The Revival or Re-invention of Early European Performing Arts as an Instrument of Civic Regeneration and Cultural Tourism
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Bristol
Unit of AssessmentEnglish Language and Literature
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
This case study relates the impact of work on civic entertainments as
important contributors to community cohesion and identity, to
understandings of local heritage, and as generators of cultural tourism.
Based on the research and outreach activities of Professor Pamela King,
internationally acknowledged specialist on European civic processions and
shows, medieval and modern, it outlines how she is engaged with civic
communities in an advisory and informing capacity to bust myths and raise
the level of public debate about the nature and potential of "medieval"
festivals, as various agencies seek new or enhanced ways to generate
income for the city and its institutions.
Research into the largely lost drama of medieval England has depended on
literary studies of the surviving texts, cultural-historical studies of
surviving records of productions, and modern academic reconstructions of
the extant plays. From the mid-1980s Pamela King has developed a different
methodology for understanding lost medieval dramatic traditions, which
involves attending civic confraternal festivals which survive in
continuous and evolving production since the Middle Ages, chiefly in
southern Europe. From this research strand evolved a further area of
research into why surviving -and invented — medieval civic festivals
succeed, what cultural moments they answer, and how they can contribute to
community cohesion and cultural tourism. In addition to a series of
single-authored publications listed below, this research has given rise to
1.The 2MP: Medieval Plays in Modern Performance archival
project has compiled a collection Level catalogue, and three
item-level, catalogues, of the archives of the earliest twentieth-century
productions. Funded by the Worldwide Universities Network (£15k), this
project involved a partnership with, and was based and supported in, the
University of Bristol Theatre Collection, but corresponded with
specialists in the Universities of Cape Town, Sydney, Toronto, Alberta,
Leeds, Southampton, and Lancaster. Its aim was to guarantee access to the
original archival materials and to relevant expertise, both on the
conservation and interpretation of ephemeral records, and on the
twentieth-century production history of medieval plays throughout the
Anglophone world. It thus provides a resource both for scholars, making
possible a new sub-field of research, and for civic and community groups
and authorities who seek to revive or invent civic festivals.
2. An Exploratory Workshop on Re-inventions of
Early-European Performing Arts and the Creative City, Civic
Regeneration and Cultural Tourism (REPACC), funded by the
European Social Fund (€14k), was held at the Central European University
in Budapest in September 2012. King was Principal Investigator, with
co-PIs from Copenhagen, Western Australia, and Rotterdam. The workshop
brought together twenty-two delegates (seven academics working in theatre
and civic history, two sociologists of the city, two publishers, three
festival organisers, four performer/ practitioners, three musicologists,
and a theatre archivist) from 11 countries including Europe east and west,
and Australia. The workshop formulated a range of new research questions
which are being taken forward in various follow-up project plans.
Questions include the following: Why do these festivals happen? What is
their role in their owning communities, and for what reasons do
participants invest/engage in medieval festivals? How do heritage
performance festivals relate to, and engage with, audience perceptions of
local history and identity? How do references to the medieval past
contribute to the recuperation and construction of cultural memory, and
act as agents of social cohesion? How do medieval festivals engage
disparate civic identities? What is it that medieval festivals have in
common in the European tradition, or do continuous vs fractured vs
conflicted traditions have distinct taxonomies? What are the parameters
for selection within the typology of medieval festivals? How do
institutional contingencies affect the construction of medieval festivals?
How much are medieval festivals contributing measurably to the economic
wellbeing of cities and their regions? What do medieval arts festivals
offer in the 21st century and how are they enjoyed, and why have so many
been instigated since the millennium?
The workshop also set up new networks to track examples of best practice
and case-studies across Europe, and to begin mapping a pan-European
approach to this highly local, fragmented field of practice. In
particular, bringing social science experts together with humanities
scholars and practitioners identified ways of measuring, quantifying and
maximising the social impact of re-inventions of historical performing
arts in contemporary urban settings.
