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25.4.16

NEW LADY VENDREDI VIDEO: PAPA LEGBA

‘Papa Legba’ is performed live in the ‘Passion of Lady Vendredi’ currently at Soho Theatre until April 30. Developed alongside the stage show, the EP of the same name captures the pulsating rhythms and dutty bass of the live experience.

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Papa Legba Video Preview

“Papa Legba is an ode to vodou’s guardian at the gate of the crossroads, he’s the spirit who you go through to get the other spirits. I was thinking about the Middle Passage, where thousands of people were thrown into the sea, and that comes into Haitian vodou because they believe there’s an underground paradise where all these people went to. So it’s all about crossing this boundary into other realities and asking to pass through a cosmic divide.” Nwando Ebizie, aka Lady Vendredi.

Directed by Richie Simkins.

From the Soundtrack to The Passion of Lady Vendredi at Soho Theatre until 30th April.

EP out now on Bandcamp.

Premiered on Huck Magazine

19.4.16

5-STAR REVIEWS FOR THE PASSION

The Passion of Lady Vendredi kicked off its 3-week run at Soho Theatre last week with enthusiastic responses from audiences and critics alike and received a 5 star review from Time Out.

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The Reviews are in for The Passion of Lady Vendredi

“Gloriously out-there cabaret-meets-gig-meets-theatre-experience…By the end we were completely desensitized to the lunacy, dancing freely and it seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to explore the journey of womanhood.” 5 Stars, Time Out.

Read the full review here

"The production is executed exceptionally well with a strong cast providing a continuous high-energy performance with rhythmic singing and dancing throughout." 5 Stars, British Blacklist

Read the full review here

“…I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything that even approximates to this slightly other-worldly adventure. It’s deliberately unsettling, and if you like challenging yet joyful productions, do consider a trip to Planet Vendredi.” 4 Stars, London Theatre1.

Read the full review here

"...The Passion of Lady Venredi is turbulent, seductive and vicious...once the lights come up you’re left wanting more from Lady V.  Nwando Ebizie is ferocious and powerful as she pushes the boundaries in this abstract and contemporary creation." 4 Stars. The Metropolist.

Read the full review here

“… the performances are deeply committed, the music is immersive and Lady Vendredi is surely one of the most compelling stage performers out there, with a rich, worldly repertoire that means whatever she does next will surely be fascinating.” 3 Stars, The Upcoming.

Read the full review here

 "Successfully pulling together an audience of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life to interactively explore sexuality, race and gender is no easy feat...This isn’t big budget, this is big balls. Big, crazy, unconventional, brilliant balls." 4 Stars, Afridiziak Theatre News

Read the full review here

Check out what the audience thinks...

Book tickets here

19.4.16

nitroBEAT DIRECTOR TALKS BLACK THEATRE IN THE UK

In an excerpt from an interview for ‘Timeline’ - a film exploring the history of Black physical theatre in the UK, directed by visual and physical theatre artist Benji Reid, Diane Morgan responds to a question about honouring black artists contribution to theatre and introduces her ‘manifesto for the future’.

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Timeline premiered at STUN, Manchester on 11 December 2015.

For an introduction to Afrofuturism check out these links:

Afrofuturism Conference: Designing new narratives to empower the African Diaspora.

Panelists discussed how Afrofuturism reclaims ownership over black identity with art, culture and political resistance.

Afrofuturism on film: five of the best.

Seminar report: Afrofuturism’s Others at Tate Modern.

Afrofuturism to everyday futurists: new kinds of artists, power & tech.

For further information about accessing the nitroBEAT archive, dating back to the company’s inception as Black Theatre Co-op in 1979, click here.

12.4.16

THE PASSION PROGRAMME

Have you been to see The Passion of Lady Vendredi and want to know more about the show, cast and creative team?

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Our programmes are digital because it’s environmentally friendly, with the added bonus of allowing us to add more videos, photos and links as they become available… a great resource that lasts forever! Check it out here.

22.3.16

Watch The Trailer For The Passion of Lady Vendredi

Mas Productions, nitroBEAT & Soho Theatre invite you to experience this viciously beautiful and exuberant immersive music theatre show, where live pulsating synthetic rhythms and dirty bass drive the tensions between freedom and control.

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The Passion of Lady Vendredi - Soho Theatre, Tue 12 – Sat 30 April

Buy your tickets here and follow us on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram for exclusive behind the scenes footage.

Additional footage shot by Matthew Charles Robinson.

3.3.16

Blues and Soul Magazine Interview with Lady Vendredi

A self proclaimed ‘agent provocateur’ I compare her to a small particle of magnesium placed on water, fizzing, with creative energies that us mere mortals could only dream of. Co-signed by one Gilles Peterson (after she won the Steve Reed award for innovation) the trained actress, pianist and violinist resides not only in a different lane but also in a different country when it comes to her creative output.

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Artists nowadays CAN be slightly formulaic, fitting some ideal template for a successful recording artist. Nigerian born Lady Vendredi however kicks dirt (with bits of sharp stone in it) in the face of this ‘ideal template’.

Her debut single ‘What Time Is It?’ was a heady alchemy of sounds that maybe should not work (the adage ‘too many cooks’ comes to mind) but it does with a triumphant blast of something that is old yet somehow new (particularly in today’s musical landscape); blaxploitation elements, jazz, afrocentric beats, smatterings of hip-hop and West African sounds are readily incorporated into this most individual of debuts with its rousing chorus.

To say that musical output sums up Lady Vendredi however would be reductive. Lady Vendredi is more than an artist, she is a ‘movement’ of force and in the interview it was plain to see that Lady V has more than one string to her rather large bow.

Ok so first off let’s talk about the fact that you are backed by the one and only Gilles Peterson - that’s huge?

You are right, that was / is absolutely amazing. Gilles Peterson and a few other people set up a trust called the Steve Reed Foundation - Steve Reed was this amazing jazz drummer who drummed with everyone, but he unfortunately died in poverty. I won an award set up for innovative musicians and now I have been able to develop the project. Winning the competition has meant that I have been set up with mentors, animators and other people - this year it is all falling into to place.

