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Posts tagged ‘Community’

Celebrating Disruption – Article from the Mystery Plays Programme

First published in the York Mystery Plays 2014 programme…
‘For too long we’ve been too apologetic’ … This was the frame of mind I was in when we started planning our route through the city and the playing stations for the 2014 Mystery Plays.

In my early years as event producer I was often approached to ‘help make things happen’, this request came often from projects facing objections, and in a position of limited resources and with complications that meant i had to carefully balance the needs and aspirations of the project with the potential impact on the location and the (often reluctant) stakeholders involved.

Now that i’m a lot older and a little bit wiser I find myself becoming a little bit more ‘bullish’ about the importance of certain projects balanced against the minor disruptions that they cause – in some cases, like the Mystery Plays, I even feel that perhaps we should be celebrating that ‘disruption’.

York mystery plays come in many formats, they are not ‘owned’ by anybody but by the same measure are owned by everybody.

In 2012 a new large-scale staging of the plays took place in the modern tradition and context in the museum gardens. That concentration of activity and the scale brought visual spectacle and impact, though there was nothing to see beyond the bound of the museum gardens a buzz resonating around the city – something significant was happening. Something that everyone had a stake in.

The medieval tradition of the plays on the wagons being celebrated this year – is a certainly a more ‘distributed’ approach in its planning and preparation and in its final realisation – The effort and the energy put into producing plays happens behind closed doors in schools, the university, church halls, farmers barn and in unusual uncharted corners of the city – wherever people can find space to rehearse their scene and build their set. A ‘community of communities’ bringing forth the plays.

There is no pomp and ceremony in the months in the running-up to the plays, no yellow bikes lining routes or knitted bunting hanging in the trees – but on the day, the tens of thousands of people that engage with the pageantry of the plays as the move from location to location or that sit and watch at the playing stations are seeing something unique – something that not only that makes York distinctive and engaging as a tourist experience, but also speaks of the commitment and enthusiasm of the communities in York – which makes it a compelling place to live and to work.

In the last year we’ve seen the city centre of York in upheaval as major ‘essential works’ were carried out securing gas supplies for the city – Roads were closed, areas cordoned off and peoples work and life inconvenienced, but it passed and life carried on as normal.

It is probably glib to make the comparison and to say that the opportunity to engage in a city wide civic expression of our cultural heritage and our creative distinctiveness is as important as a reliable and safe gas mains supply – but it could be argued that the as York Cycle of Mystery Plays capture peoples hearts and minds, embedded as part of the fabric of the city – the disruption caused by these ‘essential works’ is a small price to pay.


Ben Pugh – 13/07/2014

Call for Volunteers – York Mystery Plays

York Mystery Plays is one of the largest community events in the city’s calendar and it is looking for volunteers to help make it the biggest and best yet.

From the Mystery Plays call out:

York Mystery Plays is an exciting event that only happens every four years and is performed over two Sundays in July. 12 community groups will be performing 12 plays on 12 waggons that will process through the streets and perform at 4 different playing stations, filling York’s ancient streets with music and drama in a tradition that goes back to medieval times.

With paid ticketed seating areas at two of the playing stations and it being free to view at all of them, this is a fantastic opportunity to be part of this unusual and rare event. You would be working with a core team of professional stewards to assist audiences, check tickets, sell programmes and collect audiences responses.

There is also a mini Festival happening in the week between the two Sunday performances so we will be looking for volunteers to support in much the same way for events there. There are two shifts, a morning and an afternoon (time varies slightly depending on your playing station) and are approx 4 hours each.

Events like this cannot happen without people like you, so if you would like to take part in this amazing event, please email me at and I can send you a form with more details and to collect your availability.

We will then have our first briefing on Thurs 26th June 6.30pm at Bedern Hall.

‘The History Man’ – from The Stage newspaper

In the briefest moment of something falling between vanity and self promotion, i thought i’d share this article with you that was first published in The Stage newspaper on 16th of August 2012. It sheds a bit of light on what i spent a good chunk of the summer doing and Kevin frames my role and my approach in very positive terms too!

The venue for York Mystery Plays 2012 is the city’s museum gardens. Kevin Berry speaks to event manager Ben Pugh about overcoming difficulties with building a theatre in the round on an archaeological site.

