The Passion Play - Oberammergau 2020
Passion Play director Christian Stückl shares his thoughts on the tradition of the Passion Play and how he came to be involved with the play.
What is the Passion Play about?
The Passion Play, which has been played here in Oberammergau since 1634, tells the story of the suffering of Jesus Christ. Traditionally starting with the entry into Jerusalem, covering the Last Supper, the capture, the sentence and the crucifixion and finally, the resurrection.
Who is allowed to be on stage at the Passion Play?
The right to play was introduced in Oberammergau in 1910. Until then, anyone who wanted to play was allowed to. But at one point, the village had become too large and a right to play was invented that allowed those who were born here or had been living here for at least ten years to participate. After the Second World War, a high number of people arrived in Oberammergau so that the ten-year-limit was extended to 20 years. About 3000 of the 5000 inhabitants hold the right to play; last time, more than 2000 people participated, that’s more than 60 percent. I don’t know yet how many will take part this time.
Who decides who will play which role?
In early 2018, everyone will receive a questionnaire in which they can express their wishes: I want to be on or behind the stage, I want to be a scene shifter or I want to receive people outside - all these requests can be made. I will collect all of them, but the final decision will be made by myself and the conductor, because this is the second important aspect: Of course, the conductor will choose his musicians. I will decide on the rest. We have the tradition of letting our hair and beard grow long for the Passion Play. This rule seems to be a challenge for some 30 to 40 year old men because they think that these might be the last years that any woman will look at them, so they all want to be Romans, because for those roles the beard decree doesn’t apply.
How did you come to the Passion Play?
Many factors play into this … First of all, I grew up in this village. The Passion Play was very important in our family, in our restaurant. We hosted a regulars’ table for all passion actors; my father was Caiaphas, my grandfather was Caiaphas. When I was a child, I used to think that this was a hereditary thing, that I would also become Caiaphas one day. At the time, I went by the nickname of Bühnenschreck, the ‘director’s nightmare’, because I staged myself into every scene. I joined in scenes where there were no children at all. We talked a lot about the Passion Play at home. Even as a child, I realised that the Passion Play is criticised, so I started asking questions. In 1970 there was a huge conflict in our village about reforming the Play. At the time, I discovered that for me, the most exciting thing is not playing a role, but showing a way where things might go. As young as 15, I decided to become play director.
How did that happen?
When I was a child, my main interest was not theology, the interpretation of the bible or the story behind the Passion Play. I was more interested in the technical aspects: How do we get the blood onto Jesus’ hands, how do we hammer nails into his hands, how does the spear work, how does the horse or the donkey get on stage? I was always in the alto wardrobe, with the female singers, they always had cake. In 1977, the ‘reformation attempt’, as it is called, when a man from Oberammergau attempted to bring a new play to the stage ‒ that’s when I realised for the first time what you can achieve on a stage. I saw that you have to take people on board and to lead them towards a story. That you can underscore this with an image, with music, with the colours of the costumes. Suddenly, I was interested in all the exterior aspects, I didn’t want to stand on stage like my father or my grandfather; I just realised what doing theatre means. I basically made myself assistant director, always looking at the stage from the outside, thinking about what I could do. So one thing led to another…
The Passion Play goes back to a pledge of 1633. How much do you want to preserve and maintain and how much do you want to carry over into the here and now?
In 1633, under very serious circumstances, the people of Oberammergau pledged: If God freed them from the Plague, they would act out the Passion Play once every 10 years. These kinds of pledges occurred all over Bavaria in hundreds of different places; during the era of Baroque, there were 400 Passion Plays in Bavaria. Our Play has remained, but here in Oberammergau, as early as in the 17th and 18th century every generation had a new text, a new theatre building, new stage designs. So there have always been attempts to carry the Passion Play over to a new generation, to a new time. Only with the rise of tourism in the early 20th century did people suddenly begin being weary of change. And when I took over the Passion Play it was very important for me to take the tradition with me into the world of today, to keep questioning it. It’s the only way to keep it alive.
What will be different and new for the 2020 Passion Play?
You can only put a good story on stage if you re-establish the feeling of connection among the people. If you manage to move away from conflicts and towards a mutual effort. To do this, you need everyone - the person outside who tears off the tickets and directs people to their seats. The person who helps out behind the stage. And, of course, the actors. This feeling of connection will hopefully establish itself like it always does. But where will the Passion Play go? I don’t know yet, I can only speak for myself: I keep dealing with the person of Jesus again and again. At 25, when I acted as play director for the first time, Jesus had to be a revolutionary. Loud and powerful. In the 2010-Play I was inspired by a phrase from the Gospel according to Matthew which had caught my attention : “neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets”: Suddenly, I think that Jesus might be a very calm, introvert person. So you’re constantly looking for your own current conception of Jesus.
Courtesy of Passion Play 2020 Director - Christian Stück,
Albatross Tours will be offering an exciting range of European touring packages featuring the 2020 Oberammergau Passion Play. Tours will range from 5 to 22 days in length with all tour packages featuring Premium Category 1 ‘best in house’ seating for the Passion.
Contact us to request your copy of Passion Play tour brochure.