Black History Month Celebrations
We reflect back on the student and staff celebrations and events that have gone on at ALRA this Black History Month.
We asked our tutors "What material by Black artists have inspired you?". Here's a selection of the answers:
Brandon Lee Sears, Co-Course Leader, MA Professional Acting (South)
I’d like to celebrate and recognise the contribution of The Palace Of The Dogs; an arts advocate for marginalised and under-privileged communities. They use art to empower the voiceless and increase progressive conversation around identity, politics and social issues.
The Palace Of The Dogs: www.thepalaceofthedogs.com
The Palace of The Dogs Weak Tea video: https://youtu.be/k2G43Gj8s48
I’d also like to celebrate Dominique Morisseau and his play Pipeline directed by Leilana Blain Cruz, which reveals the challenges faced by Black youths and shines a light on the 'school-to-prison pipeline'.
Maya Angelou wrote a favourite book of mine, ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’. She began her artistic career as a dancer, was fluent in 6 languages, was a Pulitzer Prize Nominee, and wrote and directed several different movies.
Maya Angelou And Still I Rise video: https://vimeo.com/182582378
Black history is everyone’s history, but has been systemically left out of our history books and mainstream media. Black History Month is a great opportunity to celebrate the Black people in your life and find ways to give back to the Black community. Everyone can take steps to understand how their skin colour has impacted their own lives and how barriers to equality can show up at work and at home.
Kieran Sheehan, Vice Principal (Curriculum)
After much thought I have chosen Ben Okri as an artist who has influenced/informed/inspired/shifted me as part of our celebration of Black History Month. Ben Okri is a poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, aphorist, playwright, and writer of film-scripts. His writing challenges perceptions of reality. Born in Minna to an Igbo mother and an Urhobo father, he spent his early childhood in London while his father studied law and returned to Nigeria with his family in 1968. He studied comparative literature at Essex University in England.
I first came across his work in the mid 00’s. I was working on a new piece of aerial theatre with Upswing when artistic director Vicki Amedume introduced me to his novel The Famished Road. I remember being struck by every single word I read… it was unlike a reading experience I had ever encountered. His writing taught me to be with the meaning beneath, around and within the language. It felt very close to the sensory experience of moving as an affective flow of becoming something new with art.
Please see detailed history and resources relating to Okri in his website here:https://benokri.co.uk/
Lucy Curtis, Course Leader, MA Professional Acting (North)
Aly Spiro, Senior Faculty Member and Course Leader, BA Acting (South)
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman
Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Jane Jeffery, Lead Acting Tutor and Head of Second Year (South), BA (Hons) Acting
This Black History Month I would like to share with you a wonderful resource called the Black Cultural Archives. It is a national heritage centre dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history of African and Caribbean people in Britain. Here is the link: https://blackculturalarchives.org
BBC News archive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFC5FBQ5dww
George Richmond-Scott, Co-Lead Voice Tutor and Course Leader (South), MA Directing
I have recently discovered the work of Nikki Giovanni, an American poet, activist and educator. She is warm, witty and vital and has achieved so much. Here she is in her own words: https://nikki-giovanni.com/biography. And here she is speaking her poetry (and being very funny and wise): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ekpw2xzPK2Y
A contemporary Shakespearean scholar and expert and the president of the Shakespeare Association of America. She specialises in Renaissance drama and issues of race in performance. In 2013 she wrote Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, And Contemporary America. Here she is considering Othello. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsUoW9eNTAw
An American actress and singer. After appearing in vaudeville she made her Broadway debut in St. Louis Woman in 1946. She won a Tony Award for the title role in the all-black production of Hello, Dolly! in 1968, received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 1976 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1988. I remember seeing her in the film Carmen Jones when I was small (with the incredible Dorothy Dandridge in the title role) and being bowled over by her. She is so perfectly intense yet economic. That movie feels pretty dated now and plays into stereotypes. James Baldwin wrote, "though the actors are black, very little about their lives shows this."
Here instead then is Pearl singing Before the Parade Passes By from Hello, Dolly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEyYx7mTEsU
The Hackney Poet
We hosted an online discussion with Sonia Watson Fowler, aka The Hackney Poet. Sonia has extensive experience of leading and managing individuals from extremely diverse background and ages, coaching colleagues and mentoring inner-city young people. Her work helps individuals and organisations to effectively resolve conflict and genuinely embrace inclusivity in a non-tokenistic way and embed this ethos in organisational culture while challenging those resisting the tide of change.
Sonia performs acoustic sets and is a poet, providing commissioned works for private clients as well as bespoke pieces for individuals at social and business events. Galvanised by empowering people and promoting cohesion, she enjoys the social aspect of all aspects of her work and has a dry, jovial approach that creates a sense of ease in all forums she creates, leads and facilitates.
The Palace Of The Dogs
The Palace Of The Dogs spoke to some of our learners online in the form of an open discussion with the sharing of articles and short films that explored how we can develop our activist voice through art/theatre and how it can be used to positively impact the Black community.
The Palace of The Dogs is a multi-disciplinary arts collective comprising of Daniel Bailey, Chia Phoenix, Vanessa Fisher and Kieran McGinn; experienced theatre practitioners (West End) redirecting the purpose of art. They support creatives who use their craft as a vessel for social change to increase progressive conversation around identity, politics and social issues. They inspire and empower young people to challenge existing narratives and create original digital artistic works, drama, workshops and forums that explore and highlight hidden narratives in our society.
“A brilliant opportunity to have an open discussion about the politics that surround the theatre industry and the importance of the black community taking control of the black narrative. It’s important for us to remind students, that their art belongs to them - It’s their voice. Once we remove the identity and culture from the artist, what is truly left?” - Daniel Bailey (Founder)