References to the research
 Pamela M. King, 'The Renaissance of medieval theatre and the growth
of university drama in England', Medieval English Theatre, 27,
2007, pp. 105-130. ISSN 0143-3784. Can be supplied upon request. This
article, in the foremost specialist journal on the medieval stage,
developed a paper delivered at the triennial conference of the Société
Internationale pour l'étude du Théâtre Médiéval, held in Lille in
August 2006, and also published in the proceedings of that conference. The
paper addresses how, in the revival of medieval plays as part of the
Festival of Britain, the universities, community drama specialists, and
the professional stage colluded to generate events which reflected a
moment of national nostalgia and contributed to the birth of the "heritage
 Pamela M. King, 'Civic Space and Gender Roles in Lerwick's Up Helly
Aa', in Máire Fedelma Cross (Ed.), Lodges, Chapters and Orders,
Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, 244-59. ISBN 9780230272576. Can be supplied on
request. This article is developed out of a paper delivered by invitation
at the conference held at the University of Sheffield in July 2002 on the
theme of Gender and Fraternal Orders and contributes to the debate on how
evolved and invented civic fraternal orders have come to embrace women in
what were formally all-male organisations.
 Pamela M. King, 'Confraternities and Civic Ceremonial: the Siena
Palio', in Margaret Rogerson (Ed.), The York Mystery Plays, (pp.
181-204), The Boydell Press, 2011. ISBN9781903153352. Can be supplied upon
request. The volume in which this essay appears is devoted to performance
in and of the city of York through time, with a particular focus on the
centrality of the city's medieval mystery play cycle. The paper seeks to
demonstrate how one of Europe's foremost confraternal civic performance
events, Siena's Palio, shares many deep organisational structures
and cultural understandings with the York plays, and offers intelligence
about how the lost civic dramas of medieval England can be understood and
how such performances can speak to modern communities.
 Pamela M. King with University of Bristol Theatre Collection, 2MP:
Medieval Plays in Modern Performance, http://www.bris.ac.uk/drama/2mp.
This website is the outcome of a collaborative project, 2010-11, to locate
and capture archives of modern productions of medieval plays in the
twentieth century. The website links to item-level catalogues of 3
individual collections, as well as providing a collection-level catalogue
of other resources.
 Pamela M. King, `Re-inventions: Medieval Plays at the Old Vic in the
Inter-war Years', in preparation. This paper, based on a paper given at
the 2011 International Medieval Congress in Leeds, discusses how
heretofore archival material held in the Theatre Collection of Bristol
University reveals how the revival and reinvention of medieval drama found
a new currency at the end of World War I and throughout the interwar
years, and formed part of the agenda set by Lilian Baylis at the "Old Vic"
in London, bringing the English Christian cultural heritage to the
"working man and woman".
Details of the impact
Pamela King is a noted international specialist on the English medieval
theatre, with known interest and expertise in present day confraternal
revivals and reinventions of the medieval performance arts in civic
contexts. She is President elect of the international Medieval and
Renaissance Drama Society, and past President of the Société
Internationale pour l'étude du Théâtre Médiéval, the two leading
international associations for the study of the early theatre. Her 2006
book, The York Mystery Cycle and the Worship of the City was a
double prize-winner. She is also the co-owner of the Medieval Players'
archive, the archives of the only touring company in the UK to have
pursued an artistic policy based on the practices of the medieval stage,
and now lodged in the Bristol Theatre Collection, and of the Norah
Lambourne archive of set and costume designs for the Festival of Britain
production of the York Plays.
As a consequence of her research profile and specialism, she has been
invited to contribute in non-academic contexts where her expertise has
demonstrably raised the level of public debate and thereby enhanced the
aesthetic quality and actual and potential success of civic festive
events, as well as the public understanding of the medieval entertainment
- Having regularly given public platform lectures in Coventry as part of
the development of Coventry Mystery Plays company, a collaboration
between the Alan Higgs Charity, Coventry City Council, and Coventry
University, she has been appointed Visiting Professor at Coventry
University in the School of Art and Design with the specific brief to
collaborate in developing the Coventry Mysteries further as a civic
project [a]. Although she is also the editor of the original Coventry
Mystery Plays (The Coventry Plays, Medieval Institute
Publications. Kalamazoo, 2000, co-edited with Clifford Davidson), the
present project that appropriates their name does not aim to reconstruct
the medieval festival, but has been re-inventing a summer festival of
street theatre empowering multi-cultural neighbourhoods in a project
directed at fostering civic identity and social cohesion. These
connections, and further envisaged work, guarantee a range of social and
cultural benefits with economic spin-out [b].
