Monday, August 16, 2010

Oberammergau Passion Play 2010

Oberammergau... so much to think about and digest about the passion play that has been associated with the village for the last 376 years!  I first became aware of it 20-30 years ago and have wanted to see it ever since.  It's quite an investment in time and money though -- and that is reflected in the audience composition; lots of gray hair to be seen.  I felt like quite a youngster!  On the day of the play I did see some small groups of young backpackers, some families with teenagers, and a scattering of young adults like myself but the majority was certainly tour groups with older people.  One lady explained that it's because this age group has the disposable income to put into a trip like that, and also realize that if they wait 10 years for the next play, they may not be alive or mobile to make it!  I met with Britons who had popped over the channel for the weekend to see the play, Germans who were visiting friends in the area and were given tickets, other German-speaking people who made the pilgrimage to see the play, and Americans and Asians who were there with tour groups.  

OK, for those who are wondering, what is the Oberammergau passion play?  Oberammergau is a small village in the Bavarian Alps, Germany (about 5000 people).  The passion play is inextricably linked with the history of Europe and the Black Death, or Plague, that decimated the continent in the 1600s.  The story is that in 1633, the plague came to Oberammergau.  The villagers prayed for deliverance from the plague and made a vow that they would perform a passion play (showing the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus) every 10 years forever after.  The deaths from plague ceased and the villagers kept their vow, mounting the first performance of the passion play in 1634 on a stage built over the graves of the plague victims.  The villagers' descendants have kept that vow ever since and the play has been performed, more or less every 10 years with few exceptions, ever since.  This year, 2010, it had its 41st showing.  Their website (click here) contains more historical information and further details about the play.

The front of the Passion Play Theatre
The village keeps the play "in the family":  only those who have been born in Oberammergau or lived there for at least 20 years can participate in the play.  There is no attempt to show the play outside of the village.  A 4700-seat playhouse has been built to house the play every 10 years.

The play is inextricably linked with the life and history of the village, with families involved generation after generation.  The current dramaturg of the play, Otto Huber, mentioned that he had an ancestor who died in the plague, and another who was one of the actors in the first passion play.  His family has been involved ever since.  Villagers can start their involvement as children, playing children in the crowd scenes of the play, or play in the orchestra, sing in the chorus, help backstage or audition for larger roles.  Someone who plays a child one year may play the disciple John 10 years later, Jesus 10 years after that, then Caiaphas 10 years later.  The village priest told me that the villagers often identify events in their lives by the passion play:  "We were married during the 2000 passion play."  When asked about the relationship between faith and tradition in performing the passion play today, the answer I invariably got was that it was impossible to separate them.  There are some for whom the play is definitely a faith journey and an expression of their personal faith, and others for whom it is a tradition that they enjoy being a part of, but for all it is an inherent part of who they are as a village.

Continued in the next post!....

1 comment:

  1. Hi Julisa, Allison and I attended PPlay in 2000 and found it to be an excellent and compelling encounter! Since you are/were in Germany, that means for Europe you are not so far from us in France, 15 kms. from Basel. I had myself added to your e-letter list (disregard my e-mail requesting that). I was also able to see from your blog that you are in Kenya working with Daystar. Glad to know they welcomed you. What a blessing for Africa that will be! More later, Ron Régnier (original contact thru ACT years ago)