The play still going after 388 years

“We have a lot of trouble with Oberammergau because the younger generation likes to have a new play and the old generation holds on [to] the older passion plays,” says Stückl. “Most tourist operators are like, ‘no you have to do the same, like 10 years back, because my audience like to see the same play’.”

Moving with the times

However, despite pushbacks, evolution has occurred. VIP guests throughout the years include Hitler, who unfortunately was a big fan. Because of that, Stückl felt it was important to ensure any potentially antisemitic readings of the material were squashed. With this in mind, the changes made include the addition of a menorah that now is placed on the table during the last supper, while at one point, Jesus holds up the Torah to the audience – all to emphasise that Jesus was Jewish.

Mayet hopes his depiction of Jesus is fitting for the times too. Much like when the play started, the world is in turmoil. If Passion Play’s Jesus needs to shout in order to be heard, then so be it.

“We want to have a Jesus who is very confident in what he’s saying,” he says. “So someone that is very loud and shouting. A lot has changed in the last 12 years. We have a totally different world situation. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And we’ve had Covid in the last two years. In 2015 and then again this year we had the refugee crisis in Europe. So, there’s a deep need for Jesus to be louder again.”

It’s understandable that this play, a once a decade rarity, has become a pilgrimage for both believers and those who simply appreciate an epic show. As audience members, we love seeing passion, but perhaps even more, we’re drawn to stories of families. And while it’s easy to visually trace physical genealogical similarities among the actors, the Oberammergau passion play is also the story of “chosen family” – of a group of people who share in deep love and support for each other despite not being biologically related. As local resident and performer Otto Huber (who laughs and says, “they tell me I’m 75” when asked his age), explains, it is that factor that has kept him participating year after year – something he’ll continue as long as he’s able.

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