Bristol hosts the UK’s first all black women’s theatre festival to much acclaim

bristol hosts the uks first all black womens theatre festival to much acclaim - Bristol hosts the UK's first all black women's theatre festival to much acclaim

The first ever black women’s theatre festival to be held in the UK has been a resounding success in Bristol.

A series of performances have taken place at both the Arnolfini and the Bristol Old Vic between June 20 and 2.

Led by a collection of black female writers, choreographers, actors, and artists the Festival of Black Women’s Theatre has been described as ‘truly unique’ and ‘trailblazing.’

The final performance takes place on Friday June 28 at the Bristol Old Vic .

 

The festival has been organised by Sheba Soul Ensemble, a theatre group founded in 2017, with support from the Arts Council and Arnofini. The aim is to showcase and bring together artists and women of African, Caribbean, and Asian heritage through a week of performance networking and workshops.

The performers have come from as far afield as Martinique in the Caribbean, Washington DC in the United States, and UK cities London, Leeds and Nottingham.

There are also a number of local homegrown performers from here in Bristol.

bristol hosts the uks first all black womens theatre festival to much acclaim 2 - Bristol hosts the UK's first all black women's theatre festival to much acclaim

The Sheba Soul Ensemble performing ‘Warnings’ as part of the Festival of Black Women’s Theatre

Director and former Lord Mayor of Bristol Cleo Lake said: “‘It’s been an incredible few days. It was my colleague Akulah Agbami who really drove this project and she has worked so hard to make it happen.

“Everyone who has been involved has given great feedback and we hope that the support will carry on so that we may continue and build on what we have started.

“It was great to launch here in Bristol,” she added.

The event is the first of its kind in the UK, and a radical step in a white and male dominated sphere.

Despite women making up 65% of a theatre audience, only 37% of roles are for women and the work of women playwrights make up only eight percent of staged productions.

Four percent of actors in total are non-white, and the figures for black women fall below 1%. The significance of a theatre festival being entirely led and featuring black females, and Bristol hosting it, cannot be underestimated.

 

“It’s really important, and much needed. Completely unique, and trailblazing. Bringing together women of African and Caribbean heritage for this is a step change. Bristol should be proud,” said Cleo.

Highlights of the festival have included Sheba Soul Ensemble themselves performing their latest production ‘Warnings’ and digital artists Maya Chowdry with her rendition of ‘What’s eating Your Reality.’

One audience member Stacey said of ‘Warnings’ : “Every actress shone, the singing was sublime, it was so emotive and I couldn’t believe the audience participation scene was improvised.”

Well known local academic and regular contributor to BBC Radio 4 Edson Burton , was very impressed with Maya Chowdry’s production. It involved eating and talking about how and what we eat. He said: “It was part talk, part reading and theatre. It was thoroughly enjoyable and informative.

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Former Lord Mayor Cleo Lake is involved in the organisation of the black women’s theatre festival (Image: Bristol Post)

“The performance was a provocation around the choices we make, the choices we fail to make, and the choices made for us about food consumption,” he added.

The festival ends with a bang on Friday night (28 June) with a performance by Angie Amra Andersen. Angie was born in Bristol, and is known as one of the UK’s top African art practitioners, working extensively as a dancer, choreographer, actress and percussionist. Her performance called ‘I base,I pay Homage.’’ is focused on exploring African and Caribbean ancestors and how that relates to modern living.

Cleo Lake explained: “She shines a spotlight on the richly woven tapestry of African and Caribbean art forms. Most importantly it celebrates our heritage, our belonging to numerous generations which have gone before us, and how their legacy enriches the fabric of our lives.”

“We stand on the shoulders of those that went before us,” she added.

bristol hosts the uks first all black womens theatre festival to much acclaim 4 - Bristol hosts the UK's first all black women's theatre festival to much acclaim

Angie Amra Anderson performing at the Black Women’s Theatre

 

The writer and Theatre Director Amani Naphtali emphasised the importance of this festival and the role that Angie is playing in raising awareness, she said: “Her knowledge of African Performing arts is second to none and her ability to pass this onto others is simply the best. She is a powerhouse.”

The final performance of the Black Women’s festival ‘I Base-I pay Homage’ takes place at the Bristol Old Vic on Friday 28th June at 7:30pm. Tickets are £10 on the door.

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