Am I Not a Man and a Brother? was a piece of documentary theatre devised by Reveal Theatre Company in partnership with North Staffordshire Racial Equality Council. It used stories and testimony from the African Caribbean community in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire, interwoven with historical and contemporary slave stories. The play was produced by Robert Marsden and Julia Barton. The production was launched at the Stoke-on-Trent Racial Equality Council - where it was performed to the local people who had contributed their stories and was accompanied by a performance by a local Black choir - and then toured to venues in Bristol, London and Liverpool.
This partnership project, led by Hertfordshire Archives, investigated the links between Hertfordshire people, the slave trade and abolition through stories from original archival documents. Project outcomes included creative workshops, a booklist, a DVD documentary, a heritage trail booklet, and collaboration with the project for the restoration of the Thomas Clarkson monument in Thundridge. The monument was erected in 1879 to mark his involvement in the campaign to abolish slavery. The ceremony to re-dedicate the monument in November 2007 involved pupils from Thundridge Primary School performing a dance that they had developed with arts-led charity Theatre Is….
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.
This collaborative community initiative celebrated African and Caribbean culture in Leeds, with a focus on commemorating the Abolition Act by 'highlighting African achievement, liberation and aspirations'. New exhibitions, publications and resources were produced and over 100 bicentenary events organised under different themes: Education and Museums; Arts and Carnival Culture; Churches and Abolition; Legacy; Black History and Community Development; Media and Communications. Highlights included the photographic exhibition and pamphlet 'From Abolition to Commonwealth', which remembered indentured labour in Africa and the Caribbean after 1807, and the 40th anniversary of Leeds West Indian Carnival, with themes that highlighted heritage, liberation, respect and freedom. Project outputs included an education pack, black history classes, concerts, church services, lectures and performances.
Bristol was major trading port for the transatlantic slave trade in the 18th century. The city of Bristol marked the bicentenary of the Abolition Act with more than 100 events across the city - exhibitions, plays, debates, talks, concerts - under the umbrella organisation Abolition 200. In January 2007, city leaders signed a declaration of regret for the city's role in the trade. Over the weekend of 24-25 March, bells rang out across the city and a Service of Remembrance and Reconciliation was held at Bristol Cathedral, organised by a partnership of the Cathedral and the Council of Black Churches. 2007 was themed as the Year of Black Achievement, aiming to bring better provision of black heritage resources to schools in Bristol, with a particular focus on black attainment. Over 30 creative community projects were funded by Abolition 200 - including art installations, educational projects and community theatre - to reflect the themes of education, commemoration and legacy.
Featured here are some of the events from Abolition 200.
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.
'Field Slave Number 139' was written and produced by Ava Ming, and commissioned by The Drum in Birmingham as part of their Routes to Freedom programme. The play focuses on a love story between a dark-skinned field slave and mulatto house slave on a plantation in America's Deep South. 'Field Slave Number 139' is written mostly in monologues with occasional interaction between the actors: all three were on stage for the duration of the piece. The 2007 production featured two performance poets and a local actor.
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.
A play written and directed by Suzanne Hawkes, 'Breaking the Chain' is a dramatic account of Thomas Clarkson's role in the movement to abolish the slave trade. The abolitionists Olaudah Equiano, Granville Sharp and Joseph and Katherine Plymley are also portrayed in the production. Equiano's accounts of the slave trade from his 'Interesting Narrative' feature as dramatic imagery, and the play also examines infamous events that aided the abolitionist cause, such as the uproar surrounding the case of the slave ship 'Zong' and the decision by its Captain to throw overboard 133 enslaved Africans. In 2007, 'Breaking the Chain' was performed at various venues in Suffolk.
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.
'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.
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.
Written and directed by Mervyn Weir, 'Nobody Knows' used drama, dance, music and imagery to explore the history of the transatlantic slave trade and its legacy today. Told through the eyes of Olaudah Equiano, the play celebrated the dignity, pride, and spirit of Black people as they fought for emancipation from slavery. In 2007 the play was presented by Krik Krak productions during the Routes to Freedom season at The Drum in Birmingham.
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.
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.
The Inhuman Traffic project was led by Gloucestershire Archives, in partnership with the Set All Free initiative. The virtual exhibition and accompanying web resource were based on documents held at Gloucestershire Archives and, in particular, the papers of the anti-slavery campaigner Granville Sharp (1735-1813). The exhibition explored topics such as the contribution of black people to the abolition movement, aspects of the legacies of slavery, including racism and domestic violence. Over 400 copies of the exhibition DVD were sent to schools, churches, tourist information venues and individuals across Gloucestershire. The associated programme of events included performances of the play 'Inhuman Traffic', developed in collaboration with a local theatre company, Spaniel in the Works. The play features four interacting characters with different perspectives on slavery. A cross-curricular teaching resource was later developed, which included a second performance, 'Master and Slave', in partnership with Stroud District Museums Service, Spaniel in the Works, and Parliament Primary School, Stroud.
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.
'One for Me' was a touring play by the Fairgame Theatre Company that was performed at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. Set in 2007, the play focuses on a local MP driven by a mysterious stranger to explore the history of slavery and the wealth it generated.
The Anti-Slavery Arch in Stroud is Britain's oldest anti-slavery memorial. It was built by Henry Wyatt in 1834 to celebrate the passing of the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833. A local businessman and supporter of the Stroud Anti-Slavery Society, Wyatt built the arch as an entrance to the carriage drive of his private estate. Established in 2000, the 'Anti-Slavery Arch Group' raised funds to address the preservation needs of the arch. This community project carried out major stone repairs, added a bronze plaque, produced a leaflet and website, and wrote and performed a play with students from Archway School (built on the site of Wyatt's mansion in the 1960s). In 2007, the monument was upgraded from a Grade II listing to Grade II*.
The Engage 2007 Festival of Culture celebrated cultural freedoms in South Gloucestershire. Led by South Gloucestershire Council, and in partnership with local volunteer groups, schools and community groups, the festival took place on 17 November 2007. It featured 40 live performances of drama, dance and music from India, China, Africa, South America and Europe, a world food zone, family workshops, youth and environmental activities and 60 interactive and information stalls. The Impact exhibition was produced as part of Engage 2007, exploring the part that people living in South Gloucestershire played slavery and abolition.