It is rare that the history of anything begins so neatly; whether at the turn of a century, or the transition from one Millennium to the next. Nonetheless, this is exactly what happened in the case of the York Shakespeare Project.
The York Minster Millennium Mystery Plays constituted a theatrical event of the first order, which virtually took over the lives of all concerned throughout the first half AD 2000. Unsurprisingly, when it was all over, there were some participants who found themselves at a bit of a loose end. Many were already committed to existing drama groups across the region, but others felt the need to engage in something new and different.
Thus the York Shakespeare Project (YSP) came into being. Alan Lyons, an early Chair of the project, described its origins in the programme for Richard III:
‘Anyway, there I was sitting with Frank Brogan as he dreamt up the idea of the York Shakespeare Project. “It won’t work” I said. An hour later I changed my mind. Maybe I was captivated by the idea. Maybe it was Frank’s persuasive tongue. I am still not sure why. This show [i.e. Richard III] is the result of hard work and effort put in by a great number of people since Frank had his original idea. Special thanks should go to all executive and holding trustees past and present for their hard work and dedication …’
Early (often packed!) meetings soon revealed that there was a great deal of interest, and clearly the Project at least had the potential to be something of a major player on the local theatrical scene. Many people became involved who were not originally concerned with the Mystery Plays, and this was welcomed as evidence of the Project’s broader appeal.
Inevitably, however, there was a period of consultation and administration, during which the aims and objectives of the group were thrashed out and a constitution (acceptable to the Charities Commission) established.
To cut a long (and rather tedious) story short; it was agreed that the YSP would endeavour to perform all Shakespeare’s known plays – in something like the order in which they were probably written – over a twenty year period at an approximate rate of two productions a year. It was also made clear that the Project would always have a strong interest in Education; both in terms of making Shakespeare accessible to people who may previously have regarded him as “not for them”, as well as providing an opportunity for aspiring actors, directors, and back-stage crew to get to grips with the Bard for the first time; or revisit an old passion. Outreach to schools and other community groups was to be an important part of the Project’s mission. Funds permitting, a professional director would be hired for each Summer show, whilst the Autumn production would be produced “In House”.