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.
A number of events to mark the bicentenary of the Abolition Act of 1807 took place as part of Ilkley Literature Festival in 2007. Authors Caryl Phillips and Ben Okri discussed their work, and writers from the Peepal Tree Press Freedom Project premiered their poetry. 2007 Poet in Residence Rommi Smith invited festival goers to help create a unique literary 'Freedom Quilt', and gave a multi-media performance drawing on her recent visit to the Gambia. Street theatre was provided by performances of Sugar Beat Skank by Regeyshun Dance and the Leeds Bi-centenary Transformation Project. Members of the Leeds Diasporian Stories Research Group shared new material uncovered in the course of their research into the links between Yorkshire and the Atlantic trading world, and actor Joe Williams performed and answered questions as the African abolitionist Olaudah Equiano.
The dance-theatre production Heartbeat Riddim Chant was based on the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. The production premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds in July 2007, and mixed dance, live music and voice, including traditional Caribbean folk dancing blended with contemporary reggae. The show was choreographed by David Hamilton, and featured dancers from Regeyshun Dance and members of the community dance group Back Bone. There were also performances from youth dance groups and young voices from across Leeds, including LS7 Result, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Gee4orce and Leeds Young Authors.
Hetty, Esther and Me was an original drama researched, written and performed by Trafford Youth Service and 15 African Caribbean girls from Stretford High School. The play was performed at Quarry Bank Mill, a working Georgian cotton mill on the outskirts of Manchester, owned by the National Trust. The play centred on connections between cotton produced by slaves and child labour in English mills, and the wider social issues of slavery and poverty during the Industrial Revolution. The story was told through the relationship between a slave girl (Hetty), a young mill worker (Esther) and a group of young women living in present-day Trafford.
Word of Mouth Media Production, based in Southwark, staged a production of Celia at New Players Theatre in London. The play was directed by Malcolm Frederick and written by Richard Nyeila, inspired by Melton A. McLaurin's biography 'Celia A Slave'. Based in the mid-19th century, the story revolves around Celia, an enslaved woman on trial for murdering her abusive owner.
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
Mass Carib is a choral performance piece written by Felix Cross. In 2007 it was performed outdoors at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich by Nitro Theatre Company, as a finale to the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. To accompany the performance, the festival collaborated with the National Maritime Museum and Nitro on a programme of workshops in schools in Greenwich exploring the themes of the production. Mass Carib was written as a Requiem to mourn the victims in Haiti using the liturgical form of the Catholic Mass. It draws on music from West Africa, eighteenth-century Europe and various Caribbean islands. Mass Carib is sung in English, French, Patois, Latin and Yoruba.
Black Man Don't Float? is a play developed by Sameboat Project, a not-for-profit organisation working in collaboration with the Pierian Centre Bristol, Gecko Theatre Ipswich, and the Arrow Project at University College Plymouth. Set in the ocean off West Africa, a white yachtsman collides with an African economic migrant who is trying to reach the Canaries in a home-made vessel. They have to co-operate to survive, but their differences lead to confusion. Performed by West African performer Ayodele Scott and UK-based writer and performer Martin Hubbard, Black Man Don't Float? was shown in the UK and then travelled to Sierra Leone. The show was accompanied by a workshop entitled Fair Share, exploring issues around the fair sharing of resources, and the challenges facing developed and developing nations in their negotiations about aid, trade and the exploitation of natural resources.
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.
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.
Breaking Chains - Sheffield Civil Rights was a project by Sheffield Galleries and Museum Trust to look at the slave trade and to celebrate Sheffield’s heritage by exploring the role local campaigners played in securing workers' rights. The resources targeted Key Stage 2 pupils. There was a particular focus on the visit to Sheffield by the African abolitionist Olaudah Equiano in 1790. Actor Joe Williams played Equiano in a dramatisation still available to view on the teaching resource. Featured here are some of the downloads available.