Lady Vendredi - why the name?

Well, Lady Vendredi is a fictional character created by myself and the director of the show and ‘Lady Vendredi’ just happens to be releasing music as well - she has this whole meta narrative of afro-futurism and blaxploitation. I was inspired by the Haitian culture and the whole Baron Samedi voodoo lord idea. The character is depicted in a lot of sloppy 70’s blaxploitation films. He is the voodoo lord of the dead, we took his persona and what he represents and created Lady Vendredi.

So tell me more about the project.

The project has many different parts; the music, the live band, there are some performers, actors…it’s actually so much. The EP and the album are concept projects, rather like hip-hop artists used to do. The single ‘What Time Is It?’ has influences based on the Ebo rhythm, which is a Haitian voodoo rhythm.

Words by Semper Azeez-Harris.

Read the full article here

'The Passion of Lady Vendredri' 12-30 April @Soho Theatre. Info/Tickets here

1.3.16

Communications Placement/ Volunteering Opportunity

We have a unique opportunity for two curious and creative individuals who are passionate about digital and social media to gain invaluable communications experience on an exciting project for six weeks. Deadline: 10 March 2016.

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Deadline: 5pm, Thursday 10 March.

Informal Interviews: Wednesday 16 March at Soho Theatre, London.

Placement commences: Wk of 21st March.

Duration: 6 weeks.

Hours: Flexible around other commitments.

Expenses: Up to £50 per week for travel/lunch.

Location of placement: Soho Theatre and occasional offsite meetings. Ideally you’ll have your own laptop.

The role

We have a unique opportunity for two curious and creative individuals who are passionate about digital and social media to gain invaluable communications experience with an innovative company.

We will guide you through how to plan and execute a digital marketing campaign, focussing on our upcoming co-production with Mas Productions and Soho Theatre, ‘The Passion of Lady Vendredi’. You’ll be working with nitroBEAT and Soho Theatre marketing and PR staff and hit the ground running researching, coming up with new ideas and creating exciting content to share online and grow our networks. You’ll also attend planning meetings, shows and events and be supported with advice and mentoring around your future ambitions.

nitroBEAT is an evolution of Black Theatre Co-op/Nitro and a vital collective urge to drive the vision forward into a new era – bringing together known and undiscovered talent and creating performances with a rebellious streak. We're in love with music, theatre and visual art and they're at the heart of everything we do. We're finding new ways to explore the urgent stories of modern life waiting to be told.

You will...

Love contemporary culture, whether that’s music, theatre or other live performance; underground, experimental or alternative; committed to cultural diversity and social inclusion; resourceful, organised, a good communicator (written and verbal) and passionate about engaging people.

To apply

Please email your CV or a biography about yourself (2 sides of A4 maximum) by 5pm, Thursday 10 March to communications@nitrobeat.co.uk with your contact details and a one page cover letter telling us:

  • Why you’re interested in this role and how your interests & skills are relevant.
  • Links to any relevant social media, blogs or websites, indicating if they’re yours, examples of content you like or people/organisations you are connected to.

 nitrobeat.co.uk / sohotheatre.com / mas-productions.org / @nitrobeatuk / @ladyvendredi / @SohoTheatre

29.2.16

nitroBEAT and Soho Theatre host Tamasha Emerging Producer

nitroBEAT and Soho Theatre are working with Tamasha to jointly host an emerging producer placement. The bursary and placement is funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and is one aspect of Tamasha Developing Artists, an artist-led professional development programme for emerging and established theatre practitioners.

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Titilola Dawudu will be working with nitroBEAT and Soho Theatre to develop her experience of producing projects and productions.

Titilola, a Nigerian-born, British writer-producer started working for GMTV writing scripts and briefs, before moving onto youth organisation, Headliners, where she was an outreach journalist. Now Head of Operations and Development for Reaching Higher, a youth charity in Croydon and a Tamasha associate company, she project manages large events and is developing a performing arts platform.

Titilola has written many plays for young people, three of which were performed at Fairfield Halls in Croydon. She is currently finishing up an MA in Dramatic Writing at Central Saint Martins, where she has collaborated with Tamasha on ‘Taxi Tales’ with writer Ishy Din and her piece entitled ‘I Can't Breathe’ about the death of New Yorker Eric Garner, was selected for a staged reading with the Bush Theatre. While at Central Saint Martins, she has worked with the likes of Nina Steiger, Jennifer Tuckett, John Yorke, Lucy Kerble and Ola Aminashawun.

22.2.16

She’s back ... and she slays!

The exceptional music and performance artist Lady Vendredi describes herself as a ‘mythopoetic blaxploitation super heroine and vodou priestess popstar from another dimension’. She time travels and is on a quest for revenge...

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‘Great music, a truly innovative fusion’. Total Theatre

‘Fresh, raw and totally unique'. Giles Peterson

'Lady Vendredi is more than an artist; she is a movement of force'. Blues and Soul

The Passion of Lady Vendredi is co-production between nitroBEAT, Mas Productions and Soho Theatre. It features DJ, musician, actor and Afrofuturistic performance artist, Nwando Ebizie, who has previously performed with Princess Superstar as well as supporting Peaches, Charli XCX and A*M*E. Nwando has been a student of African and diasporic dance forms for the last 8 years. What struck her was the symbiotic nature of the drummer and dancer in traditional African/ Afro diaspora forms - and how there is a constant negotiation, semi improvisation between the two. This inspired a way of choreographing and composing through the body.

Her alter ego Lady Vendredi has emerged through working with director and musician Jonathan Grieve and performing on the stages of theatres, clubs and music festivals.

IMAGINE GRACE JONES IN A GRINDHOUSE FILM DIRECTED BY ROBERT RODRIGUEZ

Collaborating with an international ensemble cast of performance artists and live band ‘The Vendettas’, The Passion of Lady Vendredi is a unique performance cocktail, blurring the boundaries between music, theatre and live art and taking over Soho Theatre Downstairs’ speakeasy cabaret space with a highly politicized theatre-gig.