“On site there was nothing – other than a very beautiful setting,” says Ben Pugh. “Everything had to come in from scratch and we have erected a state of the art, 1,400-seat venue on a sensitive historical site”

The site is York Museum Gardens and the venue he mentions will stage the York Mystery Plays throughout August. York Theatre Royal, Riding Lights Theatre Company and York Museums Trust are producing the plays with support from York Council.

The Theatre Royal production team has vast experience in working off site, with The Railway Children at the National Railway Museum, and is substantially reconfiguring its traditional auditorium to create a theatre in the round for summer seasons.

Pugh is the event manager for the Mystery Plays charged with supervising the erection of what amounts to an actual theatre on a site governed by the severest constraints. No digging allowed – “We can’t touch the monument” – and certainly no access for articulated trucks. Over 300 tons of scaffolding was off-loaded outside York and then shuttled in on smaller vehicles.

York Museum Gardens is a public park used by 10,000 people every day during the summer, and Pugh and his team have had to close off a third of that space. In the garden’s ten acres there is a protected English Heritage monument (the Benedictine St Mary’s Abbey), a busy museum and botanical gardens.

The sheer enormity of the task faced by Pugh’s team becomes apparent as he continues talking. It is difficult to take in. Getting the number of people involved, nearly 2,000 community players, and managing them, even in these days of mobile phones and emails, has been quite a challenge. The genial Pugh, who appears to take everything in his stride, suggests “thinking of the usual theatrical process and then times it by 2,000”

Have the vehicles been churning up the ground? After all, York has had its share of rain in recent weeks.

“We have a three metre-wide metal track way running from the road to the stage site,” Pugh says. “The gateway is part of the scheduled monument and is three metres wide. We’ve had to be very steady, coordinated and careful. We needed the track to guard against the weather, and also there’s a lot of buried archaeology just under the surface. While many events this year have been undone by the weather, we’ve been fine on this site.”

In the theatre there is a one foot rise between each row of seats and everyone will have a good view, plus there is a roof over the audience. The theatre is already two metres off the ground so there is a substantial sub-stage area for actors and staff to come up through trap doors and use rising stairways. Pugh emphasises that his team has had to build an entire venue: dressing rooms, toilet blocks, putting in water pipes, indeed all of the infrastructure needed in the theatre.

“We are presenting ourselves with a whole load of practical and logistical challenges to give ourselves that creative freedom in the space,” says Pugh. “We have been keen to get the community involved and that has brought forth amazing creative energy.”

He talks of a fusion of techniques and approaches and the sharing of them. Members of the community who may be painters and decorators coming in to paint the scenery, people who go to embroidery class once a week helping with costumes.

“We’re working with Star Events Group and they’re re-engineered their seating principles to enable us to have a fluid, flexible theatre space,” Pugh explains. “They’ve never built on a site like this. We asked them for a whole load of things to make it a theatre – such as entrance ways and tunnels and things they wouldn’t normally do.”

Getting into the site and setting up has taken a month. Getting out will take three weeks, a time scale that Pugh has insisted on.

“I’ve been able to persuade English Heritage and the Museums Trust that giving us more time to do it, steadily and carefully, will reduce the chance of anything happening,” he says, “The worst case scenario is people going in there mob-handed and trying too hard and doing things way too quickly.”

That will not happen with Pugh in charge. A York resident for nearly 15 years he is aware of what the Mystery Plays mean to the people of his city. They are deeply embedded in the city’s culture.

We had been speaking in the week leading up to the premiere. “People on the site have been saying how relaxed I look,” he said, smiling. “So it must be going well.”

York Mystery Plays run until august 27. The plays will be streamed live over the internet via The Space, the digital arts media service, thanks to Pilot Theatre and ACE funding.

Thanks Kevin!!

Music Act 2012

The 1st of october 2012 marks the start of the Music Act 2012 designed to ease the bureaucratic burden on smaller venues wanting to put on live music. In 2003 the new Licensing Act added extra regulation around entertainment. The Music Act 2012, 9 yrs later, is a response to pressure from the industry on both sides (musicians and venues).

This is widely considered to be great news for venues and musicians alike, and is hoped that it will local live music back at the heart of the country’s cultural life.

The MU have produced a useful little guide giving details about what this means for you if you run a venue. you can download the guide here

in a nutshell this act is for you if the following conditions apply:

  • you have fewer than 200 people in the audience for amplified live music.
  • or if the music is un-amplified (then there is no limit on audience size – apart from the obvious “i can’t hear you” being shouted from the back of your 1000 strong crowd)
  • Music can only take place between 8AM and 11PM.
  • and you have to be based in England or Wales.

