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The Jedermann-stage is taking shape

When the square in front of Salzburg Cathedral fills up with the famous benches for Jedermann and the big stage gradually takes shape, you know they are not far away: those long summer nights, on which “Jedermann” and his fellow revelers dance and feast. Come with us as we take a peek over the shoulders of the many helpers involved in setting up Cathedral Square!

The preparations are in high gear

As we step out of the shadows of the cathedral arches and onto sundrenched Cathedral Square, we discover a hive of activity. Countless workers are scurrying back and forth between the half-built viewing stands and the venerable Salzburg Cathedral itself, running cables from A to B or transporting equipment across the square on forklifts. Right in front of us, two technicians jauntily sporting safety helmets clamber into a compact crane in order to take a bird’s-eye look at how construction is coming along. As we approach, the sunlight reflects off the imposing steel frame, which now occupies a large portion of Cathedral Square.

In two weeks, everything has to be ready

The stage technicians, electricians, hydraulics experts and set designers still have a lot to do before the famous “Jedermann” can begin reveling in front of the cathedral with his illustrious cast of companions. As many as 22 workers are involved in building the stands and stage, we learn from Christian Müller, head of the set workshops and deputy technology director for the Salzburg Festival. Construction of the viewing stands begins every year on the first day after Corpus Christi. Once the famous Jedermann benches have been completed – providing seats for more than 2400 visitors – the stage is delivered. In total, the team has around two weeks’ time to complete all of the preparations.

The ground changes from one season to the next

For a project as big as this – which, for example, involves stringing around 7 km of cable – two weeks just doesn’t seem long enough. No wonder, then, that the workers on Cathedral Square don’t want to waste a second. We sit down on a bench, from where we observe the construction efforts for a while. The workers adhere strictly to a painstakingly thought-through plan devised by the technical supervisors. If you want to complete the technical set-up of a stage this complex in such a short time, you also have to rely on the expertise of experienced workers right there on-site, Christian Müller tells us later. This means that the professionals have to take into account certain variables. For example, the fact that the level of the ground on Cathedral Square changes from season to season – at some points, by as much as 6 cm! We are not a little astonished by that little tidbit of information, and take a closer look at the ground under our feet. Needless to say, nothing unusual catches our eye. Which makes the degree to which technicians have to pay attention to the minutest details even more remarkable.

Whenever the weather gods are in a bad mood

All of the exertion is forgotten as soon as the curtain rises and the world-famous “Play of the Rich Man’s Death” begins. That said, what happens if the weather gods decide to turn the festival team’s plans on their heads? The decision as to whether the performance must be relocated to the Grosses Festspielhaus is made by the festival directorate in close consultation with the drama department and the Austrian meteorological office (“Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik” or ZAMG for short), Christian Müller explains. Ideally, by three hours in advance of the performance they will know whether the venue has to be changed or not. If it does, things have to happen rapidly: All of the props have to be transported from Cathedral Square to the Grosses Festspielhaus – though they actually exist in two different versions: Those intended for the Grosses Festspielhaus have been adapted slightly to meet the technical constraints of an opera house. But with those problems squared away, this world-famous stage play can now be performed in a nice dry environment.

High summer and a hot-air balloon

Slowly, it gets a bit too hot for us on our bench and we decide to pay a visit to one of the many ice cream parlors in the historic district instead. Before we leave, we take a quick look at the busy workers. Many of the men and women who are tirelessly going about their work on Cathedral Square have a film of sweat on their brows. However, even the performers who will begin rehearsing here in just a couple of days occasionally have problems contending with the mid-summer heat as well, reveals Christian Müller. At one point, they even toyed with the idea of a hot-air balloon to provide a maneuverable source of shade – supposedly intended as a joke, needless to say. After all, with so much mystery and magic radiated by performances during Salzburg Festival each and every year, in this particular case it’s probably better to stay firmly grounded.