ROCHESTER — If silence is golden, on the night of April 12 St. Ambrose Church was a gold mine. Or possibly a gold mime.
About 200 people gathered at the church that night to witness a riveting performance of “The Passion Mime” by eighth-graders from Siena Catholic Academy in Brighton. Sixteen students in whiteface makeup — accentuated by crosses, question marks and other symbols — used the entire church as their stage, performing the Way of the Cross, by processing around the seating areas.
The crowd maintained a respectful silence as the performers used body movements, set to music, to portray the Passion. However, once the performance ended, and the lights went up in the church, the Siena students became what any normal group of teenagers would be — a talkative, giggling and excited mass of youthful energy, especially when asked about their roles in the Passion.
Scott Levy, a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Brighton, wore a Superman shirt in his portrayal of Jesus, a role for which he had been selected by his fellow students.
“I felt proud if I can mimic Jesus’ suffering and Jesus’ pain,” Scott said. “It felt good to be representing Jesus because Jesus is our savior and he saved us from death and sin.”
Like several of the other students, Scott noted that it was somewhat difficult to wear the sticky mime makeup on his face, and to maintain the proper solemnity throughout the performance.
“I felt I had to be perfect because I felt like all eyes were on me,” he said.
Clare Kreckel, a parishioner at Christ the King Church in Irondequoit, played Mary, a woman she said she felt honored to portray.
“It felt cool filling such big shoes,” she said.
Lauren Piluso, who also attends Christ the King, portrayed a woman who helped Veronica wipe the face of Jesus as his carried his cross.
“It felt good to comfort her,” Lauren said.
Veronica was a brave woman, added the girl who portrayed her, Molly Clemens, a member of St. Rita Church in Webster.
“Veronica wasn’t afraid to stand out in the crowd … when other people were afraid to,” Molly said.
Not all of the students got to play heroic roles. Kyle Steenberge, who attends St. Louis Church in Pittsford, said it was “weird” but interesting playing one of the soldiers who drove nails into the hands of Jesus. Nina Rizk, who attends Queen of Peace, also played a soldier, and said participating in the play changed her view of Holy Week.
“I really understand the story more, getting to be a part of it,” she said. “What Jesus went through (is) more intense for me now.”
That feeling was shared by Amy Skuse of Queen of Peace and Chloe Doyle, who attends Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Brighton. Like Kyle and Nina, both girls played soldiers.
“I think it was good because we all got to realize what Jesus went through, and you actually could see what was happening,” Chloe said.
Alison LeChase, director of youth ministry for the Winton-Culver Catholic Community, which comprises St. Ambrose, St. John the Evangelist on Humboldt Street, and St. James in Irondequoit, oversaw the production of the Passion Mime, and said she was pleased with the students’ performance.
“It was phenomenal because the kids were able to take this Lenten journey and share it with their community,” LeChase said.
In addition to the students from Siena, the production was supported by Siena alumni currently attending Aquinas Institute, Bishop Kearney High School in Irondequoit and Our Lady of Mercy High School in Brighton. Jeff Tatanus, a senior at Aquinas Institute who hails from St. Rita in Webster, put together the music for the performance. He selected songs from the musicals “Godspell” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” as well as some composed by various contemporary Christian artists.
In addition to commemorating the suffering of Jesus, Jeff said the mime performance was dedicated to Elizabeth Williams, who died last August. A 2002 Siena graduate, Elizabeth had performed in the Passion Mime, Jeff said.
“She really was a poet and an artist,” Jeff said. “I’m sure she would’ve appreciated all these eighth-graders putting their talents to use to serve the Lord.”