Being in Oberammergau Passion Play is stressful, but pulls people together

Light of Truth

Next time, Jesus would like to be a villain. That is a role one of the two actors portraying Christ in the Oberammergau Passion Play in Germany would be interested in playing.
Frederik Mayet will play Jesus for a second time when the world-famous Passion Play begins its 2022 season May 14. The play will run five days every week until Oct. 2, during which Mayet will alternate in the role of Jesus with 25-year-old Rochus Rückel.
Mayet, who was born in Oberammergau, will be taking part for the third time. In 2010, he played Jesus for the first time; in 2000, he portrayed St. John.
Interviewed in German by video from Oberammergau, the father of two said the role of Jesus is demanding.
“Physically, the scenes with the scourging and the Way of the Cross, and hanging on the cross for 20 minutes, are quite exhausting,” he said. It is necessary to find distance from the role offstage, he noted. “It’s import-ant at the end of the evening to leave that role behind, and chat with friends about football or whatever over a beer. In the context of acting in the play, one shouldn’t over identify with Jesus, but see it as a role which one tries to interpret as well as possible.”
Mayet said a person grows into that role. “You try to just play your part well and do it justice, because you know there are people coming from all over the world to see the play. So that gives you a ‘positive stress,’ which carries you. I concentrate on playing my role well and on speaking clearly.”
To get the role of Jesus, “you must have some acting talent, and a good voice. There’s also the physical appearance — to play Jesus, you must have a certain look, and be of the right age, between your mid-20s and early 40s. I’m now 41,” Mayet said.
Since almost all cast members are amateur actors, it might have helped that Mayet has a professional theatre background — he is an art director and media officer at the Münchner Volkstheater in Munich. “But we also per-form stage plays in years in Oberammergau when there are no Passion Plays, so people get to know one another, and the director gets a sense of who is capable of what.”
Every role is cast with two actors, who perform on alternate days. Initially, there may be some disappointments with the casting decisions, Mayet said.
Yet soon there is unity in purpose. “When it comes to the time when we prepare for the play and perform it, everybody sticks together. It’s the Passion year, and everybody puts their differences to one side in order to concentrate on the common goal: to stage a great Passion Play,” Mayet said.
Many friendships are built in that process, also across generations, he noted.
“The youngest of our actors is 8 years old, and the oldest is 80. People across the generations are sitting together, get to know one another, and share in a mutual experi-ence. That is precious.”

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