The production includes tracks from her new EP, with input from Floating Points, Emanative Four Tet and Gilles Peterson, to be
launched simultaneously alongside the show.

More details and booking info here

15.2.16

Is representation our only battle?

British theatre is both art and part of a wider industry connected to film, television and music, where we're seeing an unprecedented amount of attention this award season for across the board lack of cultural diversity. Black talent is either being ignored or used stereotypically.

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Black artists not only have to fight for representation, we have a bigger battle to stand out and to go against the grain.
Theatre desperately needs writers, artists and producers who are prepared to tell new stories and ask more inconvenient questions.

Nitro, (formerly Black Theatre Co-op) was established in 1979, and became one of the casualties of the Government’s
“austerity” cuts to the arts that saw a disproportionately large decrease in funded black-led companies in 2011.

The company is rising from the ashes and re-launched in Spring 2015 as nitroBEAT, with a new base at Soho Theatre and a radical new vision for contemporary music-theatre. We will premiere our new co-production, the first in seven years, with new company Mas Productions in April. The nitroBEAT and Soho Theatre partnership is built upon shared values that underscore the essential requirement for innovation and new ways to tell unheard stories.

Of the too few supported Black theatre productions there is still a focus on ‘estate gang stories’ ‘tales of subjugation’,
‘soap opera narratives’ and a re-hashing of classic plays with a black cast. Responsibility lies with both mainstream and alternative theatres and artists to take risks.

Audiences and demographics are changing, London has a 40% non-white population who want more than what is on offer and new talent has to be nurtured. Some of the most exciting work is happening outside of theatre, in DIY spaces, in exciting new web series and through fearless writing in blogs and zines. The talent is out there.

Theatre now needs to embrace new ideas and stop telling Black artists what stories to tell. It’s time to excite through the unexpected and underexplored.

Diane Morgan, nitroBEAT.

For further details of our upcoming show click here

22.1.16

nitroBEAT welcomes two new Board Members

Sharnita K Athwal – CEO of Shaanti and Yemisi Mokuolu – Arts Producer and Consultant, join the nitroBEAT board with David Emerson CBE, Chair – CE of the Association of Charitable Foundations, Natalie Wade, Vice Chair – Director of Small Green Shoots and Tony Graves – who leads in Arts & Festival Management at DeMontfort University.

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Sharnita K Athwal is the CEO of Shaanti, a company that delivers events and music development for British Asian artists. She is also the Artistic Director of the Eastern Electronic Festival, a month-long new music festival in Birmingham now in it’s fourth year.

Sharnita was the first female judge at the UK Asian Music Awards. She is the founder of Shaanti TV, Music Supervisor for the Multi-Award winning independent film ‘Karma Cartel’ and a DJ on digital radio stations in Germany, UK and India. She was included in the inaugural Cultural Leadership Programme ‘Women to Watch’ list, which profiled 50 female leaders, directors, producers and curators from across the UK in 2010, and as one of Birmingham’s New Beat-Generation ‘Inspirational Leaders’ in 2013. Her charity work includes chairing ‘British Asian Women in Music’, a platform for equal rights, change and empowerment.

Yemisi Mokuolu is an independent producer and arts consultant, trading under the name of Hatch Events who works within the Creative and Cultural industries producing independent films, arts seasons and large-scale events. She also provides audience development, arts promotion and business development support for a wide range of leading national organisations. She has delivered a number of development programmes, the most recent being the ‘UK-Nigeria Creative Partnership’, commissioned by British Council to foster collaborations between the Film, Fashion and Music industries in Britain and Nigeria.

Yemisi is best known for the platform ‘Out of Africa’ which promotes and profiles African arts in the UK via live events, newsletters, blogs and social media. Out of Africa events have been held in venues that include, Carnaby Street, Riverside Southbank Centre and Indig02, attracting festival audiences of up to 30,000. Yemisi is currently co-producing ‘Oliva Tweest’, the world's first Afrobeats Musical and ‘Asa Baako - One Dance festival’ in Ghana, which is now in its 6th year.

Diane Morgan, Director of nitroBEAT says of the appointments:

“With a refreshed vision to experiment and push the boundaries of music, theatre and live events, Sharnita was approached to join our board because of her relentless commitment to innovation, talent development and the execution of the highest quality creative projects that defy categorisation and reach wide audiences. Yemisi is an asset to nitroBEAT through her powerful advocacy, arts leadership and organisational development across the creative and cultural industries in the UK and across Africa. Yemisi and Sharnita provide a unique depth and breadth of expertise that will help to lead the company boldly into its next exciting phase.”

25.6.15

There is more that unites us than divides us

What are the ‘choke points’ preventing culturally diverse artists from succeeding and should we stop talking about ‘diversity’? These issues and more were discussed at nitroBEAT’s ‘D’ Word event. Diane Morgan summarises for Arts Professional.

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11

In May this year we produced the one-day ‘D’ Word event in association with the Barbican and supported by Arts Council England, Soho Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East. Representatives from In Between Time, Tamasha and Tricycle Theatre and independent consultants also provided time and facilitation skills in support of the aims.

140 artists, artistic directors, executive directors, producers, managers, consultants and policy-makers gathered at the Unicorn Theatre to explore new ideas and possibilities for increasing cultural diversity within London’s theatre and live art scene. Welcomed by Purni Morell, Artistic Director of the Unicorn, the event consisted of a suite of TED-style talks and performance provocations interspersed with facilitated discussions, opportunities to feedback, envisioning the future, informal conversation breaks, showcasing creative work, online interviews and social media commentary. A number of key questions prompted discussions.

Read the full article

More press:

Kerry Michael: ‘We need a MOBO Awards for BAME theatre’

Paulette Randall: ‘Diversity is a dirty word’

3.6.15

Privileging Our D-Words: Diversity, Dissent and Decolonised imagination in the public art space

"If both art and imagination are landscapes made broader by the prospect of encountering otherness; and by a curiosity to experience or understand places and people unknown; then it is reasonable to assert that art and imagination at their most potent and fertile must derive from a willingness to engage the diverse." Jan Asante, designer, writer and curator of film and culture.

