Where do YOU come from?

On the eve of The ‘D’ Word we’re shining a spotlight on the talent, achievements and inspirational story of nitroBEAT associate artist, Ayesha Jones.

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Last year nitroBEAT came into contact with 25-year-old Ayesha Jones, an award winning photographer and film maker from Birmingham. As a visual artist who challenges expectations, tells stories and collaborates across artforms, we immediately asked her to become an associate artist. Ayesha is working with nitroBEAT to creatively document our activities alongside generating ideas that integrate her talents into creative projects for the stage and with young people. She is also receiving mentoring support from our Director.

Being mixed race and British

“Since the age of six, people have asked me to explain where I come from, despite being born in Birmingham to a black British mother and a white British father. It makes me feel like the colour of my skin is a uniform that doesn't belong in the UK. I wanted to make a film in response to this question that gives perspective and encourages people to be a more accepting and humble. I believe you can learn a lot by observing yourself and your own journey.”
Ayesha Jones

Earlier this year ‘Open Generation’, a project developed by Migrants Rights Network in partnership with Autograph ABP, Counterpoints Arts, and SLAMbassadors UK, launched a competition called ‘Our Voices’ to find young, creative, outspoken individuals to become the voices of our generation. Ayesha won in the Best Film category for ‘Where do you come from?’ It was first screened at Rivington Place, London, on April 11th.

An inspirational story

At 13 years old Ayesha was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis, a spinal deformity that causes the spine to curve and rotate. She was told by a doctor that she would “grow up to be a pretty girl with an ugly back.”
During that same year she was also scouted as a model at The Clothes Show Live, which was held at the NEC. She was rejected by the agency when they saw her back. She attempted to pursue a modeling career despite the knock backs and successfully modeled in commercial photo shoots and music videos. However she eventually realised her passion lay behind the camera.

Her project, entitled IMPerfection, explores the notion of beauty, sexuality and body image and the way colonial systems have aided in their distortion. She exposes her hidden ‘disability’ from all angles as she learns to find the beauty in life’s imperfections.

One of the 'Best Photographers under 30' internationally 

Her incredible work was also discovered by Magnum Photos and she was one of its '30 under 30' photographers showcased at ‘The Photography Show’ in March, produced by the world-leading photography publisher, Future. Ayesha was also awarded the ‘Peoples Choice Award’ for being one of the top three photographers in the group of 30 young photographers from across the globe.

Ayesha's website:
Twitter and Instagram: @ayesha_jones
Click HERE More videos by Ayesha, on the theme of migration.


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 ( 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. 

Full information here: A video suite of all the talks will be available on Friday 15th May.


‘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…


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


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.


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.


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 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.


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.