- She has been an invited speaker at the York Guilds conference at which
practitioners of the revived York Mystery Plays meet with academics to
discuss the transmission of the city's medieval dramatic heritage to
modern indigenous and tourist audiences in 2007 and 2011, informing the
artistic policies of those "guilds" as they develop subsequent
productions within their modern "tradition" of the York Festival and
Mystery Plays [c].
- As a direct product of the 2011 involvement under 1, she was invited
to become academic consultant, with special advisory roles relating to
the production of a text, and to the inducting of performers into
appropriate performance styles etc., to the Gloucester Mystery Plays,
2012-13 [c]. This is an entirely new and very ambitious event that will
be repeated every three years, organised with the support of and in aid
of Gloucester and Worcester Cathedral Charities, Gloucestershire County
and City Council, and involving amongst others, Gloucestershire
Honorable Gentleman, Gloucester Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, Round
Table, Gloucester Lions, the Sealed Knot, the Warwick Warriors,
Gloucester Rugby Club, and Mr Rick Wakeman. The festival patron is actor
Jeremy Irons. The "mystery plays", which have no known medieval
originals, will be performed at Gloucester Cathedral, city streets, and
RFC stadium, at Worcester Cathedral, and Warwick Castle, and will
involve performances of a full cycle performed by cast drawn from the 87
non-professional theatre groups in Gloucestershire, a full cycle
performed by Gloucestershire secondary schools and youth drama groups,
Cathedral performances on dates in line with the church calendar, and
wagon performances in Warwick and Gloucester at which the combined
Choirs of Gloucester Cathedral and the National Youth Orchestra will
- As a direct product of her involvement with the individual festivals
listed above, she was able to bring the producers of the York and
Gloucester festivals together with practitioners and academics working
in the field from across the world at her European Science Foundation
(ESF)-funded workshop in Budapest (9 to 11 September 2011), entitled
"Reinventions of Early-European Performing Arts and the Creative City,
Civic Regeneration and Cultural Tourism" [f, g, h]. The participant list
for the workshop [g] indicates the truly international reach of the work
on reinventing Early-European performing arts [j]. Since their return,
they have perceived the wider implications of their local knowledge and
have set up a consultancy of which King is a member, aimed at sharing
knowledge in order to assist other cities to establish medieval
festivals, maximising the quality and ambition of their productions,
while reducing their financial risks, maximising profit for chosen
charities, including different sectors of their communities, and
attracting new tourists. At the time of writing, the service is engaged
in initial discussions with two potential client cities.
- She has been involved in discussions about the entertainment industry
in the Middle Ages on local and national radio, most notably acting as
organiser of expert participants to a BBC Radio 3 Sunday Feature on
Myths and Mystery Cycles, 12 September 2010, 22.00-22.45, presented by
John Sessions, and she is regularly consulted by the BBC in relation to
similar topics [i].
Sources to corroborate the impact
[a] Invitation to take Visiting Professorship at Coventry University from
Professor Madeleine Atkins(Vice-Chancellor). Corroborates Visiting
Professorship and support for Coventry Mysteries Project.
[b] Executive Director, Alan Higgs Charity. Can corroborate King's role
in developing the Coventry Mysteries further as a civic project.
[c] Executive Director. York Festival of Mystery Plays. Can corroborate
impact on York Festival of Mystery Plays.
[d] Appointment letter for position of Honorary Academic Consultant to
the Gloucester Mystery Plays Festival from the festival director, Philip
McCormick. Corroborates appointment to consultant position and outlines
role in script and performance preparation.
[e] Director, Gloucester Mystery Plays Festival. Can provide further
corroboration of King's contribution to the Gloucester Mystery Plays
[f] Invitation to Participate in ESF-funded workshop in Budapest from
Senior Adminstrator, ESF Exploratory Workshops. Corroborates King's
involvement as convenor of the workshop.
[g] List of Participants for ESF-funded workshop. Corroborates
international reach and claim that King was able to bring the producers of
the York and Gloucester festivals together withpractitioners and academics
working in the field from across the world.
[h] Programme for ESF-funded workshop. Corroborates programme for
[i] Producer, BBC.Can corroborate K ing's media involvement which has
raised public awareness of reinventions of Early-European Performing Arts.
[j] Director of the Centre of Excellence for the History of the Emotions,
University of Western Australia. Can corroborate international reach of
reinventions of Early-European Performing Arts.