The Passion Play's Memory


You see a guy hanging on the cross, happily engaged in animated conversation. You see a donkey so tall that the actor playing Jesus needs a ladder to climb up. And you see a performer at the fitting whose hair is so long that he might as well not wear a costume at all. - Hermann Wiegand surveys his booklets of caricatures spread all over his dining room table. Reminiscing over the drawings, he recalls long-forgotten scenes, bursting out laughing at memories of Romans accidentally locked in the dressing room or mice hiding in people's shoes.

Hermann Wiegand is an Oberammergauer born and bred, a barrel painter and gilder by profession, and worked as a graphic artist for many years. And he is something like the Passion Play's official unofficial caricaturist. Although playing an extra in the 1950s and 1960s as a child and young man, he decided at some point that he was "not meant for the stage." He preferred a job backstage. In 1970, he was in charge of admissions; in 1980 and 1984 he was the local Red Cross head of operations - and since 1990 he has been the guy nobody can get past. From the first rehearsal to the last performance: he is in charge of checking every single performer's attendance. A task of gargantuan proportions, considering the Passion Play's more than 2,000 participants.

Every single participant is required to sign in with Wiegand when entering the theatre. After all, these sign-in sheets serve as payroll basis. (In 2022, attendance will be recorded electronically for the first time, with Wiegand serving as the "keeper of the reading device"). Every single day of the Play, Wiegand is the first to arrive and the last to leave. His job is to be present at the theatre two hours before the start of every performance. And at the end, he is the guy who locks up the place. "I'm something like the interface between the director and the community," he says. "If someone has a gripe, they come to me." Sitting in his box office behind the stage, Wiegand keeps track of which male and female lead is scheduled for which day of the Play; who is scheduled to put in their appearance and when. Anyone who forgets to sign in can expect a phone call from Wiegand later on that evening. Both through his glass window and on his screens, Wiegand is keeping close track of all goings-on: Who is arriving? Who is leaving? And: Did anyone sneak back out after registering? "I guess it takes one to know one," Wiegand chuckles. "It's always the same old story. I'm a nice guy, but don't try to mess with me."

That's where he draws the line. He once caught a female performer sneaking out the back exit after signing in. "That's a no-go!”. The next day, he had a word with her and warned her: "Next time I catch you, you're out." Thankfully, the vast majority of cast members are extremely reliable, so no complaints there. Even if discipline begins to waver a bit over time and people are starting to pull their shenanigans. With over 2,000 participants and hordes of animals, things have a tendency to get chaotic backstage. Wiegand notices everything and documents it all. He is never seen without his notepad and pens. And he gets filled in promptly on whatever little he did miss. Whether it's the donkey being stubborn and refusing to go on stage, or Jesus getting tangled up in all the cloths while being taken down from the cross. Whether it's practical jokers taking a horse into the dressing room or a performer missing from a “Living Image”, a Tableau Vivant. Wiegand misses nothing. The cartoons will be on the person's dressing room wall even before the performance is over. "It's the God's honest truth, ain't it?" he winks. "Never a figment of my imagination!"

In a fix, Wiegand will even leave his post to go in search of missing actors. One time he got a call from the police: "The actress playing Veronica is stuck in traffic behind a car crash on Olympiastrasse and won't be able to make it on time." So Wiegand set out to find the understudy. Alas, she was neither at home nor at her favorite café. When someone told Wiegand that she was sitting in the auditorium, he took right off and dragged her out of her seat. "Boy did she take off like a blue streak," he recalls with a laugh, "taking off her clothes and throwing them at me as she was sprinting into the dressing room. It's just one of those things that will happen with so many people involved."

Wiegand's archive is something of a local memory, a sketchbook diary of the Passion Play. At the end of every season, he has his Passion Play sketches printed and bound and sells his little "booklet" to the participants on the last day of the Play. The proceeds go to Children's Cancer Aid.

Text: Anne Fritsch

Pictures: Hermann Wiegand