Full Circle – Devoted and Disgruntled

Leadership

“Chief of the Adinkra Symbols”

Symbol of greatness, charisma and leadership

I want to talk about circles. The Devoted & Disgruntled Open Space started with a circle, it tries to. Some will always be more comfortable slightly outside the circle, whilst others take centre stage as if it were their rightful place. The kids at school have circle time where they can talk about their feelings and stuff. I’m sure there have been studies upon studies about circles.

We are more natural than we allow ourselves to believe.

Last Thursday 27th February 2014 the Actor and Writer Tyrone Huggins, alongside Improbable Theatre, created and invited a Devoted & Disgruntled event with the following question;

Devoted & Disgruntled: What are we REALLY going to do about Race and Diversity in UK Theatre?

And with that we answered the invitation we moved towards a movement and sat on a mountain called the Southbank Centre for the day.

Lemn Sissay welcomed the circle, allowing for nervous energy to settle, he then took us through the process with kindness, grace and heartfelt expectation. A hopeful moment shared.

We broke out from the large circle to create smaller ones dotted around the room. These circles often had a listening circle surrounding it.

I joined the following discussions.

‘What on earth is Black Theatre and does it still exist?’

‘If money equals power where is it and how can I get it?’

‘Why is it that BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) Theatre companies are generally useless?’

‘How can we gain more BAME Artistic Directors in the Mainstream Theatres?’

‘Is anyone else just tired of all this shit?’

Reports are being uploaded as we speak

We sat in an open space full of people who talk and listen for a living, who flex their imagination muscles on a regular basis, who clock body language and costume in a heart beat. Who calculate every spilt or considered word. The meticulously minded. Many took the plunge and shared their insight, whilst others were left exhausted because of the strength it takes to actively listen, taking it all in.

New school or old school life is not a rehearsal. We are living now.

One of the strengths of the day appeared to be a genuine will to share insights to avoid past mistakes. Well walked activists stated “know your history, this is not a new question or road you have joined.” A question was asked “how many BAME theatre companies are in the UK today?” A wonderfully powerful retort from a long traveled woman was “that we should not only ask that, but how many are regularly funded?” and “how is it the UK had so many in the 1980’s compared to now?”

I was inspired by the clarity of thought from those who have just got out of school, sharing their experiences of training at Drama School. Maybe there will be those who join who will take it some place else we’d be happy to follow. Age ain’t nothing but a number after all, insight from all journeys is going to be needed for this level of change.

It may be what we choose to do today helps others to keep going, to help others to get it, to continue making the work despite all the odds and not give up.

This Devoted & Disgruntled event gave us context, a chance to catch up, clarity and for some maybe even strength. I’m hoping it gives us courage to continue to engage with the question and we don’t keep coming back to this same point again and again just going round in circles talking to ourselves…that way madness lies.

AH

“This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

Dr Martin Luther King

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Madiba

We are all Africans. Some of us left a little earlier than the others, some of us didn’t leave of our own accord, Some of us remained.

As the song goes ‘We Are Family’ and I am one Sister who has a story to share. A story like many others no doubt but one I’m going to tell anyway. This is no time to play small and stay silent. *I am a child of God and my playing small does not serve the world. *Words attributed to Mr Mandela quoting the poet Marianne Williamson.

So he’s gone. We knew this day would come, selfishly we can’t stand it. We wanted him to live forever,to keep representing the best of us. To keep giving us the words we need so we can say yeah…what he said.

In a leaderless world we follow blindly, when the best of us steps up we follow forever and this particular journey has been resting and has now stopped.

It seems like even in his going he took the longer route to help us get used to it. To help us get used to not seeing him, asking him questions, having the right answers. We sat at his feet like nodding Great Grandchildren yes yes we will remember. But will we?

To remember is crucial for our future. We must remember together, otherwise the story will start to erode and be told by others in a seemingly insignificantly different way. This way will make such a difference that only generations to come can turn back and tell the truth, and by then it may be too late. It is the difference between war and peace. It is the difference between the lies people can tell on you so well you begin to believe it yourself.

