The lives and foibles of the common man take center stage in traditional Bavarian style.
By Jackie Guigui-Stolberg
A cow bell clangs. Showtime! The curtain momentarily sinks deeper into folds on the stage floor before gliding upwards to reveal the opening scene: the kitchen-cum-sitting room of a farmhouse. A tiled stove, a rustic table and chairs, curtain-trimmed windows, on the walls an old clock, an alpine landscape, the portrait of a stern-looking ancestor. Next to mounted pairs of chamois goat horns, a crucifix hangs prominently in view. And so the Good Lord and his eternal admonitions will hover over the play’s characters as they go about their lives in the tightly-knit society of their farming village. They will try very hard to behave themselves or at least keep up appearances, alas, their baser impulses will get the better of them. They will lie and scheme for social, political, or financial advantage, then desperately try to extricate themselves from their own web of deceit. This is the stuff of a special type of nostalgic, comic entertainment found mainly in Bavaria: Bauerntheater—peasant theater.
Halb so schlimm; things are not all that bad. While the play’s characters suffer the consequences of their own mischief, the audience laughs and enjoys itself, knowing there’s sure to be a happy end. Bauerntheater is not tragedy. The spectators are not witnessing the fall of kings or heroes, or learning weighty moral messages about the vices of mankind. Bauerntheater is a particular type of Volkstheater, a general term for light-hearted stage entertainment for the common man that developed over time as a result of private initiatives, independent of a royal court or the state. With some ups and downs since the first Bauerntheater opened in the late 19th century, this genre has been enduringly popular even as—or maybe especially because—traditional farmers have become increasingly rare.
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