Viewers have been anticipating Director Christian Stueckl's take on the Oberammergau Passion Play with excitement. Now, the text of the play is printed, and one thing is clear: It's taking a new direction this year.
Christian Stueckl is both director and an Oberammergau native
"I don't want to be another Mel Gibson," said Christian Stueckl of his approach as director at this year's Oberammergau Passion Play. The celebrated portrayal of Jesus' crucifixion has been staged every 10 years in the Bavarian village of Oberammergau for nearly 400 years.
But tradition doesn't preclude change, and Stueckl has already gained a reputation as one of the biggest reformers in the play's history. The director wonders why "Jesus is always so completely reduced to suffering" and has planned a production that focuses more on Jesus' message in the political context of its time and less on violence and suffering, as in Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ."
Stueckl features Jesus' Sermon on the Mount at the beginning of the play. He also modifies the presentation of Judas and figures like Caiaphas from the Jewish high court that convicted Jesus of blasphemy. Stueckl's version depicts Caiaphas not as a murderer but as a theologian deeply concerned about Jewish law and the well-being of his people.
Hit by the recession
Change is also coming from outside Oberammergau this year as the financial crisis makes its effect apparent on ticket sales. From the US alone, 50,000 tickets have already been returned and are now being resold.
With an opening date of May 15, time is running out to turn a big profit on the play's 31-million-euro ($41-million) budget.
The play's organizers will also scramble in the remaining weeks to finish some essential preparations. Some 600 costumes remained unfinished less than a month before the premiere, and the play's scenes featuring large crowds require last-minute daily rehearsals.
On the pulse of the times
Many models were developed to help plan this year's production
In contrast to the economic crisis, many of those involved with the play feel unthreatened by the problems facing the church in the wake of this year's sex abuse scandal. A monastery school in Ettal, a town near Oberammergau, has been implicated in the scandal that has prompted a sharp upswing in the number of people leaving the church during recent weeks in Germany.
In fact, part of the reason the Oberammergau Passion Play enjoys such a long tradition is that it has always stayed on the pulse of the times, said the play's second director, Otto Huber.
For example, 2010 marks the first year ever that two Oberammergau citizens of Turkish heritage will be in the play. People with Turkish roots now form Germany's largest migrant group, while adherents of Islam are the largest minority religious group in Germany.
Stueckl regards the passion plays as not being exclusively the province of the church. "Every viewer takes from the experience what he perceives," he said. Nonetheless, collectively saying the Lord's Prayer before each performance remains an important ritual to the director.
Author: Bayerischer Rundfunk (gsw)
Editor: Kate Bowen