We know some of our brothers and sisters were not always followers of this righteous man, some of them called him names and campaigned against the cause. They tried to keep him out of the press. It was the photographers, writers, singers, poets, filmmakers, DJ’S and ‘loony leftie’ councils naming roads, buildings and gardens after him that kept us remembering, as well as the politicians and the people.

We watched as these same said brothers and sisters smiled (skin teeth) shook hands, jostled for photographs with him and he took their hands and smiled back and then he spoke his words.

To paraphrase he said…

‘We know you spoke against us even though we asked for help, despite this, now we are free we return here as friends.’

For more on what he actually said here is a link to his address to the UK House of Lords. Telling them about themselves and thanking the rest of us.

http://db.nelsonmandela.org/speeches/pub_view.asp?pg=item&ItemID=NMS399&txtstr=Joint

So back to our story. I can’t tell you my tales of freedom fighting with arms, only freedom fighting with words. Like some of us at the time I told my fellow teenage friends about what my parents had told me. Argued in the classroom about Cape grapes, read the books, went to the meetings, the opening of the gardens and attended the films. Standing up and being counted.

Here are some of the many ways throughout my life he made me feel free.

To be a Black child in a White country is politics, there is no traveling around it. In my teenage years all my heroes had either been killed or died trying to fight for freedom. Here was a man alive prepared to die.

Thankfully he didn’t have to. He got out. I was 17 years old. In our family front room that February day we sat in silence as we tried to make out his face. The sun appeared behind his head like a halo. We knew he was just a man and still time seemed to slow down, almost stop. He was an older man to the picture. Of course he was older how foolish, of course he would be… We began to tally the man with the myth. From the moment he spoke I felt free.

In 1985 my first teenage year I used to visit the bust of his head at The South Bank on a regular. It was sculpted by Ian Walters and commissioned by the Greater London Council. I’d step off the train walk down the steps and stare at his head and think.

As I grew older one of the last things I did before I left London to study in Manchester was visit and whisper thank you for helping me understand, for staying strong, for connecting the world against a righteous cause. Thank you for your grace and intelligence and spirit and smile and thank you for dancing.

Years later after settling in Yorkshire I was a young mum at home with the baby, it was 2001. We were listening to the radio. They said Mr Mandela will be arriving in Leeds today. I looked at our baby and said ‘Isaac, Mr Mandela is coming to Leeds today’ the baby looked at me then carried on with his stuff. I stared at him and made a decision. I swept him up, packed his bag and buggy and locked up the house. I ran with the buggy to pick up his big brother Reuben from Nursery.

I rushed through the gates and banged on the door and came across Mrs Mir Reuben’s nursery Teacher. I said ‘I need to take Reuben out of nursery early. We have to try and see Mr Mandela, he’s coming to Leeds.’ She looked at me and ran to get Reuben. We got his coat. He had a big red puffer jacket which was looked after by a green crocodile on his peg. Mrs Mir waved us off, said good luck and wished she could go with us.

There was no time to lose. Reuben and I ran our fastest fastest whilst the baby loved the excitement in his buggy. We ran and ran. Back in those days at Huddersfield Train Station you had to wait to get across the tracks with your buggy! Imagine crossing the tracks with a baby in a push chair and a 4 year old! Thankfully this is no longer the case.

We got across the tracks.The train pulled in and we jumped on. We caught the train.

I sat Reuben down and tried to explain. We are going to see a very important man. His name Is Mr Mandela. He is important to the world, he was locked up but now he is free. He was President of his country. One day you’ll understand.

Reuben nodded his head. He liked running, he liked trains, it was all good. Isaac had fallen asleep, I was sweating and grinning.

The train pulled into Leeds. Reuben the baby and me did our racing thing again. We ran and ran. We ran outside Leeds Train Station took a left and left again and saw the crowd at the Queens Hotel. I asked the people there ‘have we missed him? ‘ Someone said no he’s running late. Thank God. I bent down to talk with Isaac telling him not to worry about the crowd. And then the crowd cheered, a car was arriving. I couldn’t believe it. I looked down and grabbed Reuben. I lifted him up on my shoulders and stood holding on to the buggy at the same time.

Mr Mandela emerged from the car. He was tall,it was him. I was overwhelmed. I said ‘look, it’s Nelson, it’s Nelson.’

