Annual medieval pageant ‘The Shepherds’ Play’ in Peterborough Monday

  • The lifesharing communities of Four Winds, Tobias and Plowshare Farm will perform the annual medieval pageant of 'The Shepherds’ Play' on Monday, Dec. 16 and Friday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Union Congregational Church in Peterborough. Courtesy photo—

  • The lifesharing communities of Four Winds, Tobias and Plowshare Farm will perform the annual medieval pageant of 'The Shepherds’ Play' on Monday, Dec. 16 and Friday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Union Congregational Church in Peterborough. Courtesy photo—

  • The lifesharing communities of Four Winds, Tobias and Plowshare Farm will perform the annual medieval pageant of 'The Shepherds’ Play' on Monday, Dec. 16 and Friday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Union Congregational Church in Peterborough. Courtesy photo—

  • The lifesharing communities of Four Winds, Tobias and Plowshare Farm will perform the annual medieval pageant of 'The Shepherds’ Play' on Monday, Dec. 16 and Friday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Union Congregational Church in Peterborough. Courtesy photo—

Published: 12/10/2019 11:12:07 PM

The lifesharing communities of Four Winds, Tobias and Plowshare Farm will perform the annual medieval pageant of “The Shepherds’ Play” on Monday, Dec. 16 and Friday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Union Congregational Church in Peterborough.

The play’s actors come from Four Winds Community (Temple), Tobias Community (Temple), and Plowshare Farm (Greenfield). All three are lifesharing communities where people with diverse capabilities – including people with and without developmental special needs – live and work side by side, joining together to build truly inclusive and sustainable communities.

The play is an abridged version of the Oberufer “Shepherds’ Play”, a medieval mystery play which carries a unique history. It comes through a pristine folk tradition in which the roles were passed down within families over many generations. It is a tale of the simple shepherds coming together and leaving their flocks on a cold and dark night to follow that compellingly bright star which brings them to a warm stable filled with wonder and faith. The audience is encouraged to participate in a sing-along which occurs between scenes and tells of the story to come.

Sometime in the 16th or early 17th century, a group of German farmers from an area around Lake Constance migrated to the little island of Oberufer on the Danube, near Pressburg, close to the frontiers of Austria and Hungary. They took with them a cycle of religious plays, which were handed down by oral tradition through the generations.

For centuries, peasants preserved these plays – both the text itself and the tradition of acting – in their unaltered and original form. It was Karl Julius Schroer, a professor who studied German folklore of the region, who discovered these plays in Oberufer. Dr. Schroer was a teacher and friend of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education.

During the 1850’s and 60’s Schroer lived in Pressburg and learned that these plays were performed by the “Haid Bauern” who had immigrated to Oberufer centuries before. He saw the plays several times and was very enthusiastic about them; transcribing the dialogue from the farmers who were the performers. It was Shroer’s intention to preserve this spiritual inheritance from ancient times. The Oberufer plays are now performed each year in many languages in Waldorf schools all over the world.

The roots of the Oberufer plays are lost in medieval times, but they have evolved to incorporate a unique mix of broad peasant humor and deep reverence in their celebration of the birth of Jesus. The Shepherds’ Play sets a mood for the Christmas festival.

One of a cycle of three plays, the Shepherds’ Play is a medieval Nativity play performed annually in many places and languages around the world. Partly in music and verse, with humorous camaraderie and profound reverence, it brings joy to performers and audiences, young and old. With a message that goes beyond cultural or historical specifics, it speaks of ‘That Holy Thing which shall be born of thee…’ as the Angel in the play says. 

The community tradition of The Shepherds’ Play, now in its 17th year, began as an in-house production following the regular Monday evening church supper at the Union Congregational Church. The annual production has now grown to a community-wide event, free and open to the public, drawing a full house.

For more information, call Plowshare Farm at (603) 547-2547 or email events@plowsharefarm.org.


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