A long, long time ago, during the 16th or early 17th century, a group of Germans migrated to a little island on the Danube called Oberufer. With them, they brought a cycle of religious plays which had been passed on to them by tradition from their ancestors. When Karl Julius Schroer collected these plays in the 1840’s, none of the copies were complete. Different families owned particular parts of the manuscripts, and as they were surrounded by people of another nation, speaking a foreign language, these plays (both scripts and tradition of acting) were preserved remarkably unaltered, unlike any other similar German play.
Traditionally, rehearsals started in the Autumn after the harvest was done, and while rehearsals were going on, all members of the cast were expected to live moral and respectable lives. Before the performance, the whole cast would go on a procession through the village, lead by the ‘Tree-singer’. When they reached the inn where they would perform from 3 o’clock onward, the company went in to dress, except for the angel who stayed outside and the devil, who raised hell in the village, blowing a cow horn and gathering everyone up to chase them to the inn to watch the performance.
The performance actually consisted of multiple plays, the first being the Shepherds Play (or Nativity Play). The Paradise Play was acted second, with a satirical company following on. These first two plays have always been associated together, ‘for there is no meaning in the Redemption without the Fall’. If in the evening there were still some spectators left, they would start acting the plays from the beginning again, continuing into the early hours until finally all the guests had gone home.
In the first decades of the 20th century, Rudolf Steiner developed and adapted these plays, which have helped to gain a deeper understanding of their meaning. They have been performed in Camphill throughout it’s history.
This year, we rehearsed the Paradise Play. Originally to be performed twice: once in Danby Village Hall, once in Botton on Christmas eve. Due to a last minute need for a stand-in pianist, and with great sadness, we had to cancel the Danby performance, but even the short-lived prospect of doing the play with no piano at all did not seem to prove an insurmountable obstacle for the cast. Producer Fionn and I are hugely proud of the actors and grateful to all who have been involved.