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'As cultural critics proclaim this post-modern era the age of nomadism, the time when fixed identities and boundaries lose their meaning and everything is in flux, when border crossing is the order of the day, the real truth is that most people find it very difficult to journey away from familiar and fixed boundaries…In this age of mixing and hybridity, popular culture...constitutes a new frontier providing a sense of movement, of pulling away from the familiar and journeying into and beyond the world of the other.' - bell hooks, 'Reel to Real'

'Our bodies are occupied territories. Perhaps the ultimate goal of performance, especially if you are a woman, gay or a person “of color,” is to decolonize our bodies; and make these decolonizing mechanisms apparent to our audience in the hope that they will get inspired to do the same with their own.' - Guillermo Gómez-Peña, “In Defense of Performance Art”

How imaginative is the art form that dwells too long in the cul-de-sac; mirroring only the contents of its own internal constructs, like an impermeable cultural membrane that shields against whatever potential transformation may come from venturing beyond the cul-de-sac? Conversely, how re-imagined is the art form that peers beyond the perimeter of familiarity; that ventures beneath the skin of the homogenous space and that dares; without desire to dominate or decimate, to self-objectify and reappraise the value of its own skin through outside eyes?

Envision that vista of the cul-de-sac contrasted with the world outside the cul-de-sac. Symbolically, they occupy one landscape as opposing forces of imaginative expression: the colonial view that would centralise impermeability as cultural preserve, versus the decolonial approach that would integrate the cul-de-sac to save it, and populate its landscape with a panoply of communities. Envision if you will the tumultuous shifts and revolutionary upheavals that remain etched in both history books and human consciousness as memories of great migrations; of hope, loss, strife, struggle, pain, belonging and unbelonging, colonialism and decolonialism. Memories both individual and subconsciously transferred across the expanse of generations. Memories and minds indelibly marked by the psychological toll involved in reconciling that prevailing impasse between colonial impulse and its decolonial counter-narrative.

It was the autumn of 2014. An impasse had ensued in response to London's planned staging of 'Exhibit B' - a performance piece framed around colonial memory, envisioned by an artist descended from colonial settlers; featuring prominently a cast of performers descended from a lineage of colonized bodies. In its very physical conception, Exhibit B would represent that challenging reconciliation between empowered gaze and disempowered gaze and thus, in the impasse that occurred between voices of support and voices of dissent against the staging of this controversial work, there was a vital question. To artist, to audience, to Establishment: To whom, by whom and for whom is entitlement given to stage such reanimations of complex, traumatic cultural memory, and how best to negotiate the interactions and interventions of colonial with decolonial, within the shared performance spaces of contemporary art and culture?

When historically bodies have been 'owned'- held captive, displaced, dismembered, systemically disenfranchised in the service of colonial language; to create colonial wealth; to advance the preservation of the colonizer's culture; - it is a veritable challenge of communication to negotiate between descendents of the colonized and beneficiaries of colonial acquisition; a reconciliatory, reparative dialogue around the creation of representative art, that speaks with levelling autonomy beyond imbalances of history and disparate cultural entitlements. For this communication to occur within the context of any prevailing bias; inside the existing terms of colonial language that dwells in spaces constructed by the inherent architects of colonial systems, is a challenge only further intensified. Yet, it is a challenge for artist and audience and Establishment to dually and critically engage if art as a statement on human condition should aspire to render any truthful revelations about humanity in all its complexity of differing identities.

If both art and imagination are landscapes made broader by the prospect of encountering otherness; and by a curiosity to experience or understand places and people unknown; then it is reasonable to assert that art and imagination at their most potent and fertile must derive from a willingness to engage the diverse. Otherwise said, the art form that denies itself the liberty to speak towards diverse, alternate identities is the art form simultaneously in danger of extinguishing its very capacity to re-birth imagination.

In the immediate aftermath of the impasse, there is that temporal window of opportunity; a moment of interaction among the willing, where mediation may evolve towards an implementation of potentially transcendent resolutions.

To this symposium of diverse voices, The ‘D’ Word posed four resounding questions: ‘How do we collectively develop enhanced infrastructure and opportunity for culturally diverse artists to make and present work in London's spaces? In defining 'diversity' in a globally connected world in which race and identity is complex - do existing labels and categories need re-thinking? How do we encourage shared regular learning and good practice across the sector to include policy makers, commissioners, programmers, and employers as well as artists and arts organisations? How do we generate a paradigm shift in both quality and understanding of what is required to support the work and share it with audiences?

In the presentations offered by The ‘D’ Word’’s keynote speakers and in the ‘Lightning Talks’ delivered by performance artists, there were both definitive responses and candid revelations of personal struggle and triumph in negotiating the politics of diversity as performance practice and programming. There were also honest admissions of dilemma, when met with unanswerable questions about how best to effect, sustain and support the achievement of diversity, inclusivity and commonality as interrelated conversations in art spaces.

From Sharnita K Athwal; CEO of music development company Shaanti 11, there was a talk on 'Digital Engagement: Removing obstacles and adapting to opportunities' - framed around experiences of curating arts events exploring British Asian identities, and authenticity as an alternative to ‘assimilation’.

Joon Lynn Goh; senior producer and festival curator for In Between Time delivered philosophical reflections on 'Producing with a live art embrace' - invoking in her presentation the work of acclaimed Mexican activist Guillermo Gómez-Peña, who conceptualised the body as an ‘occupied territory’ and exalted decolonisation of the body as intrinsically necessary to the process of liberating dialogue between performance artist and audience.

‘Lightning Talks’ and performance pieces by artists Nwando Ebizie and Vijay Patel were captivating punctuations on the day’s thematic intersections and drew upon themes of multiculturalism, tradition, ritual and legacy; invoking cultural memories from the West African and East Indian Diaspora’s respectively.

From Fin Kennedy; co-artistic director of Tamasha, self-described as ‘a white, male playwright who has had an unusually diverse journey through East London schools’ – there was 'Recipe for change: How to diversify new British theatre' – a meditation on his process as both playwright and programmer, that peaked on the call towards ‘the E word’ (equality) as central to the core of all diversity thinking.