2007 saw a number of different projects taking place at Harewood House in West Yorkshire, home of the Lascelles family. The bicentenary was used as an opportunity to explore the family connections with the transatlantic slave trade and the sugar plantations of the West Indies.
To spotlight Harewood House's historic links with the Caribbean and carnival, in September 2007 a production of Carnival Messiah was held in a Big Top in the grounds. Carnival Messiah is a reinvention of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Messiah as carnival theatre and heritage experience. The West Indian celebration features dancers, singers, masqueraders, musicians and actors. Stories from the Caribbean folk tradition, medieval mystery plays and African ritual combine with contemporary popular music and dance styles, including gospel, calypso, reggae, jazz, hop hop, bhangra and steel band. Geraldine Connor was Creator and Artistic Director and David Lascelles of Harewood House was Executive Producer. A community education and outreach programme ran alongside the project.
On Sunday 25 March 2007, a ceremony was held on Cathedral Green in Exeter to mark the bicentenary. Organised by Exeter City Council, the ceremony was attended by members of the public and individuals representing local organisations. Historian Lucy MacKeith examined the links between Devon, the transatlantic slave trade and its abolition. Extracts were read from the Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, and names read aloud of some of the Africans who came to Devon because of the county's connection to the slave trade.
The play 'Albert and the Story of Equiano' was performed at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in October 2007. It told the story of Olaudah Equiano, a leading African figure in the British abolition movement in the 18th century.
Women and Abolition was a collaborative project exploring the role of women in the abolition movement, led by CETTIE (Cultural Exchange Through Theatre in Education) and Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre. The event in March 2007 included a panel debate, presentations by women activists, poetry and performances of the theatre productions 'Sugar n Spice' and 'Splendid Mummer'.
The Lambeth and the Abolition programme included debates, historic trails, a video conferencing discussion between people in Brixton, Ghana and Jamaica, Caribbean family history classes, creative writing workshops, and a dedicated series of events within Black History Month. ‘The Runaways’, an original drama about a runaway slave boy and a kitchen maid in London in 1700, was performed in Lambeth primary schools, accompanied by a workshop. The project researched the local historical links to abolition, and famously the activities of the Clapham Sect (William Wilberforce and his associates) who attended Holy Trinity Church in Clapham. Steve Martin’s booklet sets the history of abolition in the larger context, through his study of the African Academy at Clapham, and his mapping of some of the links between Lambeth, Jamaica and West Africa at the beginning of the 19th century.
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.
Emancipation of the Dispossessed was a local community project exploring the local history of Deptford and the surrounding areas and the connections with the transatlantic slave trade. Community groups and students from Lewisham College worked with theatre educators to research and develop 'Blood Sugar', a promenade performance through the Queen's House, Greenwich. The play, written and directed by John Turner, tells the story of slavery and abolition from a local angle, and the script was built around first-hand and eyewitness accounts, campaign pamphlets and reports to parliament. The project also produced learning resources aimed at Key Stage 3 History and Citizenship.
A guided walk explored Deptford’s links to the history of the transatlantic slave trade, uncovering stories of some of the local people who played an important role in the beginnings of the slave trade or the campaign for its abolition. London was an important slave trading port before Bristol and Liverpool dominated the trade. The trade and British colonies were protected by the Royal Navy, whose ships were built and prepared for voyages at the Royal Dockyards at Deptford.
A play performed by Second Step Caribbean Women’s Group Agewell at The Library Theatre in Sheffield in October 2007. The play was funded by South Yorkshire Community Foundation.
A programme of events and activities for Black History Month 2007 from Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre had a particular focus on the bicentenary. The programme included theatre, youth projects and family days. Calypso Fuh So performed special Calypsos to mark the bicentenary, and YAA/Carnival Village organised a commemorative walk to remember ancestors who died in slavery, and the Black presence in Britain. Ritual Theatre Arts created a film celebrating thirty years of African dance in Britain and International Word Power featured performances of poetry, storytelling and song.
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.