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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)

Arts Activist

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)

Claudia Jones 
Political activist, communist, community leader, journalist, founder of the Notting Hill Carnival, and a supreme human being. She was born in Trinidad in 1915 and moved to Harlem when she was 8. Her education was cut short by Tuberculosis which affected her for the rest of her life. She was arrested many times due to her activism and subsequently came to the UK to work alongside the communist party. I first heard of Claudia in Winsome Pinnock's play A Rock in Water which was inspired by her life. I would recommend a read. She's buried next to Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Absolute fire! Check out Sister Rosetta Tharpe doing her thing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOrhjgt-_Qc. The spirit, passion and soul of her performances and her care and generosity for audiences fill me with so much joy and inspiration whenever I think about the audience and actor relationship on stage.
Spike Lee
RIP Chadwick Boseman. 
If you haven't watched Spike Lee's most recent film Da 5 Bloods, check it out here: https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/81045635. The film interrogates the complicated relationship between the armed forces and African-American soldiers during the Vietnam War — fighting for the humanitarian rights of the Vietnamese people, rights they themselves were not yet granted back in the States. It's your last chance to see Boseman grace our screens.

Aly Spiro, Senior Faculty Member and Course Leader, BA Acting (South)

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
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.
I say,
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
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

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.
I say,
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
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

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.
I say,
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

Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

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.
I say,
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
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.
I was lucky enough to see many great bands - The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan - to name a few, but the greatest concert I ever saw was this one. Bob Marley, June 1976, Hammersmith Odeon. My heart still skips a beat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7PkPQQTShI

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

This year, I particularly want to celebrate the contribution of Black women - specifically those outside the arts. One such woman is the amazing Baroness Doreen Lawrence. https://blackculturalarchives.org/baroness-doreen-lawrence. Baroness Lawrence has broadcast widely on various programmes, but here is a small selection:
Goldman Sachs Interview from August this year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqVlFB4WIVA
Doreen has inspired me throughout my life. The murder of her son was an event which had a huge impact on my life, resulting in my attending many demonstrations and events to push for police reform, as well as legal reform, ultimately resulting in my decision to specialise in Discrimination and Equality law as a practicing lawyer (before I came to ALRA and retrained as an actor).

George Richmond-Scott, Co-Lead Voice Tutor and Course Leader (South), MA Directing

Nikki Giovanni

I have recently discovered the work of Nikki Giovannian 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

Dr Ayana Thompson

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

Pearl Bailey

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

Sonia Watson Fowler BHM October 2020 

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

Palace of the Dogs Image October 2020

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)