Sleeping lions and waiting snakes


"Snakes in a box" has been written in felt-tip pen on a large wooden box in the building yard behind the Passion Play Theatre. Probably the snakes from the snake pit are stored here, waiting to be used in one of the so called Living Pictures, the tableaux vivants. They are in the best of company: the golden calf is right next to them, and a "cave" was built for the lions so that they can survive the wait for the Passion 2022 with their fur intact, explains Elena Scheicher, an assistant to set designer Stefan Hageneier. The boards with the Ten Commandments lean against the wall.

After the cancellation of the 2020 Play, costumes, props and stage sets, most of which had already been produced, were carefully stored away. Now work has started again in Oberammergau. Employees in stage construction and tailoring have returned to the workshops and are starting to prepare for 2022. And although work was already well underway when the Covid lockdown came, there is still a lot to do. All 2000 participants have to come back for a fitting. Some have had a baby in the meantime, others have put on a little weight in the lockdown, explains Ines Kern in the tailor's shop, where she is currently pinning the pattern for a choir costume onto a sheet of black fabric. In summary: everybody has to be measured again, the costumes have to be adjusted if necessary. The approximately one hundred choir members have already been there, the others are arriving bit by bit. The children and adolescents' clothes don't fit any more anyway: "In the last two years, some girls have become women, some boys have become men," says Frederik Mayet, who shows me around backstage. So for them, the costumes have to be completely reassigned. That's why the children will be the last to be called in for fittings. After all, it's still half a year until the opening night, so there will certainly be a few more centimetres to work on. There is still enough fabric, some of the bales that Stefan Hageneier ordered in India and Turkey are still stored on the shelves. The finished costumes hang on clothes rails, next to them the armours for the Romans are lined up.

In the corridors behind the stage, the lances and shields are also waiting to be used. For all those who have difficulty walking, there are wooden crutches made in the proper style. Thousands of sandals are stored in boxes, which were bought in a bulk purchase in Jerusalem and still have to be distributed. Anna Schories is currently working on the long lists of participants, updating who will no longer be taking part in 2022 and who is new. Whilst some are no longer able to take part for organisational or health reasons, and some have deceased, others have joined. After the postponement of two years, they now fulfil the strict right to play, which stipulates that one must live in the village for 20 years before being allowed to take part in the Play.

As we step through the hall door into the open air, the frame for one of the living pictures is being delivered with a forklift truck: One by one, these are now all set up on stage, tweaked and optimised. Due to the shift, these elements are ready earlier than usual. Stefan Hageneier wants to use the time gained to improve the visual aspects and Carsten Lück, the technical director, fine-tunes the technical aspects with his team. After all, the scene changes are, in a way, the needle's eye of the play: Within a few minutes, the wagon with the Living Picture has to be pushed backstage and set up. Once the calf, snakes and lions are in place, the performers have to quickly get into position before the curtain opens. It's a matter of seconds - and of course every relief in the set-up and deconstruction is a benefit.

The Passion Play Theatre stage will be full again in February. Then the rehearsals for the 42nd Passion Play with the people of Jerusalem will begin. Until then, sewing, painting and tinkering will be going on in the background.

Text: Anne Fritsch

Photos: Anne Fritsch