Life backstage


In the dressing room of the High Council, the Caiaphas servants play cards (Photo: Sebastian Schulte)

The most culinary activity today is in the dressing rooms of the High Council and the Caiaphas servants. There are two birthdays to celebrate here, which means two snacks for everyone. Before the break, there are pretzels as big as wagon wheels, covered so thickly with cheese, ham and sausage that the ratio between pretzel and topping is almost out of balance. In the second part, there are lots of salads, lovingly filled into jars. So much of a good thing, that's the exception, they emphasise, because they didn't coordinate well. But that doesn't matter, it tastes good anyway! The fact that the Passion Play period is not only a time of suffering for those involved, but that they also enjoy themselves, is clearly noticeable behind the scenes on this day. There are cool drinks in the tenor dressing room, iced coffee in the tailor's shop and a glass of wine at the merchants'. The Passion Play with its more than a hundred performances demands a lot from all of them, so it is more than legitimate to make this exhausting time as pleasant as possible.

Every dressing room has its own customs and practices. Almost everywhere there is a "catalogue of penalties" or a "register of sins" that regulates how expensive it will be if you are late for the performance, commit a "costume mistake" (for example, forgetting your coat or kippa) or laugh during the performance. Mischief on stage or skipping the "crucifixion drink" (which may also be non-alcoholic) also costs, as does absence from dressing room parties or trips. In the council dressing room, the following also applies: "By notice from the play director, the fines are basically doubled!" The fines range from 2 euros for a small costume mistake to 30 euros for "gross mischief". The money collected then benefits everyone again: it finances the many small and larger parties during the season. Since so much of the work is done on the basis of personal responsibility, the "penalty catalogues" also serve to keep discipline and morale high during the long months. However, they also have their flip side: play director Christian Stückl is not unreservedly enthusiastic about them. For some, the desire to fill the coffers leads to making the others laugh extra hard or instigating mischief.

In Marys' dressing room: Sebastian Schulte)

At the merchants, the jug is glued together again (Photo: Sebastian Schulte)

Without any misbehaviour at all, the cash registers of the merchants' dressing rooms fill up. They have their very own source of income. After Jesus has thrown the big clay jug on the stage during the "Expulsion of the merchants from the temple", they collect the broken pieces and glue them together again in their dressing room. To make this possible, they have previously made coloured markings on the inside of the jar with chalk. These now help them to do the puzzle. They spread out all the pieces on their foil-covered table, glue them together with wood glue and fix the growing structure with straps. Later they label the jar with "Passion 2022" and the date of the play, then the actors sign it. They sell the restored and upgraded jugs as a memento of the participants. Almost all of them have already been reserved. A lot of money is collected - and this in turn benefits all the participants: on a day in August when there is no play, the merchants' festival is organised from the jug's funds, a highlight of the season. This tradition probably began in 1960, when Herta Mayr, who sang in the choir, came up with the idea of gluing the jugs back together. Then in 1980, the merchants took over, and since then they have been gluing, selling and celebrating.

Life backstage has its own dynamic and also its own rhythm, which is diametrically opposed to that on stage. Shortly before the "Entry into Jerusalem" at the beginning of the play, things are turbulent in the corridors backstage. The children come into the theatre with their satchels, run upstairs to their dressing rooms to take off their shorts and put on their long folk robes. Each one gets a palm frond, the crowd in front of the gate to the stage gets denser and denser, and the donkey joins in. A few moments later, the aisles are suddenly deserted, the stage full. Until the gates open again and the people crowd back into the dressing rooms. To wait there for the next big performance, to chat, to play cards or to eat. Then it gets quiet again in the aisles. Until suddenly a legion of Romans, a pharaoh or even a camel is standing in front of you.

Text: Anne Fritsch

Photos: Sebastian Schulte