As the York Mystery Plays 2012 reach the final stages of rehearsal, CHARLES HUTCHINSON looks at the work of volunteer photographers who have been documenting their evolution

The 29-strong group has been following the progress of the York Theatre Royal, Riding Lights and York Museums Trust community production since last November.

Already they have recorded thousands of photographs from auditions through to final rehearsals and this is an on-going process as the Plays’ opening night next Thursday fast approaches. Consequently, the exhibition will be updated during the Plays’ run and beyond.

Three members of the group, Nick Ansell, Denise Curran and Allan Harris, have been instrumental in setting up an exhibition of 40 images in the corridor gallery at the Theatre Royal, where they will be on show until September 3. York Digital Image have provided the frames for free.

In addition to this show, one of the original key objectives was to provide further photographs for display on a board on the portico in front of the Yorkshire Museum during the Plays. Freelance photographer Eloise Ross and fellow co-ordinator Mike Oakes have overseen the planning and creation of this large-scale exhibition, which has involved liaising with the 29 photographers, arranging the content of monthly meetings and sifting through 2,197 images to date to decide which ones should be shown.

“It’s very inspiring, as I get to see the results of all the great photographers we have on our team,” says Eloise. “What a wonderful job!”

The group was the brainchild of Mystery Plays community producer Liam Evans-Ford, with the aim of capturing as many of the activities as possible to ensure the best photographic archive possible of the Plays’ return to the Museum Gardens for the first time since 1988.

“The call went out last year for volunteers to become involved in all aspects of the York Mystery Plays for 2012 and we held an initial meeting late last year to discuss what was required,” recalls Allan Harris.
“Mike was the co-ordinator with the additional input of Liam and Elly, whose job it was to screen the images for use in eventual publicity and exhibition.

“The remit was to produce an archive of images covering all aspects and stages of development of the Plays. This will be housed in the City archive and will produce an historical resource for the future, as well as a present store of varied images for use by the Mystery Plays publicity department.”

The themes to be covered were Story, Tradition, Community, Location, Performance, Religion, Guilds and Generations. “All members agreed to place up to a maximum number of images on these themes on to the group Flickr site each month, requiring some careful selection!” says Allan.

“We’ve had regular monthly meetings to discuss which images should go forward to the Mystery Plays newsletter and to talk about the project, and my personal take on this whole experience has to be that it has been an enormous privilege to be part of it.

“I’ve met some really interesting people and had access to the development of a huge community enterprise. It’s also developed my photography and the opportunity to take so many photographs on these themes has made me think more about what I’m doing.

“I’ve made some good friends through this group and we have all learnt from each other and had some useful feedback on our images. The Flickr site has been well visited and the portfolio of images is very extensive now with each individual’s style coming through strongly.”

As the finale to the project draws near, Allan reflects: “We can look back on a fascinating year, an archive of very varied images and an on-going exhibition at the Theatre Royal. York Digital Image are going to print and frame the next batch when we have dress rehearsal shots to show.”

Co-curator Denise Curran says: "This has been a truly inclusive project for York's photographic community and has resulted in an amazing and diverse collection of images. We hope the exhibition reflects each photographer's individual style, as well as giving the tiniest glimpse into the world of the making of York Mystery Plays 2012.”

All the photographs come from the constantly updated flickr website at , which contains hundreds of images. During the Plays, some photos also will be on display on a banner at the back of the stage seating.

Every photograph in the Theatre Royal exhibition is on sale and proceeds will go towards putting on this year’s Mystery Plays, as they will from a souvenir photo book produced by the Photographers’ Group in conjunction with the Mystery Plays project.

The book is being co-ordinated by group member Katalin Galuska, who is awaiting the dress rehearsal shots before making the final choice. “I want to show the community spirit and the hard work put into this production through as many of our photographs as possible,” she says. “We have great material thanks to all our volunteer photographers.”

Admission to the Theatre Royal exhibition is free. It can be viewed during theatre opening hours from 10am daily, except Sundays, and including evenings on performance days.


• The York Mystery Plays 2012 will run from August 2 to 27 in the Museum Gardens, York.
Box office: 01904 623568 or or the York Mystery Plays 2012 website