Zeke the temperamental donkey returns to the Passion Play
The Canadian Badlands Passion Play is pleased to welcome Zeke the donkey back to the stage for nine performances from July 8-24 in Drumheller.
Over the past 23 years, the Passion Play has seen eight different actors play the role of Jesus, but during that same time only three donkeys have taken on the role of carrying Jesus into Jerusalem during his triumphant entry. Since 2012, that donkey has been Ezekiel – affectionately known as “Zeke,” by his fellow actors.
Zeke is actually a Nubian burro, a breed known as “Jerusalem Donkeys” or “Christian Donkeys” due to the distinct markings on their back.
Zeke, like his ancestors for the last 6,000 years, bears a fur cross over his shoulders. An ancient legend says that the original donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday also wanted desperately to carry the cross for Jesus, and that desire was imprinted across his back and carried for all future generations.
At times, Zeke can be a bit of a prima donna and has been reluctant to walk through any puddles on stage. He also has to be careful with his diet. He has a diabetic condition and if he eats too much of the sugarrich grass on stage, his feet will hurt to the point where he will refuse to let anyone ride him.
Last year, during one performance, the actor playing Jesus had to run by himself onto the stage during the triumphant entry as Zeke “put his foot down” and would not go onstage for that show.
Like most actors, Zeke loves attention from the audience and from those around him. If you pass by his corral he will bray to get your attention, and will keep braying until you come over for a visit.
He is also protective of his animal co-stars, and will stand next to the sheep pen all night if there are coyotes in the area.
His best friend is Zar, the Arabian horse that appears in the play’s new Gospel of Luke script. Donkeys and horses don’t always get along but when a separate pen was built for Zeke a few years back, he escaped one night and went over to join Zar in the corral. That friendship continues to this day.
After borrowing Zeke for his first few seasons at the Passion Play, the play’s animal wrangler, Marlies Ohlhauser, was so taken with the gregarious donkey, that she purchased him so Zeke and Zar could stay together throughout the off-season. Her three-year-old daughter, Monroe (who also acts in the Passion Play each year), enjoys riding Zeke on trail rides as this unique donkey is also capable of wearing a harness, saddle, and bridle.
When she was just learning to talk, Monroe would say a simple prayer each night, “Thank Jesus for donkey.” At the Passion Play we are also grateful for Zeke and all the other animals that join us each year as we present “The Greatest Story Ever Told”.
Zeke the donkey returns for another year of the Canadian Badlands Passion Play, cast in the all important role of carrying Jesus into Jerusalem.