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Kassandro/ Wikimedia Commons

Kassandro/ Wikimedia Commons

A town’s admirable effort for hope during dark times may have produced one of the most notable passion plays of all time.  The play has a rich history including a long kept promise and a town that maintains to show its faith to this day.

In 1633, during the Thirty Years’ War, the town of Oberammergau in Germany was suffering and dying from the bubonic plague. Claiming the lives of thousands of townspeople, the remaining citizens were desperate for any relief from the sickness.  They prayed and made a promise, out of appreciation, to produce and perform a play honoring Christ through his journey of life through suffering, death, and the resurrection if they could be relived of the curse known as the plague.

Maintaining hope and continuing prayer, it seemed that the villagers’ prayers had finally been answered. The adult death rate slowly subsided over the course of several months until there were none from the sickness.  The thankful townspeople, remembering their oath, began writing and implementing their efforts towards the production.

The play follows the final period of the life of Christ from his visit to Jerusalem to his execution by crucifixion.   It includes dramatic text and dialogue, musical and choral complements, as well as scenes that are represented by motionless actors guided with a verbal description, or also called tableaux vivants.   These are scenes from the Old Testament and are the foundation of the connection between the Old and the New Testament.

The first play was performed in 1634.  When determining where the production would be held, the town took into account that Oberammergau’s primal community church would be too small. It was eventually decided to hold the play in the graveyard of the church, which hosted the graves of the villagers who had died of the plague that once terrorized the town.

The performance remained at the location of the graves until 1820 when a stage was built at the location of where the current Passion Play Theatre resides. Over the years, accommodations have been made to update the site. Stages were built and structures that withheld the stages were modernized again and again to meet different needs based off of previous years of performances. Through all of the renovations the stage has always maintained an “open-air” concept to ensure that the sky and mountains maintain as the natural backdrop.  The overall updates made the transformation from the conventional rows of benches to comfortably cushioned seating occupying around 4,700 guests being covered by an awning. The theater was also accommodated with wheelchair accessibility and top safety precaution plans.

In 2020, plans are made for the Oberammergau passion play to debut once more. Being right on schedule, the play follows a rule of performing every ten years.  The next performance will make for the 42nd time that it will be executed in a 380 year time span with minimal interruption. The play is performed consecutively for a total of five months.  It will go on from May to October.

A lot of planning and preparation goes into a performance of this capacity. What truly makes this production prominent is that The Oberammergau Passion Play is the world’s largest amateur dramatic performance. It involves some 2,000 performers, musicians, and stage technicians. All participants of the production are residents of Oberammergau.  The participant must have either been born there or lived there for at least 20 years. They manage to make their distinguishable mark on the world of the arts by using extraordinary costumes to assist the dramatic scenes and musical numbers. Also aiding the musical numbers there is an orchestra consisting of around 60 members as well as a choir.   

The production is expecting to occupy around 500,000 guests throughout its next session. Over half of their guests are known to be international.  The play is performed in German but there is said to not be any issue with being able to understand what is going on throughout the performance. There are packaged tours that individuals often go through and over 38 different itineraries are offered by the production for different groups. The play runs for a total of five to five and a half hours. It starts at 2:30 p.m. and ends around 10:30 p.m. with a three hour intermission.  Food is served during the intermission in the theatre. It also runs once a day, every day except for Monday and Wednesday.

The level of tradition that the individuals of Oberammergau put into practice is commendable. It’s reassuring that an entire town has the ability to practice and perform their faith in such a way that people from around the entire world are seeking to travel numerous amounts of miles to share it with them. The most generous part of it all is that Oberammergau is willing to share its love and appreciation for Christ with all of their visitors and have been doing so for over 300 years.

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