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The Oberammergau Passion Play

The Obergammergau Passion Play is a passion about suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. It has been performed in Obergammergau, Germany every year ending in “0” since 1634 with only a few interruptions and/or additions. This version written by Othmar Weis, J A Daisenberger, Otto Huber, Christian Stückl, Rochus Dedler, Eugen Papst, Marcus Zwink, Ingrid H Shafer, and the inhabitants of Oberammergau, with music by Dedler is a composite of four distinct manuscripts dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. It is the earliest continuous survivor of the age of Christian Drama.

The Play, the Plot, the People and Its Orchestra

Play

As changed in 2010 is presented in eleven acts, also known as presentations. The presentations 1 to 5 form the first part, which began at 2:30 pm. After a three-hour-break, presentations 6 to 11 followed at 8 pm. The performance ends at about 11 pm. It comprises alternating forms of spoken introductions, drama and the special feature of the tableaux vivants (living images), a format kept from the 18th century.

Plot

With the new staging in 2010, the holistic story of the Gospel, particularly the tidings of Jesus and his conception of Man, received additional attention. For this purpose, the play directors Christian Stückl and Otto Huber completely reviewed and supplemented the text of the Passion Play together with the theological consultant of the Passion Play, Professor Ludwig Mödl with Jesus’ focus on each individual, showing Him as having a strong connection to the Jewish tradition, and showing Pilatus’ role as rather a faction of a group of opponents of Jesus.

People

Only those who have been born and raised in Oberammergau or have lived in the village for at least 20 years can become part of the Passion Play cast. Everyone involved must be a citizen of Oberammergau, from the controlling officer at the gates of the Passion Theatre to the scene shifter behind the stage.

For the people of Oberammergau, the economic impact of having about 500,000 visitors for the play including a few days’ stay for five months of the year is enormous. The expression “Die Passion zahlt”, (“The Passion Play will pay for it”) explains how the community could afford its civic improvements, not to mention the salaries, restaurants, hotels, businesses, etc.

Orchestra

The living images covering about one third of the performance are presented along with observational and interpretational choir songs accompanied by the orchestra and usually create a typological reference to the Old Testament at the beginning of each act. These are devotional images that allow the audience to pause and reflect. There will be 55 instrumentalists comprised of a classic arrangement of woodwinds, brass, timpani and string players. The conductor chooses his players from the people of the city.

The Actors and Directing Team

Christian Stückl will be the director for the fourth year in a row that chooses the 2-3,000 resident actors (more than 60% of the population). Stückl talks about his innovations: “In Oberammergau the rules governing who was allowed to perform in the plays were very restrictive until 1990 . . . Where is this story going and what do we want in telling it? The work I do must have to do with my time; you have to try to be in your time, take things forward and to anchor them in the society in which we live, whether you’re working on a play about ISIS or The Tempest by Shakespeare.” This meant including Muslims and clearing anti-Semitism from the play.

Watch the trailer:

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