The Thorn, a musical drama about Jesus that began 25 years ago at New Life Church and has since been seen by 250,000 local people and another million people across the country, will debut as a 740-screen film in March.
The film’s trailer will be shown nationwide Friday ahead of theatrical releases of two new episodes of The Chosen, a hugely popular TV drama about Jesus. Thorn tickets go on sale on www.fathomevents.com that day.
For John Bolin, who created a simple version of The Thorn as an illustrated sermon for his youth group in 1997, the film offers a way to reach a much larger audience with the story of Christ’s loving sacrifice after fears that COVID-19 Closures could drop the curtain on his drama forever.
Teen drama is a hit
Bolin led the Friday Night Youth Meetings in 1996 when he joined New Life staff. Over the next year, while struggling to convey the meaning of Christ’s sacrificial death to a group of teenagers, he spoke to a 16-year-old girl who had scars on her arm from cuts and self-harm.
A graduate of Oral Roberts University, which emphasizes drama in evangelism, Bolin sought to help the girl understand the abuse, caning, and scourging Christ suffered on his way to the cross.
Early versions of the drama were simple. A handful of actors, poorly made up and lit by ordinary household lamps, acted out a few short scenes interspersed with mini-sermons and music from U2 and Sting recordings. Jesus rose under a wing, not from a tomb.
But New Life leaders liked what they saw and asked Bolin to direct a more complete version of “The Thorn” for the church’s 1998 Easter outreach.
The drama was an instant success, drawing more than 10,000 viewers in its first year and repeat performances over the next decade. In the coming years the production would become more complex, with trained actors and dancers, pyrotechnics, a 30-foot rotating stage, camels and tigers, and with the help of church volunteers, a cast of 600.
The show also performed at Broadmoor World Arena and Pikes Peak Center to reach non-church audiences. Tour groups, led by Bolin’s wife Sarah, took the show to churches and venues across the country. Compassion International signed up as a tour sponsor, and attendees sponsored approximately 15,000 children in need through the Colorado Springs-based ministry.
From stage to screen
Bolin was born in South Africa to ex-hippie parents – his father Rod recorded folk music albums in the 1960s – who were converted to the faith by the charismatic Catholic revival movement.
He says God gave him his calling: “To tell stories on the page, on the stage, and on the screen.” His books include novels (“The Eden Project”) and Christian growth guides (“So Loved”, “The Two Doors of Heaven” and “Life Unlimited”). He previously produced the 2017 film The Rise of Gavin Stone.
Prior to writing The Thorn, Bolin attended a seminar with acclaimed storyteller Robert McKee. He has since added scenes and revised the score.
The film version of The Thorn was filmed in Denver last March and is in post-production in Los Angeles. The film will hit screens in March through a deal with Fathom Events, the Centennial-based distribution company founded 20 years ago by the country’s three largest cinema chains.
The film’s slated release has reinvigorated the Bolins’ vision for the drama they have supported for a quarter century.
“Sarah and I have put so much into this production over the last several decades, but it got to the point where we were tired and didn’t know we could give her any more,” said Bolin, who credits Sarah with keeping that project is running.
“God asked us to trust him to give it up and open our hands and promised to make something beautiful happen.” Thorn tickets go on sale Friday at www.fathomevents.com.