About York Mystery Plays
In medieval York the Mystery Plays were an expression of civic piety on the Corpus Christi festival. The Creation to Last Judgement narrative was paraded through the streets on waggons as actors presented the great moments of Christian history at twelve playing stations designated by the city banners. This was both an act of worship and ‘community theatre’ for the entertainment of locals and visitors alike, honouring God, reflecting honour on York and allowing the Guilds to display their corporate identity.
Following the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic traditions were replaced or removed, until the year 1569 saw the last medieval production. In 1909 the waggons reappeared as part of the York Historic Pageant. Further “static” productions followed, in the Museum Gardens, the York Theatre Royal, and even the Minster. Nonetheless, the heart of the plays belonged to the streets. In 1994, nine plays were brought forth, as part of that year’s Early Music Festival.
In 1998 the York Guilds and Companies took over, establishing a four year cycle. The Guilds and York Festival Trust will once again be the driving force behind a new production of the city’s internationally renowned medieval Plays in September 2018.
The medieval plays were performed in many stations throughout the City of York, each Guild acting out their story many times throughout the day. The waggon plays follow this tradition, playing in the City’s streets, parks and squares. Teams of pushers guide their waggon from venue to venue, creating a pageant of colour, music and life as they do so.
Behind the scenes, a team of organisers, directors and technicians manage the logistics of this massive and complicated event. Professional teams are brought in from the fire, medical and crowd safety backgrounds. Road closures are put in place, licences are agreed, risk assessments written together with many pages of policy covering every eventuality from full scale evacuation to details such as the time it takes to get to the nearest toilet.