There is of course some nuances to understand about what sort of venue / premises / workplace  you are. You could look at the full act here or contact your local licensing officer for further advice.

It is worth noting that your obligations around PRS, PLL and H&S all still apply.


As always (the small print bit) this blog post does not constitute legal advice, and is posted for info only! That said i’m happy to work with venues / promotors / musicians to better understand your licensing position or to ensure that you are understanding your obligations around H&S and so on. Do get in touch to discuss.



Graeme Hawley to play the Devil in York Mystery Plays 2012

Some more exciting news from Mystery Plays towers:

The actor who played one of Coronation Street’s most infamous villains will play the Devil in the York Mystery Plays 2012 this summer!

Graeme Hawley, 37, was nominated for Villain of the Year in the 2009 and 2011 British Soap Awards for his role as John Stape. Graeme has also appeared in Shamless, A Touch of Frost and Emmerdale, said he was thrilled to be taking on the role!

Joint Artistic Directors for the 2012 production, Damian Cruden and Paul Burbridge, said: “We are delighted that Graeme Hawley will be joining the York Mystery Plays 2012 cast to play the role of the Devil. Graeme is a popular TV face and is of course well known by audiences of Coronation Street as villain John Stape. He also has a fine theatrical acting CV, he’s Northern, he has the perfect balance of experience and we’re very happy that he’s chosen to work with us over the summer. We’ve created two important central roles for the 2012 plays and are extremely pleased with our casting of the two professional actors. We look forward to working with Graeme and to seeing him play opposite Ferdinand Kingsley as God/Jesus.”

On stage he has performed in a number of productions for the Manchester Library Theatre including Rock n Roll, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Measure for Measure. Most recently, he played the role of Jack in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Paul in Love and Money, both for Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre.

We look forward to working with both of our professionals and hope you will also

Ferdinand Kingsley to play God & Jesus in York Mystery Plays 2012

Some news from Mystery Play towers:

We are excited to announce that Ferdinand Kingsley will play God and Jesus this summer!

Ferdiand, who is aged 24, has performed in productions for The National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and is “delighted” to accept the roles.

Joint Artistic Directors Damian Cruden and Paul Burbridge said “It was always our intention to cast a young actor in the role of God/Jesus. We were keen that God should be portrayed as a young father with children (Adam and Eve), creative and energetic. In Ferdinand Kingsley we are delighted to have discovered a young actor more than capable of fulfilling this desire and bringing to the stage such a complex double. He is an exciting young talent with Northern roots who has shown a sensitivity to the subject, an understanding of the text and a passion for the project. Audiences at The National Theatre in London are already familiar with his work and we look forward to Ferdinand taking the central role in this huge community endeavour here in York.”

Ferdinand’s theatre credits include Hamlet and Welcome to Thebes for The National Theatre and Troilus and Cresssida, and Little Eyolf for the Royal Shakespeare Company. TV and film credits include the BBC’s Vincent Van Gogh: Painted With Words and The Last Legion. Ferdinand will also be in Richard II, which is part of the BBC’s Shakespeare season to be aired later this year.

We hope you are excited as us about working with Ferdinand to create this spectacular production!



How charities can use social media for digital campaigning.

I’m working (as i may have mentioned) with Dr Abhay Adhikari on a series of seminars for those working in the arts, culture, heritage and creative sectors.

You can read more about the 3 different workshops taking place in York (1 -3 May)  here and /or here .

In the meantime you may be interested in this article Abhay wrote for The Guardian’s website:

How charities can use social media for digital campaigning.

Social media thrives on conversations. It isn’t meant for broadcast but for engagement, and that should play to the strengths of voluntary sector campaigns. However, digital campaigning is still regarded as replicating campaign messages and relationships from the physical world in the digital landscape. Basically, trying to reach out to the same people, saying the same things online. And that is where many organisations should tread carefully.

Here are four ways to think about your digital offering in a different way:…

…Read the full article on The Guardian’s Voluntary Sector Network Blog.

