“Everyone was looking at us. But the play is so important, they have made an exception.”
Actors start growing beards and hair on Ash Wednesday which usually falls in February, just before the Christian festival of Lent.
In 2000, Mayet played the disciple John. In 2010, and again for 2020, he has been cast as Jesus. “When I was first chosen as Jesus, I thought, ‘I cannot do it.’ There was a lot of pressure on my shoulders. There is a lot of pressure in the village.”
Only people born in Oberammergau or who have lived there for 20 years are allowed to register to take part in the play. There are no auditions, just a public “sorting hat” style day where names of people chosen by the director are announced and written on a large board. “That’s a very special day for us. Everyone is very excited.” He points to a picture of the event on his phone.
While Mayet and his children will be among the 1080 adults and 600 children taking part as cast or crew, his wife is still relegated to the sidelines. “She is from a neighbouring village and she has to wait longer to qualify.”
The Mayet family have lived in Oberammergau since 1890. “We are a family of wood carvers. The village is known for its religious statues. From my great-great-grandfather on, our family has been in the plays – but no one had ever had a main role before. My great-grandmother was so proud.”
Although steeped in its Biblical sources, the play, he stresses, is an evolving work that has responded to the politics of the times. “Some people think it is medieval play which had had the same text for 400 years. That’s not the way it is.”
Monasteries in this staunchly Catholic region work with the director to provide updated text. “Theology has changed a lot in the last few decades,” Mayet says. “In medieval times, there were a lot of anti-Semitic things in the play. The Catholic church has changed its view and we have needed to work on relationships – especially after the Second World War.”
In medieval times, there were a lot of anti-Semitic things in the play.
In 2020, director Christian Stuckl, will be focusing on the inequality of wealth – a highly relevant topic as Germany experiences waves of refugees from Syria and beyond. “One sentence that is very important this year is: ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’.
“In a world where one per cent of the rich have around 90 per cent of the wealth, this is not good. Next year we will be looking more towards the social and revolutionary perhaps – looking towards the middle of society and the poor.
“Jesus fought against the hierarchy and spoke of people living together. He said it is not about [the power of] the temple. This is something that calls for a response in the church today. It’s important to look at this message.”
In preparation for his role, Mayet has researched extensively. Aside from reading the Bible and books on the life and times of Jesus, he watched movies and talked deeply with the director, who has been in this role for four seasons, about message and motivation.
“He said you have to find your own way. The truth you want to show. Suddenly I understood. It’s always an interpretation of the role. Every movie they have a different perspective; the four gospels offer different perspectives.
In September, actors in the leading roles went to Israel, accompanied by their local priest, to visit holy sites, meet rabbis for their interpretation “and to try to get a feeling for the story. There are parts of Jerusalem, such at the Mount of Olives, that have not changed a lot in 2000 years. You can imagine the last days when Jesus entered the city on a donkey.”
The play is a vast commitment for the cast as six months of after-work rehearsals precede the six-month season. Mayet himself is one of a number of locals who have been permanently drawn into the theatre world through this experience. Munich, an hour away, is now his home base as he works in public theatre as an artistic director and publicist.
“The play is very special because it brings us all together as a community every 10 years. It makes us grow together. This is not something every village has.”
The Oberammergau Passion Play will run from May 16 to October 4. To find out more about a special tour to see the Oberammergau 2020 Passion Play see gocollette.com/oberammergau