New Fathom Event 'The Thorn' a Visually Dynamic Portrayal of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Scene from “The Thorn” Fathom movie event
There have been scores of plays over the years dedicated to demonstrating the brutal last days on earth of Jesus Christ. Many of these Passion events have been transformational in their approach to presenting the Gospel, others providing a workmanlike representation of events but not transcendent.
One theatrical presentation of the Passion that has consistently stood out over the last 25 years is called The Thorn. With its origins in Colorado Springs, Colorado and featuring 50 world-class performers, The Thorn has played to more than 1 million people during that time, with 150,000 making a commitment of faith after seeing it.
Known as the play where Cirque du Soleil meets the Passion, The Thorn tells the transformative story of Christ’s life, crucifixion, and resurrection through the lens of aerial acts, movement arts, and modern dance.
Now, The Thorn comes to the big screen as a Fathom Movie event on Monday, March 6th, and Tuesday, March 7th.
I recently sat down with The Thorn producer, John Bolin, to discuss how this powerful demonstration of Christ’s love began quietly in the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, how it has flourished over the years, and what viewers can expect from the cinematic spectacle showing in theaters very soon.
If you don’t mind, please share a little bit about your background and how The Thorn came to be? I understand the theatrical play goes back like 25 years or more.
The Thorn goes back 25 years. I had just moved to Colorado Springs with my wife Sarah. We moved here to open a little outdoor store. Once we settled in, I went to volunteer in my local church. I went to Oral Roberts University, so I kind of have the local church and the Gospel in my veins. I was asked to run a small college group. So, on Friday nights, we would close the front door of our little outdoor store, open the back door, and let college kids come in for small group.
And it grew. Before long, we had a couple hundred college kids showing up every Friday night. Then, the youth pastor was leaving and they asked me to be the interim youth pastor for high school and college kids. And I said, sure. So, I began to do that and the youth ministry began to grow. I wasn’t really a preacher. I don’t have a seminary degree. I’m more of a storyteller. And so I remember there was one Friday night when I was sitting on the edge of the stage after a youth meeting, and this 16-year-old girl was sitting next to me and she held out her arms. I could see where she’d been cutting up and down her arms, and she’s weeping.
I turned to her and said, you don’t have to do that because Jesus did that for you. And so, I thought, you know what? Next Wednesday night, instead of doing a sermon let’s do a drama instead. I wanted to communicate the price that Jesus paid. And I didn’t want to be gratuitous, but I wanted it to be visceral and real. That’s because I wanted young people to realize whatever you’re going through in your relationships with your family, in your own mind, in your physical body, however hard it is, Jesus understands because He’s been here and he gets us. I wanted them to know that. And I also wanted to communicate what I think is the supernatural battle for the calling of destiny and the identity of this generation.
We called it an outreach night, an impact night, and we did a drama that shows the passion of Jesus and this supernatural sort of battle for young people’s calling and destiny. That was the very first ‘Thorn’ performance. It was October 1996, and I can tell you, Chris, it was really bad. The makeup was bad. The costumes were bad. The music was not bad, just not great. However, it worked, and hundreds of young people made decisions to follow Jesus and found freedom. I think it worked because God loves it when we tell His story.
So, it grew from that little youth production to what it is today. And now we’ve got a million people who have seen the show live. We have an independent production company that tours with this production with about 50 world-class performers. We have Cirque du Soleil alumni. I think the reason it’s grown and the reason people come back to it every year is because we’re telling the story in a way that people have never experienced before. It connects and because we built it years ago for high school and college kids, it’s designed to be exciting, to be emotional, to be gripping, to keep your attention for two hours.
Why do you think this production has flourished so much over the years, to the point where in the coming days, audiences across the nation will be able to see this in a movie theater?
It’s not a traditional musical. The characters don’t sing. There is live singing and there’s live music, but it’s more like a Cirque du Soleil show than it is a Broadway show. There’s a narrator who tells the story that weaves the whole thing together, and we captured it. I can take the story of how we captured this on film or why that even began. In 2020, The Thorn was going on the road. We did two cities on our tour, and then we were shut down. And then, in 2021, we were dark, so The Thorn didn’t tour at all. I had done a couple of things with Dallas Jenkins a few years before, and I was watching what was happening with The Chosen blowing up around the world specifically.
I saw what he did with The Chosen in movie theaters over Christmas in 2021. And I remember thinking to myself, I wonder if we could capture “The Thorn” on film, and that might be a way for the story to continue? Because at that point, we didn’t know if live theater would ever come back. We didn’t know if people were going to go back to concerts or movies. But we knew that if we could capture it on video, then we could deliver it to people in their homes and they could still watch it. So we called Fathom Events and we asked if they would be open to it? And they said they were excited about the idea of doing a “Thorn” Fathom event. And so, we recorded the film last March in Denver and Colorado Springs.