You can follow Abhay on twitter – @gopaldass

Creative thoughts from Directors on the Mystery Plays 2012

Paul Burbridge and Damian Cruden, the Artistic Directors of York Mystery Plays 2012, discuss the decision to set the production in the 1950s:

The Mystery Plays always encourage debate, from the casting to the staging and the setting. Over the years, the Mystery Plays have been told in a wide variety of different ways. The 2012 production is to be set in the post-war (1950s) era, Paul Burbridge, Co-Artistic Director, explains the thinking:

“The 2012 production sits as the jewel in the crown of the York 800 celebrations. The York Mystery Plays are arguably the most important artistic event to come from our city in that period – of ‘worldwide and worldclass’ significance. Within 800 years, there are three crucial dates: the time when the Mystery Plays began (late 1300s), the time when they were suppressed (1560s) and the moment when the York Mystery Plays tradition was restarted for the modern era in 1951 at the Festival of Britain. That 20th Century revival is a hugely significant moment within the past 800 years of York’s history. It was a period of post-second world war hope and new life after terrifying global destruction which resonates hugely with the biblical story.

The intention of the Mystery Plays was always to make the biblical story accessible to a contemporary audience within the city. The language was ‘now’ for the mediaeval renaissance audiences and the costume and setting would also have been ‘now’. What was uppermost in the minds of the mediaeval Mystery Play producers was the desire to make the biblical story speak to their contemporary community in a way that helped each member of the audience to see themselves within the biblical story. Our intention with the 2012 production from the very start, with script adaptor Mike Kenny, has been to follow that tradition for our own community – to tell the story in a way which connects with people now and demonstrates that it is an exciting, relevant story to tell in any age.

The biblical story and the Mystery Play texts are both ancient and modern – they live in every generation because they speak about events inside and outside time within the cosmos, about issues which are always contemporary. To view them in any sense as a ‘museum piece’ carefully preserved from the 14th/15th Centuries is to obscure their real purpose.”


You can find out more about this years massive project at the York Mystery Plays 2012 website.

Or you can read up on some of the history of previous productions on the Mystery Plays Archive.


Gala for Geri

A Celebration of the Life and Work of Geraldine Connor featuring the words, dance and music that she loved.

West Yorkshire Playhouse | Saturday March 31st | 7.30pm | Tickets £10


I was privileged to spend some time working with Geraldine Conner in the last few months of her life – her energy and enthusiasm were infectious. I’m lending my hands to support the gala evening celebrating her life and work.

From their press release:

A night to make you smile and make you cry, to make you clap your hands and stamp your feet, but most of all to celebrate the life of Geraldine Connor, a great teacher, composer, performer, director, musicologist and all-round inspiration to us all. There will never be another Geraldine, but this evening is to help keep her memory and her legacy alive.

The Gala will have extracts from Geraldine’s best-known work Carnival Messiah and feature specially devised performances by some of her favourite collaborators. Participants will include classically trained singers Ronald Samm, Simone Sauphanor and Brian Green, actors Ram John Holder, Renee Castle, Nigel Wong and Jojo Kelly, dancers David Hamilton, Ayo Jones and Jonathan Bishop, a piece by South Asian company Kala Sangam, and music across the spectrum, from steel band to gospel.

All money generated on the evening will be used to continue Geraldine’s work.


Tickets available through West Yorkshire Playhouse. Hope you can come along – it should be a fantastic night!


Costume call for York Mystery Plays 2012

There are literally hundreds of different ways to get involved with the Mystery Plays this year, here is an option that might suit some people:

With this year’s performances being set in the 1920s, 30s & 40s, the project are appealing to York’s community, to raid attics and wardrobes for anything that is from, or looks as though it’s from, the 1920s, 30s, 40s or 50s.

Even if items are in need of repair or are stained, we’re interested. Men’s suits, women’s tea dresses, hats, gloves, handbags. Army, Navy, RAF uniforms… think Dad’s Army, Vera Drake or Call the Midwife. If you’re not sure if it’s right – bring it along anyway.

Clothes can be dropped at York Theatre Royal as well as other theatres across the region including: West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, Harrogate Theatre, Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, and also Friargate Theatre in York – the base for Riding Lights Theatre Company. Please drop off clothes on Sat 3 March between 10am and 4pm. There will be a York Mystery Plays volunteer at each venue ready to collect your items. Please do ntoe that we can’t return any of the clothes donated as they may be altered.

All donations will be greatly received, and will significantly help with the huge task the Mystery Plays have of clothing all 600 cast members.

Sounds like a good chance to have a clear out or a spring clean?