Reuben had a bright red coat, Mr Mandela spotted him in the crowd, our boy, our brown boy. He made his way over to him and shook Reuben’s hand. I said ‘we love you’ and looked down to Isaac and said Isaac Mr Mandela is here! Isaac looked up. And Mr Mandela was gone. We had made it, we had seen him.

We made our way over to Millennium Square- Mandela Gardens. No more running just walking and smiling. We bought theA Walk To Freedom CD in the streets. It was a happy day.

The boys are now 17 and 14 years old and when I take them to London they still have to go and visit Nelson’s head. Last time we went was when Reuben had completed his GCSE’s.

Now we have a world looking for leaders of the calibre of Mr Nelson Mandela who taught us how to be free. It remains a long walk. The journey continues.

As a teenager, a young mum, a grown woman. I will be forever thankful for the lessons he taught us for the continued journey ahead.

Madiba God Bless you and your memory always.

AH

398px-Nelson_Mandela_bust,_Southbank,_London

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Bag Lady

 
Image
 
Every play takes you on a journey. You dive into a new world and explore, opening doors, kitchen draws, drawing rooms or bedrooms finding out where the characters live, what they care about, what’s their point. Human nature manifests itself over and over again, whilst we all try to work out what it’s all about. 

At Hidden Gems Productions I have the utmost pleasure of being one of the first to read Marcia Layne’s new scripts. It’s a gift that pops into my in box, I read straight away then sit for a while.  With Bag Lady Marcia’s brand new work  I stood up. When the truth hits you, it hits you hard. 

I have lived with Bag Lady for the best part of this year and it has taken me to places I’d forgotten I knew about, made be burst out laughing and gasp almost in the same breath, explored places I was afraid to go to for fear of how painful those places can be, but I went because my job is to help tell the story Marcia has written. A play for our times. 

It is a fierce and funny play.  
It is the play we’ve been waiting for. 

Eve tells it like it is and I’m glad she does because I feel stronger and ironically calmer than before because of it.

Every word counts.

In rehearsals the play is evolving and that feels right. Flo Wilson has done a fine job finding Eve. The play feels almost organic and will grow and build, but for now it’s nearly ready to share where it is. I know it will be talked about,  if you come please talk about it to us, to each other, to the world! 

I hope to see you there. 
Trust me this is a journey you don’t want to miss. 

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Art is not just for Christmas.

Star Pic 1

I had two tickets to two shows this week. Each left me in tears, they always do. I’m a cry baby when it comes to watching performers give it their all, chins up, voices blazing, singing with all their might. I like miserable Mary’s and cross Inn Keepers. The story of Christmas told over and over again in all it’s glory. Shepherds and Kings and Wise men coming together to celebrate hope.

It’s a good story and I’m glad it’s shared in this way. We could just have someone read the big book but we don’t do we? We take the time to get the costumes, choose the actors, learn the lines and make the entrances to tell the story. This is how we have done it for thousands of years.

As well as the Nativity they shared stories of hope from World War ll and sang great Jazz, Rock and Hip Hop tunes from a breadth and wealth of music.

In our diverse community we have been celebrating each other for months with festivals from around the world and understanding of how we each choose to mark time, remembrance and self.

At the High School we were treated to Nessun Dorma and Pretty Woman played by the Steel Band Orchestra, we then had an amazing performance from a solo dancer with the power to captive the whole audience. He fooled us into thinking he was just cute with his cheeky grin, then he made a move that sent shivers down my spine. He popped and locked so hard it demanded the audiences full attention and deserved the reception he got at the end. This little man now has the full respect from the entire school not only because he can dance but because he shared his skill and talent with such joy. You could feel the music ripple off him.

Year groups through from 7 to 11 shared the stage. Sharing what they knew, entertaining the crowd, looking nervously on and gaining confidence with every refrain.

These two schools give the opportunity to platform the talent and growing confidence of pupils throughout the year. They seek out great Art experiences for their young people. It’s part of the culture of our schools. A chance to shine and for families to be amazed by their own.

