
He added that the Passion Play plans to work as much as possible through the city via the CAPC and will send representatives to travel shows, where travel organizers are exposed to various tourism sites like the Passion Play and Eureka Springs itself.
"Our first show will be Travel South, in Little Rock, Feb. 17-20," he said. He said representatives of the play had met recently with the Branson Area Receptive Association, a tourism services group in Branson, Mo. "They were indeed receptive to our ideas," Butler said.
Butler said various projects to raise additional money for the Passion Play were in development.
"One example would be marketing the play toward events already going on in the city," he said. "During the motorcycle season, particular the big weekends, we will offer 2-for-1 tickets for bikers and their companions. Or -- as an example of what's known as 'piggyback' marketing -- on Facebook, people can 'like' the statue of Jesus, and for a donation fund the lights for a certain number of days in memory of loved ones. It is a way to keep the statue lit for everyone to see, and to give people a way to directly express their support in a way so they see where their donation is going."
Christy said preparations for opening day -- and the fundraising efforts to raise the $200,000 needed to launch the season -- are well under way. "We've raised an additional $20,000 since we raised the initial $75,000 for the bank," he said. "All our daily bills are caught up."
Many, though not all, of the animals necessary to present the Passion Play have been gathered, with more to come. "The birds are here," Christy said, "and the horses and sheep are coming. We're still working on the camels."
Volunteerism will be a big part of reviving the play, Christy noted.
"On the week of March 18, during Spring Break, we will be bringing in members of our missions team from several affiliated churches to participate in the 'Save the Passion Play' mission trip," Christy said. "For the past six years they have gone to Mexico as part of their missions work, but this year they will be coming here to paint, clean, renovate the sets, anything we can do to get things ready for the next season."
The season opens Friday, May 3.