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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The Passion Play

It takes a village

Oberammergau. In English the word translates to "above the Ammer River.' But Christians the world over know this picturesque village in Germany's Bavarian Alps as the Passion Play town. For one season each decade, in the years ending with zero, the townspeople reenact the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus for audiences that pack their playhouse from mid-May to early October.

It's a big production for a small town. More than half of Oberammergau's 5,000 residents have a hand in the Passion Play, whether on stage or behind the scenes.

Since all the actors are local, visitors are tempted to play spot-the-actor/guess-the-role. Hair is the tip-off. Notice the deliveryman with shoulder-length hair and a long white beard? He could be Caiaphas. And the woman in the shop with hair down to her waist? Maybe she plays Mary. Or maybe she's just an extra.

Whatever their roles, these people are the face of the Passion Play, part of a cast of 1,500 to 1,600 players. Except for those with lead roles — and there are two actors for each main part — they are all volunteers. They haven't given up their day jobs, but just before 2 p.m. they leave work, hop on their bikes and head for the big playhouse on one end of town to fulfill their part of a centuries-old promise.


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