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Posts tagged ‘Theatre’

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!!

The Little Festival of Everything

The Little Festival of Everything Returns to North Yorkshire this June.

I was lucky enough to catch the last iteration of this great event as a punter. Well worth supporting if you are in the vicinity:

here is some blurb from their press release:

Last November a small village in North Yorkshire innovated a grand idea that saw the local community, its 17th century pub and local theatre company, The Flanagan Collective, pull together to create a unique and special weekend festival. After a hugely successful launch, the second ‘The Little Festival of Everything’ weekend is back at The Fauconberg Arms, Coxwold from Friday 22 to Sunday 24 June. The pub will again play host to over 50 acts made up of actors, children’s entertainers, storytellers, singers and performers in a jam packed free festival that aims to bring the best entertainment from around the UK to this beautiful North Yorkshire setting.

‘The Little Festival of Everything’ was conceived last year by local theatre company The Flanagan Collective, spearheaded by Alexander Wright, who has enjoyed success in the performing arts as Artistic Director of Belt Up Theatre and is currently Associate Director on The York Mystery Plays with York Theatre Royal. Alexander, 24 and originally from Coxwold was motivated to created a new business model for a unique rural arts festival, where performers could use the experience to try out new work in a country retreat and the audience could participate, watch and enjoy the experience for free. The success of the November weekend in Coxwold has meant that ‘LittleFest’ is now being rolled out to Southill Park, Bracknell in July and at this year’s Edinburgh Festival. The model works because all performers receive expenses that will be covered by sponsorship, but they all agree to come to the festival without an additional fee as they will use the experience as a testing ground for new work, have a lovely weekend in a beautiful setting with like minded peers, and they all genuinely want to be part of this new venture. The residents of Coxwold have again offered up their spare rooms and will host the performers for the weekend. This allows the whole festival to be free for audiences and it is hoped that families, visitors and locals will experience many events across the weekend.

Simon Rheinberg, proprietor of the pub says; “Having an arts festival of this calibre in a village pub is unique. The free entry was a very important objective as it fits in with the general atmosphere of being in a pub. People can spend as long as they want there, eat and drink at anytime throughout the day.’ Alexander believes the festival has a strong line-up of acts which will be performing in and around the premises of The Fauconberg Arms, “We have again gathered the best people from near and far to come and set up shop in the pub. We have returning storytellers, theatre makers, poets, musicians, writers, cabaret artists as well as new performers who heard about last years festival and wanted to get involved.” The festival, which will run over the weekend of the 22nd,23rd and 24th June has been set up to appeal to all ages and interests, Alexander notes; “There are things for the adventurous, for the daring, for the quiet and for the inquisitive.There are things that will surprise you, move you, challenge you and excite you but everything will welcome you with open arms.” Some of the best artists from across the country will be in attendance.

Lots of the companies that attended in November will return including; award winning cabaret artist Damsel Sophie, Pilot Theatre, performance poet Henry Raby, children’s theatre company Tucked In, folk band Holy Moly and the Crackers, local musician Alun Nixon, Hannah Davies and Essex based company Shady Jane. The Festival has also attracted a number of new companies such as renowned London based collective Shunt, York comedy duo Bush and McClusky, comedian Chris Stokes, children’s storytelling company Mud Pie Arts, Easingwold’s Gobbledigook Theatre to name but a few. This Summer festival will make more of the beautiful outdoor space at the pub with a family storytelling area and intimate events in the summer house, plus on the Sunday morning there will be a vintage and craft fair to accompany the family events taking place. Simon Rheinberg underlines the importance of being an anomaly in the industry as many UK public houses struggle to survive the ongoing credit crunch. “We want to build on the success and reputation of last year’s festival and by programming arts events with The Flanagan Collective we will attract new visitors to Coxwold and we look forward to welcoming them alongside our locals for another exciting weekend,” he says. “We see it as a great opportunity to bring artists, residents and visitors together to drink, eat and be entertained.” David Shields Area Director for Welcome to Yorkshire, who supported the Festival in November said: “We are proud to support this brand new festival which will transform the village of Coxwold into a theatrical wonderland for one weekend only! We would urge visitors to come along and support this fantastic festival which will see performers, actors and musicians take over the Fauconberg Arms to put on a series of free events. We are sure it will be a fun-packed weekend for all the family.”

For more information and a full programme listing please visit

Mind the Gap head out to the moors

Months and months of planning are coming together for Jez Colborne and the team at Mind the Gap this week (21-23 June 2012) as Irresistible takes place at the Cow and Calf quarry. I’ve been supporting this project as the creative producer and, without bias i can say that it promises to be a great event (as long as the weather holds out! *bp crosses all available extremities*)

If you’ve not booked yet take a look at –

Irresistible is a symphony of sirens set within the rural beauty of the Cow & Calf on Ilkley Moor. It’s a large-scale musical experience that combines warning sirens and choral music with projections on rock faces and dramatic lighting to create a breathtaking and once-in-a-life-time experience.

Featuring a cast of more than 30 actors and musicians, Irresistible includes seven new songs inspired not only by sirens but by blues, country, rap and hip hop. It promises to be a musical mix that will tell a story through music, movement, drama and light.

We did an R&D showing back in October of 2010 which wowed the culture team from the Olympics so we get to take the show down to the National Theatre, South Bank Centre and the Liberty Festival in September too – watch out for news on these dates.

Hope to see you in Ilkley!

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!



A Sentimental Journey – Digital Opera

On the 28th and 29th of March the brilliantly talented Craig Vear and the Open Work Ensemble are presenting A Sentimental Journey at York Theatre Royal.

It is a digital opera for a mixed ensemble of technologies, remote audiences and live performers. Inspired by Laurence Sterne’s novel, first published in 1768.

You can read more about the detail of the project on their website  but in a nutshell:

“The work will be performed live to the theatre audience, and streamed to hundreds of people around the world, who will be reporting back with photos and postcards of their sentimental journeys. The end result is a shared experience between the audience(s), the performers, the music, the book, and the collective imagination.”

Each performance will include a post show discussion and will be streamed live at the A Sentimental Journey website.

Having worked with Craig on a number of occasions before, I have no doubt that this will be an engaging, enjoyable, interesting and inspiring event.

To book tickets to be in the live audience please contact the Theatre online or by phoning 01905 623568

If you can’t be in York log in to the A Sentimental Journey website to take part in the live stream.

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.


Digital Identity Seminars

Digital communication skills for the arts, culture and heritage sectors

May 1 – 3 | National Centre for Early Music | York

Facilitated by Dr. Abhay Adhikari | Produced by Ben Pugh  

Presented in association with NCEM

I’ve been lucky enough to have had opportunity to work with Abhay Adhikari over the last few years on various projects. Having been inspired in recent discussions by his vision and ideas around the world of social media and digital identities i felt it would make a great series of seminars for those of us working in the arts, culture and heritage. So in partnership with the National Centre for Early Music  (which is a great space for inspiration and learning)  i’ve done just that:

You can read about these half day or full day sessions following the links below:

The workshops:

Seminars overview

Strategic development for the arts, culture and heritage sectors
Tuesday, 1 May 2012
Suitable for: creative directors, curators and senior management

Campaigning and visibility for the arts, culture and heritage sectors
Wednesday, 2 May 2012
Suitable for: marketing and communications teams

Finding your audience and collaborators online
Thursday, 3 May 2012
Suitable for: individual practitioners and community led organisations


Abhay gave a short talk at TEDxYork last summer which gives good introduction to the work: