Workshop: Staging & Enacting Medieval Mystery Plays

Friday 3 February 2023 (Week 3), 5–6.30pm, at St Edmund Hall, Old Dining Hall

Join this workshop for tips and guidance on how to adapt medieval mystery plays for modern performance, a workshop for directors and actors alike. Whether you have already signed up to this year’s Medieval Mystery Cycle on 22 April 2023 or are interested but still unsure how to put together a play or how to act, all are welcome! The focus of the workshop will be on how to cut a medieval play script down to an accessible version (of up to 20 minutes), but there will also be an opportunity to match actors and directors and to discuss any other practical questions you might have on site at St Edmund Hall – and to enjoy tea and cake!

The workshop will be led by David Wiles, Emeritus Professor of Drama at the University of Exeter and a veteran director of the Oxford Medieval Mystery Cycle. Let us know if you’re interested in joining by emailing Michael Angerer, the graduate convenor.

Meanwhile, we’re still looking for groups to join the Medieval Mystery Cycle: have a look at the original blog post with the sign-up link!

Propose a Play for the Medieval Mystery Cycle!

Sign-up is now open for the Oxford Medieval Mystery Cycle! Just follow this link to propose a play and to join one of the highlights of the Oxford Medieval Studies calendar, which will be held on Saturday 22 April 2023 at St Edmund Hall.

Following a hugely popular medieval tradition, we are looking for groups to perform a series of short plays retelling stories from the Bible. We are keen to cover a wide variety of (medieval) languages, but you don’t have to be a theatre professional or even a medievalist – all you need is lots of enthusiasm for what is above all a fun and unique experience. In the last years, plays have included:

  • The Creation and Fall
  • The Killing of Abel
  • Noah
  • Abraham
  • The Annunciation and Visitation
  • Shepherds
  • Wise Men
  • Herod the Great
  • John the Baptist
  • Lazarus
  • The Crucifixion
  • The Harrowing of Hell
  • The Resurrection
  • The Last Judgement

Feel free to propose other plays, or even to write your own – as long as the topic is not already taken, so don’t wait too long! You can see which plays have already been proposed here.

We have previously had plays in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian, but offers for plays in other languages, including Welsh, Dutch, Latin, or Hebrew are also very welcome! Some mystery plays are easily accessible online: this includes plays in Middle English (the York, Towneley, and N-Town plays), Old French (the Seinte Resurreccion), Middle High German (the Innsbrucker Osterspiel), or Old Spanish (the Auto de los Reyes Magos). And don’t worry if you don’t have enough actors or haven’t found a group yet: we can help you put out a call for actors and link you up with other people interested in participating. All you have to do is get in touch.

For inspiration, have a look at the mystery cycles of the last few years! You can even watch recordings of the cycles in 2019 and 2022 on YouTube. (Or, alternatively, you can watch the much more professional recordings of the 1985 National Theatre Mysteries.) A small budget is available for props and costumes.

Watch the 2022 medieval English master’s students rising from the tomb as multiple Lazari!

Timeline:

  • Sign up now by following this link or emailing Michael Angerer, the Medieval Mystery Cycle convenor!
  • We will hold a workshop on how to cut longer plays on Friday of Week 1 in Hilary Term at 3–5pm (20 January 2023) on site at St Edmund Hall. This is open both to fully fledged groups and aspiring directors. [Edit: This workshop has been postponed to Friday of Week 3 at 5–6.30pm (3 February 2023)]
  • We will hold a workshop on voice projection at the end of Hilary Term.
  • You will have the opportunity to rehearse on location at St Edmund Hall during Week 0 of Trinity Term.
  • Dress rehearsals will take place on the morning of Saturday of Week 0 of Trinity Term (22 April 2023).
  • The Mystery Cycle will be performed from 12–5pm on Saturday 22 April 2023, with two half-hour breaks for tea, coffee, and cake.

Cake sale: we are also looking for people to bake cake and help run a charity cake stall on the day – if you’re interested, please get in touch!

Graduate Students: OMS is hiring!

OMS is one of the largest forums in the world for interdisciplinary research on the Middle Ages, bringing together over 200 academics and a large body of graduate students. If you would like to be involved behind the scenes, we have three exciting (paid) opportunities to get involved! Though these are advertised as three separate posts, we welcome applications from students who would like to combine two or even all three posts:

1) OMS Social Media Officer: The Social Media Officer is in charge of connecting all of Oxford’s medievalists via the OMS Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts and also occasionally posting on here, the OMS blog. You will be responsible for posting across these platforms to advertise OMS events, opportunities and news. You will work closely with the OMS directors (Profs Henrike Lähnemann and Lesley Smith), the Communications Officer (Dr Luisa Ostacchini) and the Events Coordinator. Familiarity with social media advertising is beneficial but not essential: this is an ideal way to gain technical know-how about social media, advertising and marketing that can be used in your academic career and beyond. The post usually comprises an hour or two a week. To read more about the post from the out-going postholder, Llewelyn Hopwood, including tips and tricks for social media success, see his blog post here.

2) OMS Events Coordinator: The Events Coordinator ensures that all of our in-person and online OMS events run smoothly. You will organise the google calendar, oversee the OMS Teams and YouTube Channels, respond to email queries about events, set up Zoom streaming events, assist in the real-time running of events (mostly hybrid and online, but also in-person), and serve as a point of liaison point between events organisers and the rest of the OMS Team. You will work closely with the OMS directors (Profs Henrike Lähnemann and Lesley Smith), the Communications Officer (Dr Luisa Ostacchini) and the Social Media Officer. Some familiarity with Teams and Zoom is necessary, but you by no means need to be an expert in these software packages as you can learn on the job. The post usually comprises an hour or two a week. To read more about the post from the out-going postholder, Tom Revell, including insight into the exciting range of events he helped to facilitate, see his blog post here.

3) Graduate Convenor for the Medieval Mystery Cycle 2023: the graduate convenor will take the mantle of the operation from Dr Eleanor Baker by organising the Medieval Mystery Cycle, which takes place on 22 April 2023. You will liase with the various Mystery Players and directors, help to coordinate workshops, and ensure that the plays run smoothly on the day. Experience in events organisation and a love of theatre are beneficial, but not essential. You will work closely with the OMS directors (Profs Henrike Lähnemann and Lesley Smith), the Communications team, and Mystery Players from across the university and beyond. To get a sense for the scope of the project, and to see the plays performed in previous years, see seh.ox.ac.uk/mystery-cycle.
Payment for all of these roles is at the standard rate for graduate students, and is billed by timesheet — up to a maximum of six hours per week per role, although actual hours will usually comprise one or two hours per week per role.

Please send expressions of interest to Co-Directors Henrike Lähnemann and Lesley Smith by 30 September 2022, 12noon, at medieval@torch.ox.ac.uk, including a one-page CV and a cover email explaining why you are interested in the job(s) and what experience you bring to it.

Header image: Matthew Paris Elephant from Parker MS 016II fol 152v (See the manuscript online via Parker Library on the Web)

Call to Action: Medieval Mystery Cycle 2023

Following the successful Medieval Mystery Cycle 2.0, plans are underway for the third iteration of what has fast become an Oxford tradition. Please reserve the date of 22 April 2023 (Saturday before Trinity Term) and spread the word! We are looking for actors, directors, musicians, prop makers, and above all a graduate convenor who will take on the mantle of Eleanor Baker in masterminding the operation. Have a look at seh.ox.ac.uk/mystery-cycle for getting a sense of the scope and watching the plays performed in 2019 and 2022.

Please send expressions of interest for the Graduate Convenor by 30 June 2022 to Co-Directors Henrike Lähnemann and Lesley Smith under medieval@torch.ox.ac.uk

Catch-up: Oxford Medieval Mystery Plays 2022

Following a two-year pandemic break, it was a joyous occasion for all to be able to attend in-person the second annual performance of the Oxford Medieval Mystery Plays hosted by St Edmund Hall on 23 April last week. The production was led by Professor Henrike Lähnemann, St Edmund Hall Fellow and Professor of Medieval German Literature and Linguistics, and Professor Lesley Smith, Fellow and Tutor in Politics and Senior Tutor at Harris Manchester College, and expertly managed by Dr Eleanor Baker, Project Support Officer for the Post-GCSE Inspire Programme at St John’s College and medieval literature specialist. The full cycle was live-streamed by Natascha Domeisen and is available for watching on the St Edmund Hall Youtube Channel and also linked in to the website dedicated to the Oxford Medieval Mystery Plays.

We’ll be your guide to every play: Mystery Cycle organisers (left) and Jim Harris as Master of Ceremonies (right)

Featuring 11 plays in 6 languages (Middle and Modern English, Spanish, French, German and Latin), the ‘spectaculum’ opened with a performance of period music by the Anonymous Minstrels before The Revd Dr Zachary Guiliano rang the Chapel bell to mark the opening of the Mystery Cycle. We were introduced to each play through prologues prepared by the linking verses creator, Prof David Maskell, and wonderfully performed by our Master of Ceremonies, Dr Jim Harris, who guided attendees across college to each play location. These prologues were essential not only to the day’s enjoyment, but also to making the medieval materials accessible to a modern audience providing plot summaries and descriptions of what we were about to see through rhyming verse!

A marvellous boat will shortly appear: Scenes from the Killing of Abel (Left) and Noah’s Ark (right)

The Mystery Plays presented Biblical stories from Creation to the Resurrection, and were brought to life by an incredible cast of actors, academics and students with links to Oxford Medieval Studies. The Faculty of English kicked things off in the Old Dining Hall with the stories of Creation and the Fall, accompanied by a digital video featuring manuscript illustrations by Prof Dan Wakelin. We were then led into the front quad to witness the Holloway Mystery Players perform the killing of Abel, followed by the story of Noah’s Ark by Medieval Studies students, which receives an honorary mention here for the best props of the event, including fabric waves and an inflatable parrot standing in for the dove. The morning concluded with the sung Magnificat in a play of the Visitation by Jasmine and the Kilnsians.