I was blessed with a good arts education. At home as a child I was surrounded by music and dancing and our family loved films, we still do. We love a good story, telling them, sharing them and passing them on. My school took us to see the London Philharmonic Orchestra, we sang Christmas carols to the Old Naval Seaman and Officers in the beautiful Dreadnought Seaman’s’ Hospital Church, We met Queen Elizabeth the First at the National Art Gallery, We went to the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank to watch Hiawatha and listened to the Nutcracker. I adored the Sugar plum fairy.

There is a growing amount of concern with Micheal Gove’s Education policies attempting to squeeze Arts in schools. Here is a link to the University of The Arts London Website sharing the views of their Vice Chancellor Nigel Carrington http://alturl.com/2dsk4

I imagine our children without art, music, drama or dance or having very little access to it. Art being a bolt on rather than running right through your education brings me to a standstill. The music stops, we stop discovering, we stop recording who we are and who we could be. The opportunities missed. This can’t happen, it won’t happen because we will always come together and share our stories in whatever way we have been blessed to tell it. The real difference is being heard.

I wish you a Happy Christmas and an exciting creativity throughout the coming New Year.

AH 2012.

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The Elephant in the Room.

Elephant in the room

Is there room for me?  Make room, revolving doors, one in one out.  All change.

Heard it all before?

There was a lot of talk back in October 2012. So much talk it’s taken me this long to process it. I’m reminded when listening to this talk how long I’ve been on this road.

I used to serve as a Board Member at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, as well as sharing my knowledge of being an artist in the Yorkshire region I used to extend my knowledge of young people’s concerns and values from a young persons point of view. I’d  harp on about being heard and being young until one day I caught the pained expression of the then Chair and learned a valuable lesson in diversity around that table. This lesson included respecting where we each come from regarding experience. The young invariably want all change, disappointed at the lack of inheritance, wondering what the older lot have been not doing, tired of the talk. The older lot are embarrassed by the young uns unrealistic aspirations, based on pie in the sky ideas. They simply look away until the child stops whining.  These groups end up invariably patronising each other not recognising themselves in each other at all.  Now I’m in the middle and less young than I used to be I look both ways and see the value in both wishing we could build together instead of reinventing the square wheel that some of us have attempted to push forward. Making the case for Art, making the case for diversity, making the case for the case, repacking and making and remaking again and again.

Back in October the month the UK recognises Black History Month I  got an invitation from Iain Bloomfield, the Artistic Director of Theatre In The Mill, Bradford  to be part of a panel of artists including Nick Ahad, Playwright and Javaad Alipoor, Theatre Maker. We were to discuss the question of how to support Black and Asian performance makers.  The usefulness of the event started when Iain wrote a blog http://theculturevulture.co.uk/blog/headline/keeping-honest/

Within the comments in this blog an artist suggested that the talk on support for Black Artists may not be for him and he would wait for the next one, Iain said perhaps it would be and he suspected that many of the issues raised would be similar.

Many of my fellow peers theatre/performing arts makers who could not make it asked to be informed on how it went. They couldn’t make it for many many reasons including that they didn’t know the event was happening, they were in the process of making work or they had been to too many talks in the past and couldn’t take it anymore.  Some don’t attend these types of talks anymore. They are simply talked out. Talk is not cheap, sometimes talk can be very costly indeed. Wasting time and opportunities.

So for all of us I list here what I can remember: those of us in attendance shared our positions and discussed the following;  lack of access to venues, Socio economic impact , setting up own companies, multi million pound arts venues with 10- 20 year tenures, Board memberships, Community Theatre,  Asian Theatre school, quality control ,testing the work, access to good education, private vs state school, Oxbridge, artists getting paid, internships. racism, Institutional racism, audience development, pressures on companies to find the audience as well as make the work, theatre being made up of people not bricks and mortar, coveting what you don’t have, tax paying, seeing each other’s work, London, confidence in your work, lack of confidence, Torch bearing support and much more than I can recall. I’m hoping those who were there can also share their list!

Looking around that room at the time I suspect from that meeting, opinions and alliances were formed. Seeds were planted and plans were taken forward. This is how it is in business.

