Unlocking York Minster: Always unfinished ….

Kirsty Surgey is completing a project with York Minster as part of her research training with WRoCAH. This is the third of four blog posts about this exciting performance-based project.

Written by Kirsty Surgey, School of English, University of Sheffield

The ideas are starting to coalesce. There have been many false starts, but I am starting to see a way through. There will be a quest for treasure through the Minster Library – books on shelves, manuscripts in archival boxes, pieces of silver normally locked in a strong room, carpets underfoot and stories shared by passers-through.

The performance will reveal discoveries and encourage the audience to continue the journey. To complete the day I hope that there will be a movement workshop in the Minster itself; a chance to share the process and an invitation to make your own creative response.

The theme of the performance will be transformation. The Minster collections are crammed full of things that have been one thing and are now another. A Norwegian bedspread hangs as a banner in the aisle north of the quire. Things have been remade and reused. Bright blue Norman glass brightens the five sisters window where it has been inserted to replace a missing pane. This whole window was made into something new when it was dedicated to the women who lost their lives in the First World War. A 700 hundred year window becomes a modern war memorial.

It is proving difficult to be selective. The magpie method has left me with so many possibilities that I need a rather severe pruning knife to cut it to size. But every time I cut one branch out it seems to spring back stronger than before and demonstrate new, unconsidered reasons for its inclusion.
The playbills are a good example. I cut these from my text. I had no doubt that I would revisit them, as they are such an invaluable resource to a theatre researcher, but I felt that I was hanging onto them for that reason. A good editor once taught me to cut anything that is there because I like it – that’s probably the only reason why it’s there.

Then I started thinking about the theme of transformation and the mode of the treasure hunt. These playbills are ephemera. They should have been chucked away following the performance. Their purpose is to sell tickets for an event 230 years ago. We’re a little late to see the show, but someone made the effort to collect them. Someone bound them carefully in chronological order. Their preservation makes them precious. The very fact that they are disposable is what has transformed them into treasure.

So, for the moment, they’re back and something else will have to go…

The performance experience is called Go on without me. It is an invitation to continue the journey and find your own path through the collections. I have found treasure made of paper, stone, wood, silk and silver in the Minster archives; your treasure may well be something different and I’m looking forward to hearing all about it!