You’ll see a dog but it’s a sheep: Timmy waits for his cue (left) and James Howarth as King Herod (right)

Following a short tea break, the play cycle continued in the atmospheric churchyard of St Peter-in-the-East (now College Library). The Pastoral Players provided comic relief as grumpy shepherds and a thief in the Shepherd’s Play, with the Principal’s dog Timmy stealing the show as a reluctant ‘sheep’ and kindly supported by Prof Kathy Willis and her daughter Alice. The entertainment continued with the story of the Wise Men performed by the Wise Women in Spanish, and the Massacre of the Innocents with College Librarian James Howarth playing Herod the Great alongside the 5th Week Blues.

Now to a new location for John the Baptist’s decollation: A scene of the saint’s beheading (left) and the Lazari players (right)

The best special effects of the cycle featured in the playgroup Les Soeurs de Sainte-Hilde, with their version in French of St John the Baptist’s arrest and grisly beheading (read a reflection on the process of directing a play in French by Prof. David Wiles, the director of the play). This was followed by the English MSt students performing the story of Lazarus, with 6 players of Lazarus rising from the churchyard to great effect. Undergraduate students then performed a Middle English depiction of the Crucifixion from the York Mystery Cycle dating from the 14th century. The Mystery Plays concluded with a delightful performance in Middle High German, Latin and English by the Mercantile Minstrels, with mischievous merchants, a fight scene, and a chorus of angels merrily announcing the miracle of Christ’s Resurrection.

Christ ist erstanden: The Crucifixion (left) and the announcement of the Resurrection (right)

This year’s Mystery Play Cycle was incredibly fun and a fantastic opportunity to engage with medieval culture through the wide-ranging skills of staff and students of Oxford Medieval Studies. The day ended with an exhibition display of works relating to the Easter story in the Old Library. A filming crew worked hard throughout the day to provide a livestream of events for online viewers, that can now watched back on St Edmund’s Hall YouTube Channel. We’re excited to see the continuation of what surely now has become an Oxford tradition!

Dr Alison Ray is a medievalist and the archivist at St Peter’s College, Oxford.

The Oxford Medieval Mystery Cycle 2022

23 April 2022, 12noon to 5pm. A cycle of medieval mystery plays performed by various groups around St Edmund Hall. A multilingual medieval experience not to be missed! All welcome (free of charge)! Performed by a variety of groups with links to Oxford Medieval Studies. Full information https://www.seh.ox.ac.uk/mystery-cycle
Directors: Henrike Lähnemann & Lesley Smith, Manager: Eleanor Baker

Programme

The cycle will be streamed via the St Edmund Hall Youtube Channel. Just tune in any time to follow the unfolding drama!

At 12 noon, the chapel bell will ring for the prologue, followed by Creation in the Old Dining Hall. From there the story of mankind will unfold, with the Old Testament being acted out in the Front Quad and the New Testament in the churchyard around St Peter-in-the-East.

Front Quad –
11:45-12:00 midday Musical Entertainment
12:00-12:05 Introduction
12:10-12:40 1. Creation and the Fall of Adam (Faculty of English)
12:45- 12:55 2. The Killing of Abel (Holloway Mystery Players)
1:00 – 1:25 3. Noah (Medieval Studies Students)

Churchyard –
1:30 – 1:50 4. The Visitation (Jasmine and the Kilnsians)
1:55- 2:20 5. The Shepherds’ Play (The Pastoral Players)
2:25- 2:40 6. The Magi (The Wise Women)
2:45 – 2:55 7. Herod the Great (The 5th Week Blues)
3:10 – 3:30 8. John the Baptist (Les Soeurs de Sainte-Hilde avec la participation de quelques paysans d’Iffleï)
3:35 – 3:55 9. Lazarus (Medieval Masters)
4:00 – 4:15 10. The Crucifixion (The Manic Medievalists)
4:20-5:00 11. The Resurrection (The Mercantile Minstrels)

CALL FOR PERFORMERS

THE EXECUTION OF JOHN THE BAPTIST [IN MEDIEVAL FRENCH]

This will be a contribution to the festival of 20-minute medieval plays performed in the gardens of St Edmund Hall on Saturday April 23, with a subsequent performance in Iffley churchyard on the morning of Sunday April 24.

John the Baptist preaches to the masses about the corruption of those who rule the state, King Herod throws a birthday party, and young Salome induces him to promise her any gift she chooses. The gift is of course John’s head, and medieval theatre delighted in the use of stage blood. The language is accessible enough to speakers of modern French, and we will concentrate on rhythm and expression rather than antique vowel sounds.

Rehearsals will be one evening a week through term. Some of the cast will be actors from Iffley village. If you’d like to join in, and bring to life a text that has probably not been played for 500 years, please e-mail the director David Wiles at d.wiles@exeter.ac.uk, or come along to St Edmund Hall on Thursday 20 Jan at 6.00 (where the porter will direct you).