Sometimes this all reminds me of the fable with the elephant and the blind men. There were a number of blind men all invited to name the object in front of them. They each took a section, the ears, a leg, the trunk, the body.  One man had the elephant’s tail in his hand and said with confidence ‘yes yes this is surely a rope’ each man called out no it’s a large fan, a tree trunk, a wall! There are so many stories across the UK about the BAME experience, no one has the monopoly on that story we have to listen and learn from each other. We don’t have to like each other but we should respect the right to be heard and maybe put it all together and see the elephant in the room.

So back to the question how can we support BAME performance makers?

Below is my list. A call for support for theatre makers.

  • A call to FE Colleges and Universities come see the work.  Invite Black and Asian practitioners to share their practice.
  • Local Authorities when it comes to the BAME artistic community please check your policies are supporting both community work as well as encouraging professional practice. Through education provision, available spaces (up holding basic health and safety requirements of a clean and warm space, supporting Theatre venues and a strong voluntary sector. Create and support a directory of artists like the Creative Economy and VCS team at Kirklees Council have here it’s called Creative Bubble: http://www.creativebubble.org/wordpress/
  • Seek out the talent invite them in from the cold. Produce processes that encourages new writing from a broad spectrum of the British experience.
  • Encourage a go see ticket for artists perhaps first 20 at a discounted cost.
  • Programmers. Please place your commissioning policy online. Timelines, Script request, program deadlines (ish).
  • Programmers  come and see the work and feedback accordingly.
  • Reviewers come see the work.
  • Artists be prepared, learn your craft, check the context, do your thing.

 

There will be many more suggestions than this. 

HGP -Preset

At Hidden Gems Productions where I collaborate with Marcia Layne we support artists by working hard to ensure our work reflects the world we inhabit. Giving considered thought where we place our calls for work and the location of our auditions, giving people the opportunity to shine in their field, telling the stories that have yet to be told and ultimately making the work happen and speaking for itself.

AH 2012

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Film was my first love.

Film was my first love. 
Then theatre stole my heart. 
Captured my imagination.  

Me and theatre are friends for life.
In my foundation years, it gave me the tools to turn chairs into 
thrones, mice into men,to fall flat on my face and stand up again 
taller than before, once I'd learnt the skills required of me as 
an actor. 

I value my understanding of the actors approach 
it has helped me become a better director. 
In the role of a director it taught me patience and pace. 
I learnt that I was the bridge between the technical team 
and the creative team and learnt the many technical languages
and emotional intelligence required of me in this role.

Most of all I understand the power of storytelling. 
I learnt to respect the power of words and the beauty of image. 
Whether you're five years old sitting on the school mat 
or a grown up sitting on a Board,
a good story told well can make all the difference.

Which brings me back to my first love. Film. 
I've been learning the craft of film. The crew, 
the language,the equipment, the treatments,
the legal, the everything.

I like teams, I also like research and like nothing better than 
being locked in a room with a computer screen editing on my own. 

After an intensive training course on documentary filmmaking  
with Kirklees Filmmakers and support from Kirklees Council 
I have made a short film called Run Jamaica Run.

It feels both familiar and brand new. 

I've taken these first steps towards another chapter 
and it feels good. Thank you to all who shared their time.

Here is Run Jamaica Run. 

 
AH 




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Run Jamaica Run.

Run Jamaica Run.

This Sunday is a big day for Jamaicans at home and abroad
with their friends and family across the globe
they will be celebrating and reflecting on the eve of the
50th anniversary of the Independence of Jamaica.

As if this wasn’t enough we will be counting down
on that same said day towards the Olympic 100m mens final,
where a Jamaican is favourite to win.

Exciting times ahead:
Mens 100m Semi final race 19:45
Mens 100m Final : 21:50

The Jamaican Independence Festival @ 50
is being held in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.

Here is a link to the event. http://jif50.co.uk/

I’m making an independent documentary film called
Run Jamaica Run.

I’ll be at our base with the fantastic
Kirklees Filmmakers crew.

I’m wanting to encourage lots of visitors
to come down and take the opportunity to take pictures
and share some memories.
It will only take a few moments
but hopefully last a life time.

On Sunday I’ll be taking the time
to remember my grandparents,
Mr & Mrs Grizzle and Mr & Mrs Hedman
all sadly no longer with us.
Without their hard work and sacrifices back in the 1960’s
I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I have now.

We have a way to go but what a journey so far!!

Please come and join me if you can.

AH

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