"The Great Passion Play" in Eureka Springs has closed permanently, the Lovely County Citizen reports. The play and the 167 acres on which it was staged and on which the iconic Christ of the Ozarks statue sits were owned by the nonprofit Elna Smith Foundation. Citing anonymous sources, the Lovely County Citizen reports that the foundation owes $1.2 million in mortgage payments. It also owes $35,600 in back taxes and property penalties to Carroll County.
Often described as the country's best attended outdoor drama, "The Great Passion Play" told the story of the last days of Christ's life with a large cast of locals and animals. The play had suffered a dip in attendance in recent years.
One employee told the Lovely County Citizen that the largest attendance the GPP enjoyed in 2012 was about 1,000 people in one night over War Eagle Fair weekend; a few years ago, explained Ezra Hodgson, who worked sound for the play, attendance of 3,000 was routine, nearly filling up the venue's 4,000 seats.
In September, "Passional Play" officials put out a news release saying that the play faced closure without additional funding. The Times spoke to Sam Ray, executive director of the play, at the time.
He said numbers had "stabilized" in 2011 and 2012 to the point that revenue would probably be off only about 1 percent this year. But he said earlier borrowing in hard times had left the organization with no place to turn for further credit and no reserves. "We will complete the season," he said. "At the end of the season, we'll run an evaluation of where we are." He said the national effort for contributions was critical. And he said he wanted small donors as much as large donors. "I want individuals to send me $1," he said. "If enough send me $1, we'll make it over this hump."
He said the organization was current on its bills and cutting costs every way possible, including with a skeleton crew off-season and volunteer help. But he warned, "Come January 1, if we don't have the money to continue, we'll shut the doors."
Cornerstone Bank president and CEO Charles Cross told the Lovely County Citizen that the bank had begun an "amicable foreclosure."
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