A play of life and death, promised in a moment of mortal threat …
so began the history of the Oberammergau Passion Play in 1633. In the middle of the Thirty Years War, after months of suffering and death from the plague, the Oberammergauers swore an oath that they would perform the "Play of the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ" every ten years. At Pentecost 1634, they fulfilled their pledge for the first time on a stage they put up in the cemetery above the fresh graves of the plague victims.
In the year 2020, the Community of Oberammergau will perform the Passion Play, they have preserved for over 380 years, for the 42nd time. All actors of the world's largest amateur dramatic performance come from the village, since a special play law is in effect. All participants, from actors playing the big speaking parts such as Jesus, Mary or Judas, through members of the choir, orchestra members, firemen and ushers, must have been born in Oberammergau or lived there for at least 20 years. The play is now recognised as the most important Passion Play in the world.
The premiere of the 42nd Passion Play will take place on 16 May 2020 and this small village at the edge of the Bavarian Alps expects more than 450,000 visitors in the summer of 2020 to witness 102 performances over a twenty week period.
The village prepares
By Ash Wednesday 2019, all participants in the play let their hair grow - and men also their beards - in accordance with a long tradition, the "Beard and Hair Edict". In spring 2019, the names of the actors will be announced.
Under the direction of Christian Stückl, stage designer Stefan Hageneier and the music directors Markus Zwink and Michael Bocklet (all villagers), rehearsals will begin ten months before the first performance and continue through the winter snows on the open air stage, reflecting tremendous community commitment to the project.
The modern play takes place on an open-air stage with a covered auditorium seating 4,700. Altogether, more than 2.000 Oberammergau villagers will participate in the 2020 Passion Play. In addition to the major characters of Jesus, Mary, Peter, Judas, Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas, there are 120 larger and smaller speaking parts.
“Staging, music and costuming would meet professional standards anywhere. At various times, the wide, outdoor stage holds hundreds of people, small herds of sheep and goats, donkeys, a horse, armoured Roman soldiers or 48 choristers wearing long, flowing robes” [Chicago Tribune]
About the Performance
The theatre is large, but intimate in nature. In response to feedback, the capacity has been reduced to 4,400 to make the seating more comfortable. The play is performed in all weather conditions with the audience under cover, viewing the open-air stage and natural mountain backdrop (though there is now a retractable roof which may be used)
The play will be performed five times weekly from May through September. The five hour performance begins at 2.30 concluding around 10.30 with a three hour break when dinner is provided in your allocated restaurant.
Part One 2.30pm – 5 pm Part Two 8 – 10.30 pm
From a dramatic point of view, the first half is in daylight, with the mountain backdrop enhancing such scenes as the Palm Sunday procession when over 2,000 villagers are on stage at one time. The second half is quite different with stage lighting and special effects making a stunning impact. You will feel part of something intimate and very emotional as the open-air stage is transformed into the Garden of Gethsemane with the disciples huddled around open fires.
Staying in Oberammergau village
This is the fourth season of Passion Plays that McCabe has participated in, and we will have guests at every performance during the twenty week season. We will have our own staff in the village helping you to make the very most of your time – in 2010 we shared an office with Jesus’s sister!
McCabe guests will all be allocated the same high grade of Oberammergau accommodation and everyone will receive a top grade performance ticket.
Visiting Austria and Oberammergau with McCabe
During the season, accommodation in and around Oberammergau is allocated to ticket holders for either one or two nights, and restaurant reservations are pre-assigned. It is not possible to book an extended stay in the village and for this reason McCabe combines the Passion Play with a holiday among the lakes and mountains of Austria.
We are offering one week, two-centre group holidays. Parties will be accommodated together in one hotel in Austria, but may be divided between one or two guest houses in Oberammergau. A full programme of visits will be included in the tour cost. Some parties will comprise members of one church, and others may be two churches joining together with individual travellers joining them. Our aim is to provide fellowship holidays as we participate together in this landmark Christian event. We plan to publish our brochure in the spring of 2018.