Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

Laßnitz Folk Plays

Applicant: Raphael Bacher, Mag. Alfred Baltzer
Province: Carinthia, Styria
Domain: Performing arts

The folk plays known as the Laßnitzer Volksschauspiele [Laßnitz Folk Plays] are performed at irregular, multi-year intervals in the Styrian community of Laßnitz. No one knows when these plays originated or who created them. Written versions have existed since the 19th century; before that, the plays had been handed down orally. All of these plays are themed on local customs and medieval beliefs pertaining to the Christian liturgies for Easter and Christmas. Out of an originally large number of plays, only five have been preserved. A special feature of the Laßnitzer Volksschauspiele is the importance of singing; the actors and actresses thus also need to have musical and vocal talent.

The Laßnitzer Volksschauspiele can look back on an over 200-year tradition—and unconfirmed oral sources even assume that they are over 400 years old. Their origins lie in the liturgy and in Medieval mystery plays. The individual plays relate events and parables from the Bible, from legends about the saints, and from more general folk stories. The texts are in an antiquated version of the local dialect, are either prose or rhymed, and are frequently delivered as songs; the gestures and facial expressions to be used are to a large extent predetermined.

The Laßnitzer Volksschauspiele were originally performed in the parlours of rural homes and later on at inns, as well. Today, there is a stage in the community’s cultural centre where a play is put on approximately every three years. The scenery always consists of a simple curtain; there are no backdrops, and props are used only sparingly, which requires the audience to use its imagination in receiving what happens onstage. The director is responsible for keeping the scripts, setting the performance date, and selecting the year’s play and players.

There were originally quite a few plays, but most of them have been forgotten—and today, there are only five to choose from: Das Spiel vom reichen Prasser und dem armen Lazarus [The Play about the Rich Wastrel and Poor Lazarus] is thought to be the oldest and is performed together with the Schäferspiel [Shepherd Play]. The Paradiesspiel [Paradise Play] portrays the creation of man, expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and forgiveness by the Son of God. The Hirtenspiel [Pastoral Play] portrays the birth of Christ beginning with the annunciation by the angel to Mary and ending with the escape of the Holy Family to Egypt, and the Genovevaspiel [Play of Genoveva] deals with the legend of the Countess Palatine Genoveva of Brabant.