We’re in a very privileged position with the York Mystery Plays in that we can draw on a rich heritage that goes back several hundreds of years, back to a time when the Medieval Guilds of York took to the streets to perform stories from the Bible on movable waggons to a mass audience of the religious faithful. However, the Mystery Plays have never remained fixed – from their very inception, innovation and changing circumstances have played an influential role in their development.
The evidence of this lies in what the plays have become today – fast forwards to the twenty first century and we still see the guilds as custodians of the plays, but now joined by an array of church, school, University and community groups; we still see the waggons as an integral part of the performances, but now aided by modern design and technology; and we still see and hear plays drawn from the Medieval Biblical pageants being performed on the city’s streets and in its squares and parks but now to an audience of residents, visitors, those of different faiths as well as those of a secular leaning.
What has resulted is a blend of the old and the new that has enabled us as we look ahead to the 2014 production to build on years of tradition, experience and expertise, but also to continue to evolve.
So what will the 2014 production look like?
Well, to start with the plays…
Each time the Mystery Plays are performed, they draw from the 48 plays that make up the original Medieval cycle, and this year will follow that same tradition. Twelve plays have been selected from the original cycle for the twelve groups that will take part in 2014. These include plays that have traditionally been performed by guild groups across the centuries, representing an unbroken chain back through history. However, they will also include many plays that have not appeared on the streets of York for several years. What will also be new is the overall story that is being – the twelve plays will be put together to create a new cycle for 2014. This cycle will tell a story of the struggle between good and evil, beginning in the heavenly domain, before being played out on an earthly, human plane, with Jesus either present in, or the focus of a series of dilemmas, difficulties and enterprises that explore this struggle. Themes such as suffering, sacrifice, temptation, betrayal and redemption will form the backbone to this story, enabling it to reach beyond the medieval text and speak to modern day audiences, whether religious or not.
The mix of established and new will also reflected in the groups that will participate in 2014. Long standing guild, church and drama groups, and regular participants from local schools and universities will be joined by new community organisations and individuals attracted by the renewed interest in the Mystery Plays spurred by the 2012 production in the Museum Gardens.
These diverse peoples and groups bring with them varying reasons for being involved, different perspectives as to what the plays mean to them and a range of ideas about how they want to perform their individual plays. This rich tapestry is what gives the York Mystery Plays its uniqueness, with the production representing the coming together of a community of communities.
The 2014 production will see an expansion of this community and will provide further opportunities for these different communities to come together. A clear vision has been set, which places an increased focus on
creating high quality performances
connecting up the Mystery Plays ‘community’ by creating new networks and new opportunities for participants to come together
Some of the ways in which we will look to do this…
Will be to create a Director’s network
This will take the form of regular meetings where the Directors from the participating community groups and guilds can come together with myself and each other to consider and explore practical, logistical and artistic issues and questions to support them in developing, rehearsing and performing their individual plays and in raising the overall production standards. This network will also strengthen the relationship between the different groups.
We are also in the process of setting up social networking to enable participants to create online communities to communicate and share their experiences, stories, questions and photographs with one another. A social networking surgery for those not familiar with such technology or those needing to brush up their skills will be held where participants can receive basic training and advice.
Off the back of both of these, further initiatives are also being explored such as the possibility of groups hosting open rehearsals where other participants can attend to support the process and to further their own ideas about how best to develop their own plays.
— Deborah Pakkar Hull