Culture and Recreation


What is a passion play?

A passion play is a dramatization of the scenes connected with the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The roots of the passion play can be traced to ancient times: early Egyptians performed plays dedicated to the god Osiris (god of the underworld and judge of the dead), and the Greeks also acted out plays to honor their god Dionysus (the god of fertility, wine, and, later, drama). During the Middle Ages (500–1350) liturgical (religious ceremonial) dramas were performed. Toward the end of the tenth century, the Western church began to dramatize parts of the Latin mass, especially for holidays such as Easter. These plays were performed in Latin by the clergy, inside the church building. Eventually the performances became more secular, with laymen acting out the parts on the steps of the church or even in marketplaces.

The liturgical dramas developed into so-called miracle plays or mystery plays. As a symbol of gratitude or as a request for a favor, villagers would stage the life story of the Virgin Mary or of a patron saint. When the plague (also called the Black Death) ravaged Europe, the villagers at Oberammergau, Germany, in the Bavarian Alps, vowed to enact a passion play at regular intervals in the hope that by so doing they would be spared the Black Death. They first performed this folk drama in 1634 and have continued to stage it every 10 years, attracting numerous tourists to the small town in southern Germany.

Japanese kabuki tells stories through dance, song, mime, colorful costumes, heavy makeup, and lively, exaggerated movements.

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