Kerry Michael; artistic director at Theatre Royal Stratford East, spoke unequivocally of this being the 'Time for positive action' and called very specifically for ‘people of colour’ to be front and centre in articulating the debate. The question asked: “Wouldn’t the theatre sector be so much more exciting if there were more people of colour serving as our national critics? Imagine how refreshing that would be for all of us.”

Writer, coach and broadcaster, Gaylene Gould of ‘Write.Talk.Listen’ spoke with provocative and poetic candour on the art of self-implicating and 'Learning to love differently'. ‘Cultural neglect’ she warned was a condition linked to ‘non-participatory alienation’; of feeling oneself disconnected when the cultural forms around them bare no resemblance to their cultural existence or memory. She underscored the relevance of love in the resolve of conflict, and in the translation of exclusivity into conscious acts of inclusivity.

'Diversity isn't a dirty word - but could there be a better one?', asked theatre director Paulette Randall; associate producer of the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, yet still the first ever Black and female theatre director to helm a West End theatrical production. Lamenting the fatigue that ‘pigeonholing’ within the British arts establishment frequently imposes upon artists of colour, she spoke personally of having encountered misperceptions- chiefly the assumption that Black artists are capable solely of creating work that speaks to Black audiences.

Heather Rabbatts CBE; a Jamaican-born British lawyer, businesswoman, broadcaster, and a towering presence within the structural echelons of UK arts and corporate sectors, delivered the final presentation of The D-Word. In 'Catalyst for change' she centralised leadership and strategy as conduits for change in the most demanding of environments and made clear that the question of achieving legacy in the diverse workspace would ultimately require collaborative investment in attracting, supporting and retaining diverse talent.

To reflect on the totality of talks, performances and provocations that transpired in the course of The D-Word is a challenge. In respect of condensing the wealth and depth of discourse into any singular phrase, proposal or outcome- no uniform offering would truly suffice here. Amidst the abstract interventions there were moments of dissent and instances in which English as the unifying yet colonial language used to capture the feeling in the room, felt symbolically like that impasse; like the test of navigating between colonial conventions and the decolonial impulse. Yet this moment was a needed moment; from impasse to engagement- making the necessary advance towards creating new and autonomously informed ideas that transplant diversity from the realm of ‘other’ and reposition it as a privilege of multitudes; central and essential to any art that seeks to speak towards a complete picture of humanity.

About the author (@JanaSante/ @CultureKinetica)

Jan Asante is a designer, writer and curator of film and culture. As a designer, she has exhibited at the world renowned Victoria and Albert Museum and has been profiled on the BBC, MTV, CNN, The Guardian and The Independent. As founder of consultancy brand Culture Kinetica, she has curated collaborative installations at Royal Society of Arts, programmed film festivals for the UK's Black Cultural Archives in partnership with Picturehouse Cinemas and has contributed to expert panels at Women Of the World (WOW) Festival and Africa Utopia Festival at The Southbank Centre. As an observer of cinema and television culture, her writings on film have featured on Indiewire.com (for 'Shadow and Act').

19.5.15

Social Media at #TheDWord – collectively asking better questions

"My first thought and purpose was for the use of social media to be an agent of diversity in the discussion, for our documentation to facilitate and invite people into a conversation." Steve Lawson talks about his role leading on social media at The 'D' Word.

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Last Monday, I had the privilege of helping to plan and implement a social media strategy for The ‘D’ Word. The event was planned as a series of seven ‘TED-style talks’, of about 15 minutes each, with breakout discussions to explore the ideas further, broken up by coffee times and lunch, so we had a number of distinct areas where social media’s role and impact had to be considered.

My first thought and purpose was for the use of social media to be an agent of diversity in the discussion, for our documentation to facilitate and invite people into a conversation. I wanted to enable a level of communication between the inside and outside of the event. To feed thoughts ideas and questions through the walls of the building, virtually, and it do it in a way that both documented what was being said from the stages accurately, but also left room for the voices of others in the room to feed into that narrative, for there to be multiple voices commenting on and formulating questions from the talks that happened.

So, during the main talks, my team (Terry Tyldesley and George Luke) and I summarised the main points of the talks and some of the broad reactions in the room. We chose to retweet other people’s comments and documentation as much as possible, in order to broaden out the range of commentators that were seen and heard via NitroBEAT’s account (the main gathering point for Twitter, alongside the hashtag). George and I also used our own accounts to join the commentary, to be part of that group journey towards asking better questions.

However, the role of social media around the smaller discussion groups was more tricky…

We wanted the discussions, more than anything, to be a safe space for people to talk freely about their experiences, concerns, agreement and disagreement. To do so in a way where no-one felt like they were being ‘watched’, and therefore felt the need to edit their thoughts. So our approach was to document the ideas from the people who gave the talks as they expanded on it, and then represent the broad themes coming from the audience, in non-identifiable ways. In a couple of instances, the commenters in the sessions had themselves been part of the Twitter commentary, so it felt like an act of agency to allow them to choose which of their ideas ended up as part of the Twitter record. In the breaks, we were able to talk with the delegates about their experience of the day, collect stories and opinions, as audio, and put those out as part of the general conversation.

The joy of a hashtag is that it democratises the volume of everyone’s voice...

Your tweets appear in the stream at the time you post them. Say the same thing over and over again, and people will tune you out. Make a valuable contribution, and people will engage. No-one can censor your voice, and many different perspectives can sit alongside one another. I think that happened here, and I think for the most part, it was done in a way that was really productive, and represented the richness and complexity of people’s perspectives on the issue – what the problem is and what the possible ways forward are – very well.

I’m proud of the number of the tweets that we sent both on the Nitrobeat account and our own that were retweeted by people seeking to get those ideas out further – it’s a validation of our intention to accurately reflect what was happening in the room. We were also able to bring comments from Twitter into the discussions – I summarised a few general themes that had been expressed, and brought them as questions to the discussions, and then we were able to use Storify to gather all the tweets together around each talk, that best showed the quotes from the talks that really hit home.

