Wednesday, 16 June 2010

A special kind of play

One of the many beautiful Oberammergau wood carvings taken by me. Artist unknown.

I’ve gone AWOL again, this time to the beautiful town of Pertisau in the Tyrol, Austria and a couple of days in the delightful village of Oberammergau in Germany. The trip was planned two years ago by my best friend and me. It seems like a long wait for a trip but this was due to the fact that the trip included a special theatre visit. We had organised to see the renowned Oberammergau Passion Play. There is a waiting list of two years for tickets to see this particular play. It is performed every ten years as per tradition and custom of the area. It had been on my ‘to see and do list’ for some time now and this year, 2010 was the year! I recall my parents going to Oberammergau some thirty years ago when I was a student at university.

The Oberammergau Passion Play originates from a vow made by the people of the village in the year 1633. It was during this time that many people in the region died as a result of the Black Death. The people vowed to portray the ‘Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ’ every ten years. Having made this particular pledge not one person in the village of Oberammergau died of the Black Death.

What’s so special about this play is that at least half the village (2500 people) are involved in the production, children as young as three and adults as old as ninety. Occasionally several members from one family may be involved in the production. All the actors are volunteers and prepare for the play at least a year before the season starts. Men will grow their hair long and acquire beards for their respective roles long before the season starts in the May. The season finishes in October and the play is performed five days a week. That’s a lot of rehearsals and performances.

To witness a production of the Oberammergau Passion Play is truly a wonderful experience. The choir, the music and the cast capture the drama, emotion and dignity of this story in the most fitting of ways. The setting, the ever changing scenes and the costumes capture the atmosphere of the event beautifully. Minutes into the performance I felt that I was no longer a spectator but someone caught up in the story of the time. The whole performance took us through varying levels of emotion. I was pleased that the two year wait for tickets was worth it. I would certainly recommend adding it to your ‘places to see’ list for 2020 and remember to book in plenty of time.

Ludwig Modl (theological advisor of the Oberammergau Passion Plays) wrote,

‘Once again they (the people) keep the vow of their ancestors in a way that remains true to the original promise. The play of redemption seeks to capture the fears and longings of the people of our times and gives them the kind of hope offered by faith. Consequently, the play is not a museum-like folk theatre, it is a theatre of the people for the people that reaches deep into life and seeks to convey hope.

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