The Baptism ~ York Mystery Plays 2014
Laura Elizabeth Rice, Director
13 and 20 July 2014
Various Locations in York
The Baptism of Jesus will be a familiar story to many audience members, but the York Baptism goes beyond the few verses which narrate the episode in the Bible. It is a beautiful example of one of the major functions of the mystery plays in the way that it explains more subtle issues of faith.
John begins with a monologue about his difficulties with mankind and their lack of preparation for God’s incarnation and salvation. Not only does this establish his character dramatically, it would have been a reminder to the medieval audiences (presumably all at least outwardly Christian) of their responsibilities to their deity. Jesus’ request for baptism startles John, who, for most of the remainder of the play, argues his unfitness for such a task. Who is he, a lowly human being, to enact such a symbolically charged ritual for his own god? I suspect medieval people as well as modern have wondered this! Jesus’ reply is as much to them as it is to John.
The mystery plays are a demonstration of their attempts to come closer to a deity whose life might have some commonality with their own, who might almost have been one of them, and whom they believed once walked the same earth that they inhabit. The Baptism is one of the moments where Christ’s humanity is explicitly present and discussed. He is baptised because he is, in that moment, both god and man… and, in York, he is also present on a waggon.
Christ’s action may be the beginning of his ministry for all mankind, but it is a moment of personal meaning: for Jesus, it is a reminder of his own humanity (as will be reiterated in the Crucifixion); for John, whose feelings are awe but whose actions are intimate and who is therefore confronted with Jesus’ dual nature firsthand; and, in our staging, for God the Father, who is, through the act of baptism, given another layer of connection with his son and self. God does not appear in the original York script., but we felt that his presence was important to create a visual definition for those unfamiliar with baptism’s meaning to Jesus, and to those audience members for whom baptism is an important life event.
One of the very subtle themes we were playing with was ‘continuity’- baptism is intended to confer eternal life, the York cycle covers stories from Creation to the (future) day of Judgement, and the actual plays themselves are a product of the fourteenth century which we continue to perform today. For this reason we chose to use a medieval style for the play. Stylistically, heaven could be a medieval cathedral still in use. The River Jordan is a crazy quilt, an old-fashioned craft project that may still be in use. And though we know these are characters of a Biblical era, they are costumed as citizens of the fifteenth century, placing them in both contexts while physically existing today. We wanted to bridge this gap as a nod to the extraordinary history which the Mystery Plays’ continuing existence embodies.
Special thanks to Kate Thomas, Helen Firth, and the Bargate family for their kind hospitality; the Rice family for help above and beyond; and especially Stephanie Shunk, for many years of inspiration, and her continuing support.
Mark Burghagen (JOHN THE BAPTIST/ CHORAL DIRECTOR) was born in Hessen, Germany, where as a teenager he conducted the local school orchestra and choir, pursuing his ambitious dream of performing Mozart’s Requiem with students, teachers and local priests. During the production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the local amateur dramatic society he discovered John Dowland’s lute songs, beginning his life-long obsession with early music. After building a clavichord, he briefly studied musicology at Göttingen University but soon discovered that his main interest was in performance. He studied sacred music at the St. Gregorius Haus in Aachen, working with Alastair Thompson (King’s Singers). In 2005 he moved to Cornwall to sing at Truro Cathedral Choir as a Countertenor Lay Clerk, later pursuing a Masters Degree with John Potter (Hilliard Ensemble) at the University of York. During these studies he rediscovered Shakespeare and his passion for acting. He took up studies at the Actors Centre and the Actors Guild and is now pursuing an active performance career as an actor-musician. Recent stage appearances were as King Richard in Richard II, Hyllus in The Women of Trachis, Christ in The Transfiguration for the 2010 York Mystery Plays, and touring Europe as Claudio in Much Ado about Nothing. He is currently in rehearsals for a new BBC drama commemorating WWI. In his spare time he enjoys playing the tenor viol or nurtures his obsession for tea.
Ehren Mierau (JESUS) did his MA in Medieval Studies at the University of York in 2006/07 and has been involved in medieval drama ever since. For the last waggon plays in 2010 he played Elijah in The Transfiguration. He is currently the International Officer at York College.
Charles Hunt (GOD) has been involved in the waggon plays since 1994, when Jane Oakeshott spectacularly revived the street performances. Since then he has worked his way up from devil to Beelzebub to Satan in 2010. Now he is playing God – what next? He has also been Thaddeus, John the Baptist, John the Divine, and Joseph; he directed the waggon performance of The Flood (with real doves and raven) in 2012/3. In real life he is a costumed Ghost Trail guide and represents Charles Dickens in public readings.
James Witchwood’s (ANGEL I) credits include The Stepmother (YSCP), Blood+Chocolate (Pilot Theatre) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Nightshade Productions). He will be appearing this summer in The Three Musketeers(Nightshade Productions). When not on stage, James plays folk and jazz violin and leads guided tours of the city’s darker aspects with The York Terror Trail.