It was a real privilege to be a part of The ‘D’ Word, and to be able to help amplify both the event and the voices around it – voices of agreement and voices of dissent, voices of encouragement and voices of caution. It’s not the only event that can or will happen around diversity, and the suite of talks were curated with a vision of the model of forward-looking discussion that Diane at NitroBEAT saw as the best route.  For what it’s worth, I think she got it pretty much spot on. I learned so much, was challenged by some of the talks, had questions about a LOT of them, and in many cases had those questions answered. The openness of the speakers to have their ideas questioned, challenged, to be requested to clarify points and explore the potential consequences of their recommendations, was so much to their credit and to the atmosphere that the organisers created.

I look forward to hearing the discussion move forward and to hearing more responses as the videos appear online and people get to dive in again to the issues those speakers raised. Each of the videos will be individually embeddable, so you’ll be able to take them, put them at the top of a blog post and write a response of your own. Please do.

Links:

Click here for videos of all the ‘D’ Word talks, speaker biogs and photographs. Listen to interviews with some of the speakers and attendees, and read tweets from the event.

@solobasssteve / http://www.stevelawson.net

 

7.5.15

Can’t attend The 'D' Word? Here’s how to still be involved.

The ‘D’ Word promises to be a fascinating day of discussion, reflection and thought-provoking ideas.

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A range of exciting talks are due to take place at The ‘D’ Word on Monday May 11th at the Unicorn Theatre. Speakers include actor Paterson Joseph, music agency chief and DJ Sharnita K Athwal, and theatre director Paulette Randall, who will be discussing subjects designed to challenge, engage and inspire. Writer and Radio 4 presenter Gaylene Gould, lawyer, businesswoman and broadcaster, Heather Barratts, and Theatre Royal Stratford East artistic director, Kerry Michaels, will also be speaking at the event, delivering talks on an eclectic range of topics such as: Producing with a live art embrace, learning to love differently, and diversity isn’t a dirty word - but could there be a better one?

The ‘D’ Word is more than just a live event, we’re using social media to include as many voices and perspectives as we can on the day. It’s vitally important that a discussion about creativity and cultural diversity is one that invites anyone who wants to be inspired to think differently, to also be able to contribute their own thoughts.

On hand, we will have a team of social media facilitators and commentators, who as well as using Twitter to summarise the points and share the questions that are raised, will be gathering the opinions and perspectives of those in the room and outside the room alongside images and soundbites and feeding back comments from Twitter into the wider conversation. We’re encouraging attendees to tweet their own commentary during the day, to raise questions, to share any emerging ideas that resonate.

We’ll be using Tweetbeam’s real time Twitter visualisation (www.TweetBeam.com) thanks to their kind support, so the conversation can be two-way.

Ideas can be shared from the event, and into the event, so please follow the hashtag and join the conversation.  Let’s explore new possibilities together. 

#thedword
storify.com/nitrobeatuk
twitter.com/nitrobeatuk
facebook.com/TheatreNitro
Full information here: http://nitrobeat.co.uk/projects/d-word/. A video suite of all the talks will be available on Friday 15th May.

5.5.15

‘D’ is for DUTTY

Dutty Lingo at The ‘D’ Word - exploring the sub-cultural lexicon of urban tribes.

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Audiences attending The ‘D’ Word at The Unicorn Theatre on May 11th will be treated to a special Dutty Lingo visual display mixed especially for the event.

Dutty Lingo is a multi-media arts installation, oral history, cultural exploration, and special event project originally created by artist and creative producer Michael Barnes-Wynters in response to a commission from Tate Modern in 2012.

Through a series of residencies Dutty Lingo uses moving image, film, spoken word and music to explore the impact and influence of the tiny island of Jamaican on the people across the UK from the 1950’s through to the present day; its impact on creativity, culture and counter culture, the influence of artistic icons and fashion and how its changed the way we speak and dress.

Since 2012, The Museum of Club Culture (Hull) has commissioned a Dutty Lingo Freedom installation during the city’s Freedom Festival 2014 and special edits created for short film festivals in South Africa and Berlin.

The story continues…
www.flickr.com/duttylingo
http://dutty-lingo.tumblr.com

 

Michael Barnes-Wynters

Michael Barnes-Wynters is Bristol born of Jamaican parentage and is that rare ambidextrous breed who blurs provocative visual arts practice with performative interventions. Radio broadcaster, culturally savvy instigator and charismatic creative producer , he has an infectious passion for contributing to cultural innovation.

His extensive experience in successfully designing, producing, touring and delivering many inspired cross-platform artistic programmes and productions in unsanctioned sites, arts venues, virtual and public realm spaces whilst continuing to produce life-changing skills and mentoring programmes, has provided professional development for numerous emerging and established artists, including the likes of music maker, artist and tea shop proprietor, Mr Scruff.

He has performed internationally and has been commissioned by the likes of MoMA (NYC), Tate Modern(London), FACT (Liverpool), Castlefield Gallery (Manchester) and the Museum of Club Culture (Hull).

Email: Michael Barnes-Wynters

3.5.15

Catalyst for Change - Heather Rabbatts, CBE

nitroBEAT and the Barbican are excited to announce our headline speaker for The ‘D’ Word.

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Described as one of Britain's most influential women, Heather Rabbatts is a Jamaican-born British lawyer, businesswoman, and broadcaster, who rose to prominence as Chief Executive of the London Borough of Lambeth, the youngest council chief in the U.K.

Starting out as a barrister, Heather became a government advisor and then worked in local government. First as Deputy Chief Executive of Hammersmith and Fulham before becoming CEO of the London Borough of Lambeth, regarded as the worst job in local government. She introduced a more dynamic culture and was widely credited for establishing a fundamental, and positive, change in the organisation.

Heather joined Channel 4 as Head of Education, commissioning programmes and projects and introducing a range of talent development initiatives. She also served as a Governor of the BBC. Her work in private equity drew her to football and the restructuring of Millwall where she was Executive Chairwoman.