This production has been called, The Passion of the Christ meets Cirque du Soleil. One thing that does seem to set The Thorn apart are the aerial acts, movement, arts, and modern dance. Was this a conscious decision on your part to go this route, or did it just sort of organically happen over time?
It’s a little bit of both. First of all, Chris, I can’t take credit for anything that The Thorn has done. And that’s not just false humility. I’m not that smart. I’m not that creative. We’ve had an incredible team around us. God has directed every step. My wife has carried the load over the years and years of doing this production. I get to be the guy on interviews like this, but there’s an incredible team that makes it happen. I can tell you, there was a moment when my wife and I saw Cirque du Soleil for the first time in Las Vegas. There’s a show called “O”, which is like a water type Cirque show. I saw this production, and I remember being so deeply moved. I’m an artsy kind of guy anyway, so that’s not surprising.
But I was moved by the combination of music, stagecraft, costumes, makeup and the incredible music surrounding us. And then I thought to myself, this is not even a redemptive story. This is just Cirque doing what Cirque does. And if I can be this moved without words, there were no speaking parts, there were no singing parts. It’s just music and movement. But it still told a story of sorts. So I thought, if I can be this moved watching this, what could we do with the story of God and using movement arts? And so we were able to get really high quality performers to help us begin to explore dance, gymnastics, aerial acrobatics, and martial arts and use those as part of the storytelling mechanism. And so it just happened to be the right thing at the right time and the right people, which to me is only something God can do.
Why is right now the right time for The Thorn to be presented as a movie on the big screen? Why is the timing perfect at this moment?
It’s interesting because I think that’s the right word. This is perfect timing. God is never late. He’s always on time. He’s not always on our time schedule, but he’s on His time schedule, which is just right. I think right now in the body of Christ at large, there is a hunger for and a leaning into the story of Jesus. I think Dallas (Jenkins) has done such an incredible job with The Chosen that globally you’ve got hundreds of millions of views of that story, and people are wanting more. And so for us, it’s kind of perfect that the end of Season Three of The Chosen is right before the beginning of ours. So, all those people that are looking for something else now, they can find another Jesus story that’s well done, but told in a different medium on stage instead of on the television screen. So, I think just at large, the quality of Christian entertainment is rising to the occasion right now. And if we can be an echo of that on the stage, then we want to be part of that, of that clarion call to tell the story of Jesus and to reflect Biblical principles, not just with storytelling, but with great storytelling.
What is one thing or a few things that God has taught you over the 25 years plus of producing The Thorn? You’ve been intimately involved with this production, I’m sure you’ve learned some valuable ‘God lessons’ along the way. Could you share a little bit about that?
There was a period about five years ago when I wanted to give up, not just because The Thorn was dark, but because it had taken so much of my time, energy, and financial resources. I was at the end of myself, and I didn’t think I could continue. It’s easy to jump in for all the volunteers and performers, and it’s exciting, but then after The Thorn‘s over every year, there’s a stack of bills that we have to pay, and that’s hard. It’s emotionally draining. So, I went through some pretty hard years of feeling like I just can’t keep doing this, wanting to give up, and walk away. My wife said, “We’re going to stick with this. We’re going to be faithful to this story and faithful to what God’s doing.”
Trust God. Don’t listen to that voice of the enemy. I think the enemy coming in wants to steal, kill, and destroy God’s plan and destiny and calling on our lives. So, for young creatives especially, it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy when resistance comes along to feel like you just want to give up. And I think keeping that calling in mind is important, surrounding yourself with the right people, that’s a big one. Finding the right people around you. I’ve heard it said before that you become the sum total of the five people you’re closest to. You begin to reflect them.
After people have seen The Thorn, either at the Fathom movie event or your touring production, what would you like to see audiences take away from that experience? What’s your greatest hope for this film and for this production?
My greatest hope is one of two things. If they are unfamiliar with the story, if they’re unfamiliar with the Gospel, then of course my greatest hope is that they encounter Jesus face to face, fall into His arms, and they follow Him. Or, at least they begin to ask questions. We want them to ask questions and then leave The Thorn and find them. Maybe find the person that brought you and ask questions of faith. I want people that are outside the circle of faith to encounter Jesus. But number two, I would love for believers that come to The Thorn to reignite their passion for the Lord, and remember why they chose to follow Him to begin with. I hope they’ll take the Cross. Go to the Cross and then take the Cross to the world.
Tickets are on sale now at Fathom Events or at participating theater box offices. For a complete list of theater locations, visit www.fathomevents.com.
WATCH A TRAILER FOR “THE THORN”: