Historian Simon Schama's true story of a plantation slave (Thomas Peters) and a British naval officer (John Clarkson) and their search for freedom at the time of the American War of Independence. Schama's account was adapted for the stage by Caryl Phillips, directed by Rupert Goold and produced by the Headlong Theatre Company. It explores ideas of racial identity, home and freedom, as former slaves who fought for the British army are led across the Atlantic to the newly-created province of Sierra Leone. The play toured West Yorkshire Playhouse, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Liverpool Everyman and Lyric Hammersmith.
The 'Routes to Freedom' season of events took place throughout Autumn 2007 at The Drum, an intercultural arts venue in Birmingham. The programme explored the struggle for social justice and equality in relation to African, Asian and Caribbean communities, and marked two key historical events and their impact: the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act and the 60th anniversary of the partition of the Indian subcontinent. The programme was made up of theatre productions, touring exhibitions, film screenings, readings, dance performances and special events, including 'Coolies of the Caribbean' and a conference about Olaudah Equiano.
The Gloucestershire Set All Free initiative was organised by Churches Together in Gloucester and other organisations to mark the bicentenary. An Events Guide set out some of the events, lectures, film screenings, music festivals and exhibitions taking place in Gloucestershire to remember the horrors of transatlantic slavery, while also making clear the imperative to take action to end modern forms of slavery. There were bicentenary related activities at Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery and Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum. There were also a number of events at Gloucester Cathedral and local churches, including St Mary's in Wotton-under-Edge. Two exhibitions focused on contemporary slavery were organised by the Anti-Slavery International League. The Guide also includes details of various festivals with a focus on the bicentenary, including the 1 World Festival Freedom 07, the Gloucester International Rhythm and Blues Festival and Cheltenham Music and Literature Festivals.
Inspired by archival research, ‘Sharp Practice’ was a touring play exploring the slave trade and the role of abolitionists from the North East of England in its demise (and, in particular, the work of Granville Sharp). The play was devised and produced by Jackass Youth Theatre, in collaboration with professional artists from Jack Drum Arts. Each performance was accompanied by an exhibition exploring the North East’s links to slavery and abolition, researched by members of the theatre group. Working with heritage professionals, their research took the performers to Newcastle, Hull, Liverpool, Gloucester, London and the University of Virginia.
Two plays, Slave Ship by Amiri Baraka and Land by Edson Burton, were presented in Bristol by Say It Loud, a multicultural arts development organisation. Slave Ship was first performed in the United States in 1967. Land was written especially for the bicentenary project. In conjunction with the project, Say It Loud organised drama workshops on the subject of slavery in Bristol schools.
Hull Truck Theatre supported Wilberforce 2007 with two specially commissioned productions, Slavers and Sold, and a playwright festival. For one week in August 2007, Hull Truck Youth Theatre presented Slavers, set in 2007, which told the story of abolition through the eyes of young people in Hull. Written by Rupert Creed and directed by Karen Dainty, the play followed a group of school leavers and their potentially prosperous business-start up, trading in human cargo. When some started questioning the morality behind the business, the audience was transported back to the debates of Wilberforce and his allies two hundred years previously. Another play, ‘Sold’, in conjunction with Liverpool Hope University, sought to raise awareness about the victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation today.
A one-act play by Jonathan Payne, 'Slavery' re-tells the personal stories of enslaved Black Americans, using original recordings of interviews conducted by the United States Government's Federal Writers Project in the 1930s. The play brings together a collection of personal testimonials and spirituals (Christian songs created by African slaves in the United States), to explore the consequences of slavery. Presented in 2007 by the cross-cultural London theatre company Tara Arts and directed by Laura Kriefman, the play toured nationally during Black History Month. An Education Resource Pack was produced and drama workshops for schools were held after the performances to explore the issues raised.
Soham Village College partnered with Soham Action 4 Youth (SA4Y) and Soham Museum in a project to record Soham at the Time of the Abolition, to commemorate the bicentenary and celebrate the life of Olaudah Equiano. Equiano, otherwise known as Gustavus Vassa, was the former slave who became an antislavery campaigner in the 18th century. His connection to the Cambridgeshire town of Soham is in his marriage to a local woman, Susannah Cullen, at St Andrew’s Church. Both of his daughters were born and baptised in the town. The research aspect of the project including mapping the town of Soham as it was in the 18th century, the results of which were published in a book by Mac Dowdy. 'Olaudah: The Life Story of Olaudah Equiano' was written by Donna Martin.
Several community events took place during the course of 2007 and 2008, including a re-enactment of Equiano’s wedding at St Andrew's Church in Soham, performed by Soham Village College theatre group Stage Chance, in partnership with Momentum Art’s Untold Stories Arts and Heritage Project. The event also comprised several speakers and performances of African dance and drumming, and the launch of a book by Angelina Osborne about the life of Joanna Vassa, Equiano’s only surviving daughter. A permanent plaque to Olaudah Equiano was unveiled in the church. The project also featured an exhibition of African art and portraits of Equiano by Soham residents and young people.
A play by Lonne Elder, 'Splendid Mummer' looks at the life of Ira Aldridge (1807-1867), the goundbreaking 19th century actor. Aldridge overcame racism and prejudice in European theatres to break away from stereotypical comedy roles and become one of the first Black Shakespearean actors. In 2007, the play was presented by CETTIE (a London charity working with schools, libraries, theatres, and community venues), directed by Malcolm Frederick, and starred Shango Baku. It was performed in various venues in London and at The Drum in Birmingham, and was accompanied by a feature exhibition on Aldridge by Positive Steps. 'Splendid Mummer' was produced in collaboration with the Ira Aldridge Bicentenary Project.
Sugar & Spice was Gateshead's festival celebrating African and Caribbean culture. Held in October 2007, highlights of the programme included 'Mama Africa', South African singer Miriam Makeba; the opera 'Mary Seacole'; a massed performance of 'On Liberation Street' featuring local performers and singers alongside the Grand Union Orchestra; and 'Roll Jordan Roll' featuring jazz trumpeter Abram Wilson performing with the London Community Gospel Choir. The festival weekend also featured street theatre; jazz,blues and gospel music; a light show; and children's arts activities.
A play directed by Hilary Westlake, performed at Unity Theatre in Liverpool, in collaboration with Hope Street Ltd, a community arts centre. Using film, text and movement, the performance investigated how the industry of slavery continues to flourish in modern times, not only globally and nationally, but also locally.
Sugar Beat Skank was a reggae-theatre performance presented by Regeyshun Dance and commissioned by the Leeds Bicentenary Transformation Project. It explored 'African antiquity and the spirit of abolition', and gave voice to narratives linking the histories and cultures of Africa and Yorkshire. Sugar Beat Skank was performed at outdoor and indoor events across Yorkshire, including Ilkley Literature Festival in 2007.
Testament to a Trade was a play produced to mark the bicentenary, with close reference to Oxfordshire. Written by three local writers, the play was produced by Oxford Theatre Guild in collaboration with Oxfordshire Record Office and the Oxford Playhouse. Testament to a Trade weaves accounts of past and present slavery, and is situated in historical and contemporary contexts, notably 18th century Africa and Oxford, and contemporary Eastern Europe and Oxford. A number of archive materials relating to slavery and abolition are held by Oxfordshire Record Office, information on which inspired elements of the story. A teachers pack was produced to inform similar projects. The play opened at Burton Taylor Theatre in Oxford, and toured venues across Oxfordshire.
Kirklees Council ran a range of events in 2007, focused on local connections with slavery and abolition. Kirklees Civic Sunday was the official commemoration at Huddersfield Parish Church, with a performance by a local gospel choir and a presentation by actors as historical characters. The links between Yorkshire and the Caribbean were also explored: 8,500 people of African-Caribbean descent live in the borough of Kirklees. Events such as the Jamaica National Independence Cultural Festival, Deighton Carnival and Huddersfield Carnival celebrated African and Caribbean culture. Part of the Kirklees programme was to host the Equiano Project's touring exhibition at the Hudawi Centre in Huddersfield. The Centre went on to name one of its rooms after Equiano. Other events included talks from historians, including Richard Reddie and Paul Crooke, church services, choir concerts and theatre productions.
A bicentenary service in commemoration of William Wilberforce and the passing of the 200th anniversary of the Abolition Act took place in February 2007 at York Minster. The service featured Pocklington School Choir, Transglobal Drummers and the Riding Lights Theatre Company (performing extracts of the play African Snow). Organisations associated with the service included Churches Together in England and the Set All Free project, and the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull
'The Cotton Tree Passage' was a dance theatre production by Koromanti Arts performed at The Drum in Birmingham as part of the Routes to Freedom season. The production depicted the spiritual passage of slavery from Africa to the Caribbean and the UK. A collaboration between 'H' Patten and dance, music, film and visual artists, this piece combined multimedia techniques and contemporary African, Caribbean and urban dance, including African hip-life and Jamaican dancehall.
Written by Ghanaian playwright Ama Ata Aidoo, The Dilemma of a Ghost deals with colliding cultures in 21st century Africa. An African-American woman accompanies her Ghanaian husband as he returns home, but the couple are haunted by ghosts of the inheritance of the slave trade. A collaboration between London theatre company Border Crossings and the National Theatre of Ghana, the production used music and dance to celebrate 50 years of Ghana’s independence and 200 years since the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. The play was performed in Birmingham, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, London, Plymouth and Slough. The production was was accompanied by a new book from Border Crossings, working in collaboration with Anti-Slavery International. ‘Theatre and Slavery: Ghosts at the Crossroads’ explored the ways in which world theatre responds to key issues in modern society and politics, including the issue of contemporary slavery.
A play from the Red Rose Chain Theatre Company in Ipswich, which focused on the role of 'local hero' and abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, who lived in nearby Playford. The play was written and directed by Joanna Carrick and performed in a disused church on the Ipswich Docks.
Trading Faces: Recollecting Slavery was a consortium project developed by Future Histories (a non-profit organisation set up to maintain archives of African, Caribbean and Asian performing arts in the UK), Talawa Theatre Company (a leading Black-led touring theatre company) and V&A Theatre Collections. Trading Faces made use of archive documents, video and audio material to explore the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade in British performing arts and society. By promoting the use of primary resources, the online exhibition aimed to stimulate creativity, critical thinking, individual responsibility and participation. Highlights of the exhibition included a performance timeline featuring recently archived material from the past 200 years, narratives of slavery from both the past and present and a series of virtual rooms, which explored ritual, religion, carnival and masquerade amongst other aesthetic themes. On the Open Doors section of the site, users contributed material and ideas to promote a critical debate on the subject. As part of the project, the 'Retrace: Identity and Heritage' educational resource pack from Talawa Theatre Company is about the exchange of culture between the UK and other countries linked by the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism, and the impact of these relationships on the performing arts.
A collaborative project between Arts Centre Washington's Youth Theatre and Washington Music Collective, providing development of live music activities for young people within Washington and the surrounding areas. The project involved improvisation, creative writing, music and drama workshops for young people during school holidays, and culminated in a thirty minute play around the themes of slavery. A DVD was produced featuring musical shorts and video diaries of the young actors' experiences. One theme covered was the limbo dance, originating in Trinidad and Tobago, and with symbolic links to enslaved people entering the galleys of a slave ship.