Currently Managing Director of international film and TV production company Smuggler Entertainment, Heather also serves on the boards the Arts Alliance, the Royal Opera House, and in 2012 became the first female board member of the Football Association. She has served on the board of Crossrail, and in supervisory roles at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the LSE, and the British Council. She was also a non-Executive Director of the Bank of England.

Heather Baratts will speak on leading change in the most demanding of environments, attracting and retaining talent and increasing workplace diversity. She draws on her extensive experiences to show that through hard work and determination you can achieve your ambitions. Her outstanding leadership skills have been widely reported in the national press, and are testimony to her clear sense of vision and ability to effect real change within large organisations.

The ‘D’ Word is a day-long event taking place on Mon 11 May at Unicorn Theatre, which aims to reignite conversations around cultural diversity in theatre and live art. The ‘D’ Word aims to approach the theme of diversity in the arts in a more radical and inclusive manner by inviting a diverse range of leaders and arts practitioners as speakers and audience members to explore new possibilities for cultural diversity within London's theatre and live art scene.

Heather will join other outstanding luminaries and emerging artistic leaders of the theatre and arts world.

You can find out more about The ‘D’ Word and book here.

7.4.15

A new name and a new home

Nitro announces new name and residency in the creative heart of London

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nitroBEAT is officially being announced today as the new name for Nitro Music Theatre (originally established as Black Theatre Co-operative in 1979) - honouring the legacy of its pivotal contribution to UK theatre whilst stepping boldly forward into a new iteration of innovation from its' new home at one of UK's leading powerhouse venues for new writing, Soho Theatre in the heart of London's creative hub.

Led by new director Diane Morgan, the name marks a radical shift in the company's vision, a refreshed approach to collaborating and instigating creative ideas and a broader range of influences, artists and audiences who will connect with the company at Soho Theatre. Mirroring the collective spirit that sparked the early development of the company, nitroBEAT has appointed the following Associate Artists for the first exciting phase of the journey: award-winning playwright Oladipo Agboluaje, cutting edge producer and DJ Charlie Dark & leading British theatre director and Associate Director of the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony Paulette Randall.

Current projects in development with Soho Theatre, The Barbican, Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Southbank Centre include theatrical productions, a festival of new contemporary music-theatre, gigs, talks, artist development and learning experiences - all to be announced in the coming months.

"I'm thrilled and honoured to be leading the company into this new era of our residency at Soho Theatre. I relish the opportunity to work with our incredibly accomplished associate artists to establish nitroBEAT as a generator of ideas and inspiration. Culturally diverse artist's all too often face perceptions and expectations that are creatively restricting. nitroBEAT aims to rebel rather than represent and to excite through the unexpected and underexplored." Diane Morgan - Director, nitroBEAT.

"nitroBEAT is a unique and essential player in the theatrical landscape. Diane's vision is an inspiring one that offers people, across culture and experience, to find a way to turn their ideas into something real - working with some of the best in the business. We are delighted to be their new home." Steve Marmion - Artistic Director, Soho Theatre.

"As a father, musician and theatre practitioner my role will include shining a light on the underground visionaries from the next generation and developing new work that actively engages new and intergenerational audiences. As a dedicated practitioner of the philosophy of 'health is wealth' i'm interested in developing nitroBEAT projects that nourish the soul as well as entertaining the mind." Charlie Dark - Associate Artist, nitroBEAT.

7.4.15

The end of an era marks the beginning of a renaissance

End of an era marks the beginning of a renaissance for one of uk's most dynamic theatre companies

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The creative force behind UK's longest-running Black theatre company says farewell after nearly 20 years of producing ground-breaking music theatre. His acclaimed work includes 'Passports to the Promised Land', 'Nitro at the Opera', 'Slamdunk' and 'The Wedding Dance'. Felix Cross MBE who took over leadership of Nitro (previously known as Black Theatre Co-operative) in 1996 as the Artistic Director will now continue to focus on Nitro Australia at his base in Sydney whilst the company in the UK undertakes an exciting and pioneering renaissance spearheaded by the new Director, Diane Morgan.

"Seventeen years after Black Theatre Co-operative was formed, I came along with a whole heap of musical theatre work behind me, so it was inevitable that this would be the way forward. The name change to Nitro reflected the dynamism of this new direction...now we are ready for the next step change in the company's history...and it became blindingly clear to me that, if I left Nitro, Diane was the person with the vision, energy and passion to take it forward." Felix Cross MBE.

"I want to acknowledge Felix's enormous dedication and commitment in pursuance of the artistic vision and success of Nitro. It is the combination of that vision, his multiple talents, his commitment, and above all his immense generosity of spirit which has drawn so many other exceptional talents into the service of Nitro...our sadness at the departure of Felix is matched only by our good fortune in having been able to attract the skills of another visionary, Diane Morgan, whose own experience and talents leave her exceptionally well placed to guide the next stage of the company's development." David Emerson - Chair of Nitro.

Diane Morgan will celebrate Nitro's contribution to UK theatre whilst stepping boldly forward to lead a new iteration of creative innovation. This new direction features a revolving door collective of artists, creatives and producers. The Artistic Associate's joining the programme for this first exciting phase are: award-winning playwright Oladipo Agboluaje, dynamic writer, producer and DJ Charlie Dark & leading British theatre director and Associate Director of the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony Paulette Randall. This high calibre of Artistic Associate's will work alongside Diane Morgan, in the planning, creation and delivery of a new programme of work.

"Diane Morgan is a brilliant appointment as Felix's replacement. A visionary creative producer, who was instrumental in the transformation of Contact, Manchester... Diane has a deep understanding of the processes of artistic creation, and of the challenges and opportunities of running organisations in new ways. Under her leadership Nitro will once again be at the forefront of innovation and excitement in UK Theatre and Performance." John E. McGrath - Artistic Director of National Theatre Wales.

The new Nitro will become an essential advocate and powerhouse within the arts and cultural ecology whilst nurturing new talent and exciting audiences along the way.