Stephanie Hill (ANGEL II) Having spent her childhood and completed her Philology MA degree in Germany, Stephanie moved to York in October 2013 to specialise in Medieval Literatures. Being lucky enough to have received varied training in the performing arts and having been involved in numerous stage productions ranging from dancing and musical theatre to semi-professional drama since her early years, she was happy to find York a community thriving with countless performing arts groups. Via the legendary Lords of Misrule of the University of York, Stephanie has now found her way to the 2014 Mystery Plays and is very excited to be part of one of York’s biggest public events.
Kate Thomas (ANGEL III) has previously been involved in medieval drama through numerous productions with York’s Lords of Misrule, whose waggon team she joined in the 2010 Mystery Plays. She has performed in a number of choral societies, and in 2011 took part in a research project at the University of York investigating the auditory qualities of the York Mystery Plays in the Middle Ages.
Diana Wyatt (CO-PRODUCER, MYSTERY PLAY GODDESS)
Diana Wyatt has been involved, one way and another, with Medieval drama since arriving at the Centre for Medieval Studies at York University many moons ago to embark on research into the Corpus Christi cycle of Beverley (East Riding) for her doctoral thesis. She spent three wonderful years acting with YUDS and co-founding the Lords of Misrule as well as fitting in some work. After years living in the deep south (mainly Oxfordshire), teaching, researching, and being involved in plays from the fourteenth to the twenty-first centuries as actor, director, crew, and front of house, she is delighted to be back in York, still pursuing research into early performance in the East Riding for the Records of Early English Drama, and looking forward to getting back on the waggon!
Alan Gillott (Waggon Master)
Alan Gillott’s professional background is in High Technology Development and marketing where his role involved organizing conferences and exhibitions. Alan is also a poet and musician and has for many years been involved in concert and theatre promotion. Through the 1970s and 80s he regularly organised concerts in conjunction with the New Symphony Orchestra in major London venues, St. John Smith Square, The Barbican and the Albert Hall and singing with the National Westminster, London Welsh and London Philharmonic choirs. Since moving to York, Alan was involved in the first few years of the York Literature Festival and also the Malton (now Ryedale) Book Festival. He is working with a group of poets and composers to develop the Sounds Lyrical Project to introduce modern classical song to new audiences. He, with his wife, Rose Drew, founded the York Spoken Word which has for the last 8 years been putting on a program of literary and musical events in and around York. As a poet he features regularly at venues in the USA and the UK and has been seen recently in Hull and Newcastle.
Alexandra Palphreyman (Costumier)
Alexandra Palphreyman is a student at Birmingham City University studying Fashion Design with Design for Performance BA(Hons). While Alex is experienced in manufacture and pattern cutting, her passion is design, and she loves to come up with alternative concepts and interesting theories behind her work. As a former dancer and gymnast, performance has always been something Alex has been interested in, and since joining the Front of House team at the Grand Opera House in 2009 her passion for theatre has only grown. Other hobbies include piano, guitar, skiing, and running; where she recently completed the Leeds half marathon raising almost £300 for the Brain Tumour Charity.
Credits include Pilot Theatre, Theatre Royal and Slung Lows Blood + Chocolate 2013, York Settlement Community Players The Stepmother 2014, Theatre Mills Witness for the Prosecution 2014. More information and photographs for all projects can be found at http://palphersinspired.blogspot.co.uk. Alexandra is thrilled to be involved in the Mystery Plays, and feels honoured to be part of such a huge production in her hometown. She is currently on a placement year working on various projects within the costume industry, and is always eager for new experiences.
Carolyn Twomey (Baptism Consultant)
Carolyn Twomey is PhD candidate in History at Boston College where she studies the history and material culture of medieval baptism. She completed her MA in Medieval Studies at York in 2008 and is excited to be back to experience the mystery plays for the first time and participate, in a very minor sense, in the production. In the autumn, Carolyn will be a junior fellow at the Institute for Historical Research in London.
Ian Murphy (Set Construction Leader)
Currently studying Backstage Arts at York College, Ian Murphy is predominantly interested in Stage Management. His interest in technical theatre really developed at the University of Leicester where he was a member of LUTheatre. Ian is also Vice-Chair of the board for York Theatre Royal’s TakeOver Festival, which is run entirely by 11-26 year olds. He has hopes of eventually progressing into a career in directing.
Tom Pitchers (Set Crew, Painter)
Tom Pitchers is currently studying Backstage Arts at York College. He attended Manor C.E. School, where he began working tech on productions. He has worked on lighting for dance and drama in the community, and has worked as a followspot for the Theatre Royal. He plans to pursue a career in lighting and set construction.
Nathan Bargate (Set Crew, Production Assistant)
Nathan Bargate started working in theatre during his final year of school, he then found the York Mystery Plays 2012 and volunteered as a follow spot operator. At York College, he is pursuing an extended diploma in technical theatre as well as working on many outside projects; notable productions include Blood And Chocolate, Les Miserables The School Editionand Jack In The Bean Stalk. Nathan is excited to be the Production Assistant!