Oberammergau preparing the Passion Play | DW Travel | DW | 15.03.2018
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Oberammergau preparing the Passion Play

It's a centuries-old tradition: Casting for the renowned Passion Play in Oberammergau in Bavaria have begun. The Christian spectacle recreates the last five days of Jesus. The premiere is in May 2020.

Preparations for the 2020 Passion Play in Oberammergau is entering a hot phase. "At the moment, we are establishing who is entitled to join and which residents want to act in it," said artistic director Christian Stückl. Only those who were born and raised in the Upper Bavarian community of 5,000 inhabitants or who have already lived there for 20 years are allowed to participate.

Oberammergau (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Kneffel)

Passion Play Theater in Oberammergau

Since a vow back in 1633, Oberammergau has organized the Passion Play, as a rule every 10 years. After one year of rehearsals, more than 2,000 inhabitants of the village, including 450 children, take part. They play small roles or are in the choir or the orchestra at the theater, which was built especially for this purpose. A total of 103 performance days are planned from May 16 to October 4, 2020. Some 500,000 visitors are expected.

Oberammergau (picture-alliance/dpa)

The Last Supper scene at the Oberammergau Passion Play with Anton Preisinger playing the role of Jesus Christ (1960)

Cast to be announced

In October, Stückl wants to announce the main actors. Text, music and stage design will also be revised to focus on the current meaning of the story of the Passion. "It's important that the play always reflects the times we live in," Stückl said. Rehearsals are scheduled to begin in November 2019.

Starting on Ash Wednesday 2019, as established by tradition, all participants will let their hair grow, and men also let their beards grow.

The 2020 performance will mark the fourth time that the 56-year-old director will take charge of the play. For the first time, his assistant is a Muslim. The 27-year-old Abdullah Kenan Karaca, who used to live in Oberammergau, was already involved as an actor in the Passion Play. Stückl stressed the "great enthusiasm" shown by everyone taking part. Although they are compensated for their expenses, they also invest time from their annual vacation and many weekends. Most particularly, the actors playing the 20 leading roles show a lot of dedication.

Oberammergau (picture-alliance/dpa/T. Hase)

Picture from the Passion Play rehearsals 2010

According to the mayor of Oberammergau, Arno Nunn, the municipality plans to invest around €7 million in the theater complex. The stage technology is to be modernized and seating installed. Nearly half a million spectators from all over the world are expected to attend the more than 100 performances at the Passion Play Theater, which counts over 4,500 seats.

Oberammergau (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Munker)

Director Stückl and press spokesman Frederik Mayet on a Oberammergau Passion Play promotion tour in San Fransisco

Advertising around the world

There is still a fair amount of time before the premiere in May 2020. But Oberammergau is already strongly promoting its 42nd Passion Play, in the USA as well. "Here people understand what a Passion Play is, and strangely most Americans can manage to pronounce Oberammergau," Stückl jokes. "We have an incredible tradition; we tell the world’s greatest story by putting an entire village with over 2,000 people on the stage." Promotions also aim to attract visitors from Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, France and India.

Stückl attributes the first early influx of foreign visitors to the British tourism pioneer Thomas Cook in 1890. In the year 2000, English-speaking viewers purchased 70 percent of the tickets but in 2010 this figure dropped to around 50 percent.

Oberammergau (picture-alliance/dpa/T. Hase)

Cruxifiction scene from the Oberammergau Passion Play with Barbara Dobner in the part of Mary Magdalene

The Oberammergau Passion Play is hundreds of years old. It dates back to a vow made in 1633 when the plague raged in most of Europe. At that time, the people of Oberammergau promised to perform the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ every 10th year to stop the plague. The village's prayers were answered and the first performance of the Passion Play took place in 1634.

is/ch (kna, dpa)