The Wilhelm Tell play is set near the end of the 13th century. The gradual decline of the Holy Roman Empire, of which the Swiss territory was a part, had enabled the Habsburg family to ascend to power in Austria and Switzerland.
The Waldstatte (the forest cantons which are the original three Swiss cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden) pledged a symbolic allegiance to the Emperor years before, though they retained much of their autonomy. The Austrian House of Habsburg, desiring more control and higher taxes, sent a corps of officials to the Swiss Territory to generate higher revenues for their estates.
Discontentment grew due to the increased oversight and reduction of freedom. The presence of these foreign bailiffs became more and more despised. Over time the Swiss territories developed a plan to unite and attempt to regain their autonomy.
Wilhelm Tell, as legend has it, lived in a small village in this part of Switzerland. Tell was known across central Europe for his superior marksmanship with his cross bow. At one point in the play (and in history, as legend says), Tell is forced by the foreign bailiff Gessler to shoot an apple from his son's head in the town square in Altdorf in front of the entire community. Tell succeeds, and later in the story, he is able to extract his revenge on Gessler, and in the process has a hand in freeing Switzerland from the yoke of the Austrian rule.
Learn a Little About Our Wilhelm Tell Festival Weekend as Seen on NBC15!
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BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Inspired by the vision of Edwin Barlow, a world traveler of the early 1900′s with New Glarus roots, the Wilhelm Tell Play has been presented annually on Labor Day Weekend since 1938. For the first three years, the play was performed in German only. The English production was staged for the first time in 1941.
For the first years of production, the performances were held at Elmer’s Grove, immediately to the east of the village of New Glarus in the area current known as Valle Tell. SInce 1953, performances have been staged at the current site, a wooded valley on Highway W, just to the east of New Glarus. In 1974, after years of renting the performance grounds, from the neighboring Kubly farm, the Wilhelm Tell Community Guild purchased the land.
Some of the actors in our current performance were in the original 1938 production. Much has changed between that day and the current performance. The script has been edited somewhat, and for the first time in 2010 the German performances were not held, though a special presentation of the original German version was held in 2012 in honor of the 75th year of Tell in New Glarus. However, the actor still, are and have always been volunteer performers, bring to their roles a special enthusiasm.
If you are ever in Switzerland, you won’t want to miss the performances held all summer long in Interlaken. You can learn more about the Swiss performances at www.tellspiele.ch.