May 15 marks the opening of the Oberammergau Passion Play. The event draws big crowds and hefty revenue to a tiny village in southern Germany. This year, director Christian Stueckl also introduces big script changes.
Men in Oberammergau start growing their beards well in advance of the play
Time is running out to prepare for this year's Oberammergau Passion Play in Bavaria, but fortunately the town has been getting ready for months. Many of the play's actors have been growing their beards for an entire year leading up to the play's May 15 premiere.
Director Christian Stueckl has promised an extraordinary season for the passion play that has been performed every decade for nearly four centuries. Stueckl developed an "entirely new appearance" for the stage that goes well beyond his actors' bushy beards. He designed a set together with scenographer Stefan Hageneier that draws on influences from the last production's lush, colorful costumes in 2000.
The play's content will also undergo certain modifications under Stueckl's direction. Earlier, he said, he was interested in looking at Jesus as a revolutionary figure, but this year's production will examine "the consequences and comportment of Jesus' life up until his crucifixion."
One thing remains the same, though, since the last two times Stueckl has directed the event: The passion play will be presented in standard High German rather than in dialect.
It takes a village…
About 4,700 viewers can find seats in the Oberammergau theater
The Oberammergau performances exemplify the phrase "community theater." Nearly 2,500 of the town's inhabitants, roughly half of its total population, will be on stage this year. That's 300 more than in the 2000 production, said Stueckl.
They will also have the chance to get to know their roles very well. The town will stage a little over a hundred performances between opening night on May 15 and the play's close on October 3.
Not every citizen is permitted to appear on stage, though. Participants face strict requirements for selection in a process that includes the director as well as the town council. For instance, all actors must have been born in Oberammergau or lived there for at least 20 years to take part.
Big production, big profits
For their hard work, the town expects to draw in a heavy reward. Estimates for this year's revenues are around 25 million euros ($33 million) above the production's 30 million euro budget.
More than half a million visitors are expected this season - with about half of the visitors coming in from other countries to take in the Passion Play.
Those may seem like big numbers for such a small town, but the director and his deputy director Otto Huber are accustomed by now to the play's demands and rewards. Both men were born in Oberammergau and celebrate their third decade in their respective roles with this year's production.
Author: Bayerischer Rundfunk (gsw)
Editor: Kate Bowen