30.3.15

Felix Cross' Blog: The beginning of a new era

After 19 years and 20 days, Felix Cross reflects on his time as Artistic Director of Nitro

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Nineteen years ago I walked up to the front door of Black Theatre Co-operative's office in Dalston to begin my first ever full-time job... On March 31, after nineteen years and twenty days, I will be giving up my post as Artistic Director... Seventeen years after BTC was formed, I came along with a whole heap of musical theatre work behind me, so it was inevitable that this would be the way forward. The name change to Nitro reflected the dynamism of this new direction. Now we are ready for the next step change in the company's history...


Nineteen years ago - at 9.30am on 11 March to be precise - after years of precarious self-employment as a musician, composer, playwright, director and stand-up comedian - I walked up to the front door of Black Theatre Co-operative's office in Dalston to begin my first ever full-time job.

There have only been two jobs I have ever wanted: Artistic Director of BTC/Nitro (tick...) and commentator on BBC radio Test Match Special (that desire quickly waning with the demise of both John Arlott and West Indian cricket). Getting off the train at Dalston Kingsland station that morning, I remember thinking that, of all the commuters around me, indeed of all the people on the planet, I must be the luckiest. In the mid-80s, I had seen BTC's production of Redemption Song at Battersea Arts Centre and come away reeling with the energy both onstage and in the audience. BTC was the oldest black theatre company in the country, in Europe; and now I was being paid for the privilege of being their Artistic Director; I was living a dream. Nineteen years later, even allowing for the few hiccups that naturally occur along the way, I'm yet to wake up.

Well, actually I'm just about to wake up. On March 31, after nineteen years and twenty days, I will be giving up my post as Artistic Director. Running Nitro has certainly not been a long holiday, but there is an old maxim about holidays - that the best ones are those that you excitedly anticipate, thoroughly enjoy and leave you at the end fulfilled yet ready to go home. That's a pretty good description of my time with the company. I am now very ready to move on.

As you will know, eighteen months ago I moved with my family to Sydney. This was precipitated by my wife's new job there and, I guess, a feeling on my part that I wanted to try something new. I wasn't sure what, but I could sense in Australia there was an opportunity, a door, not opened but unlocked. I also knew that before I got too old and stupid I needed to return to being a composer, playwright and director full-time.

But timing is everything and my move would not have been practical if Diane Morgan hadn't walked through the door one morning to begin her post as Project Producer for 'Tales from The Edge'. She quickly stepped up to being the company's Executive Producer and it became blindingly clear to me that, if I left Nitro she was the person with the vision, energy and passion to take it forward.

This company has always read the signs and adapted to change. Founded in 1979 as Black Theatre Co-operative, it was a true co-operative, like a number of other radical companies from the 1980s; the director, writer and actors all had equal say and some very exciting work was made. But all co-operatives have a limited shelf life and BTC was no exception; change was due. After a few years they began to appoint Artistic Directors as CEO: Malcolm Fredrick, Joanne-Anne Maynard then me.

Seventeen years after BTC was formed, I came along with a whole heap of musical theatre work behind me, so it was inevitable that this would be the way forward. The name change to Nitro reflected the dynamism of this new direction. Our strap-line "Explosive Entertainment" was reflected in shows like Passports to the Promised Land, Nitro at the Opera, Slamdunk, our manyNitrobeat festivals, An Evening of Soul Food, An African Cargo, The Wedding Dance and Desert Boy.

Now we are ready for the next step change in the company's history. But I shall leave it up to Diane and her team to tell you what Nitro is going to be doing. All I can say is that it is exciting, brave and vital to the development of black theatre in England.

Writing this, on a hot February night (I still can't get used to the idea of a hot February) I am inevitably looking back over the years. There have been some extraordinary highlights: 2000 people turning up to the Royal Opera House for A Nitro At the Opera, 75% of them never having been to an opera before, witnessing some extraordinary new pieces by black composers who had never thought of writing opera before; Slamdunk at Birmingham Rep - sold out, dancing on the seats, everyone taking pictures on their phones, drums bass and DJ, basketball players and dancers - a milestone in hip hop theatre; the last night of The Wedding Dance at Greenwich Theatre - for the first time on the tour we get a significant black audience and they really understand the layers of meaning in the play; it's not just a salsa dance show! Of course there have been many more but, right now, those three moments are imprinted on my mind.

I've been in Sydney for eighteen months now so, despite the many flights and hours of skype undertaken in that time, the process of separation has already begun. But it is now, as I write this, that I realise how much I will miss my colleagues, the staff members over the years who have helped push the company forward, who believed in Nitro's ideals and who cared passionately about our work, our artists and our audiences. I shall also miss the truly heroic generosity of our many board members who, for love of the company (or occasionally for other reasons), would put in the unpaid hours to attempt to govern the ungovernable. True, with both staff and trustee, there has been the odd rogue but now is not the time to dwell on them (believe me, I have the wax dolls and I have the pins....). I would particularly like to thank those long-gone board members who interviewed me nineteen years ago and who gave me the job in the first place. You may have spent times questioning the wisdom of your choice but I'd like to think I have tried to prove over the years that it was just about the right decision.

And of course I'd like to thank the many artists: actors, choreographers, composers, dancers, designers, musicians, singers, writers; as well as the stage managers, production managers and all those we have employed to put on our many shows. I have been constantly overwhelmed by your generosity and commitment - for, frankly, the money was rubbish yet you worked and worked until the show was up and then you kept it running.

For me now, apart from sitting on beaches, drinking the most exquisitely affordable wines and avoiding deadly spiders, I am very busy. This year sees me directing a number of shows here: a remount of Nitro's first Australian show, The Prophet, in our Sydney home in Bankstown; then over in Blacktown, a semi-operatic version of an ancient Arabic legend, Leyli & Majnun; with The Stiff Gins, a fabulous Aboriginal song-writing duo, I'm directing a new show called The Spirit of Things, about the sounds of stories found in objects. In Brisbane I'm developing a show called Being Alvin, a verbatim music-theatre piece about a local Trinidadian steel pan player (we are everywhere...). I'm also composing a lot of music and last week opened a show for the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) called Between Us. And in May I'm writing the score for a show based on A Wide Sargasso Sea in Adelaide.

Oh, and next week I'm playing my second ever piano concert...

See you all sometime soon and thanks for everything.