Mystery Plays

One of the oldest traditions of the city of York is the Mystery Plays, as Kirsty explains. They date from 1376 and were designed to bring fresh interpretations of Biblical messages to the people of the city, with volunteer actors performing religious scenes on mobile stages fashioned within intricately constructed wagons.

Each scene would be performed in a different part of the city (known as ‘playing stations’) as the wagons toured the streets, with the overarching narrative of the plays evolving over the course of a day. At least 48 individual plays would be performed.


It’s a way of communicating to the whole city.


mystery plays

They were financed, organised and produced by the city’s craft guilds, which represented York’s various trades.

Each guild would perform a play, often the one that was the most suitable for their craft. For example, the shipwrights presented the building of Noah’s Ark. The idea was that a guild essentially ‘owned’ a chapter of the wider story. And they were the experts. Expressing it in a way which meant something to them.

Liam Evans-Ford, community producer of the plays, said they have “always been inhabited and populated by the citizens of York.”

And the plays are still performed today. Even Judi Dench, former York resident, has been involved with them.

What we like about these plays is the idea that everyone was literally playing their part within a bigger story.

And, shifting seamlessly from Medieval times to astronauts, it reminded me of the story of JFK and the cleaner. When the then-President was visiting NASA’s headquarters for the first time in 1961, he introduced himself to a man who was mopping the floor and asked him what his job was. The man replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”.

How can this idea enhance the world of IC?

IC professionals don’t need to be convinced about the importance of sharing a story. That’s what they do every day.

So is it just important to remind ourselves that storytelling as a means of communication has been happening since the Middle Ages – and that it’s truly tried and tested? And can we use any new technology to digitally jump on the Mystery Play wagon, and expand the reach of our stories? And what about unlocking the employee voice – ensuring everyone has the chance to share their story from their place within the wider organisation?

2017-12-20T09:11:14+00:00 September 12th, 2017|