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Posts tagged ‘Volunteering’

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!!

Illuminating York 2012 – Volunteering Opportunity

The organisers of Illuminating York are looking for people over the age of 18, who would like to volunteer as a festival steward. You will need to be available on one or more of the following evenings between 5:00pm and 10:30pm (31st October, 1st November, 2nd November and 3rd November) and you will need to be available for a briefing on Tuesday 30th at 7:00pm, lasting one hour.

You can view the festival brochure here

You will be based at the Msueum Gardens and your role would be to hand out maps and leaflets to members of the public and be a first point of contact for any queries that they may have. We will brief you fully on the best way to respond to queries and you will be working in pairs so there will be plenty of support. You may also be asked to complete on site surveys with members of the public and again we will provide everything you need and brief you fully.

This is a great way to gain experience in the events and festival industry, meet people and see some great art for free too!

If you are interested please send a CV or a couple of paragraphs about your background and interests to


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.


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?


Yumi York & Fish Curry!

As some of you will know i’ve been involved with Yumi York for some time now in various capacities, from working on the festival events to supporting the strategic development of the organisation. Yumi is a great grassroots project celebrating the wide and varied range of people, backgrounds, cultures and stories in York.

Each month they publish a newsletter (you can sign up on the website) – this month’s included a traditional Bangladeshi Fish Curry  by Monwara Yesmin – Which has always been a favourite of mine at our events. So i thought i’d share it here too!

Do have a look at the Yumi website for more details about the project (and more great international recipes) They are also on twitter @YUMIYork.

in Mona’s words:

Fish curry and rice

Preparation time 30 mins

Serves 4-6

4 fillets solid white fish (in York: Pungashi fish, from Freshways on Hull Rd)

2 medium onions

2 medium peeled potatoes

5-6 fresh green chillies (including seeds, according to taste)

4-5 garlic cloves, peeled

3 fresh tomatoes

3 tbs olive/vegetable oil

1tsp each: dried red chilli powder; turmeric powder; dhania(coriander) powder

¼ tsp ground black pepper

1 1/2 tsp ground jeera (cumin)

1 tsp salt (or to taste)

1 cup water



Wash the fish and cut into bite-size pieces

Heat the oil and fry the garlic till golden

Add onions and salt (about 1 tsp according to taste)

Fry for a few seconds

Reduce to low heat and continue cooking 5-7 mins

Cut tomatoes and potatoes into bite size cubes

Add tomatoes, red chilli, turmeric, dhania, green chilli and black pepper to the garlic/ onion mixture

Fry for 5 mins on medium heat

Add fish and potato, stir gently

Add one cup of water and bring gently to the boil

Reduce and cook for 5 mins on low heat without lid

Add ground jeera

Cook for further 10 mins with lid

Add fresh dhania and cook for further 5 mins

Serve with rice or chappati* and salad**


I fried jeera (cumin seed) and finely sliced onion until golden, then added the rice, stirred,

added salt to taste, brought to the boil and simmered for about 10-12 mins.


I used a mixture of salads to accompany: freshly sliced limes, whole green chillies; sliced tomatoes

and onion mixed with mustard oil; and a hot, sour mixed pickle (lime, aubergine etc bought in Bradford)


Auditions and information sessions for York Mystery Plays 2012

Auditions and information sessions for York Mystery Plays 2012

If you are interested in getting involved in the Mystery Plays next August you might like to consider coming to one of the sessions listed below.

for more information on the plays take a look at

Saturday 12th November

De Grey Rooms, St Leonard’s Place

10am-6pm: Drop In Information Time

11.30am-1pm: Open Group Auditions

2pm-6pm: Main Part Auditions (Allotted Times – Call to book)

Monday 14th November

Tang Hall Community Centre, Fifth avenue

6pm – 9pm: Drop In Information Time

7.30pm – Open Group Auditions

Tuesday 15th November

Tesco Supermarket, Clifton Moor

6pm-9pm: Drop In Information Time

Wednesday 15th November

Explore Acomb Library, Front Street

6pm-9pm: Drop In Information Time

7.30pm: Open Group Auditions

Thursday 16th November

Huntington School Studio Theatre,

Huntington Road

6pm-9pm: Drop In Information Time

7.30pm: Open Group Auditions

Saturday 19th November

Yorkshire Museum, Museum Gardens

10am-6pm: Drop In Information Time

11.30am-1pm: Open Group Auditions

2pm-6pm: Main Part Auditions (Allotted Times – Call to book)

What This All Means?

If you are interested in off stage involvement…. Drop In Information Time

For anyone interested in becoming involved in any area of the project.

Come and find out more about your area of interest and an idea of the commitment involved. This is for people who are yet to get in touch as well as those who have already filled in our ‘get involved’ form. Come and find out more.

If you are interested in acting…. Open Group Auditions

For people who have not yet expressed their interest, contacted us or filled in a form. Do you know someone who might want to take part on stage? This is a relaxed way of having a go with no pressure as well as having some fun. Sessions will last no longer than 90 minutes. Spread the word.

Main Part Auditions

For people who have already applied and are keen to read for one of the larger speaking roles. These are allotted times only so please call 01904 715454 to book your place.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are interested in being part of the ensemble (smaller speaking parts and non-speaking parts) you do not need to turn up at this stage as we are currently only casting main parts and meeting new recruits. If you do want to be in the ensemble then we do want to include you.

Don’t worry about needing to contact us to let us know that you are unable to attend these dates – we will be touch soon with news of workshops and auditions in the new year for main parts, ensemble and all other areas of involvement.

Also please note that this is only the beginning of the audition process. More opportunities to come and audition will be available in the new year.

Become a Festival Volunteer – Illuminating York

The following info has come from the Illuminating York website:


Worth a look, i think…

Become a Festival Volunteer

Ever fancied working as part of an events team? Volunteering on events and festivals can be a great way of gaining invaluable work experience, making new friends and having loads of fun.

The Illuminating York Festival, relies on the enthusiastic support of volunteers. The volunteering roles available include helping out with marketing, business engagement, stewarding events, administration and more.

To express an interest in becoming a volunteer and receive notification of new volunteering opportunites, please get in touch with Portia Simpson.


T: 01904 554257