The thing about being heard, is that it can sometimes lead you to turn to silence for solace. When the light is finally shining on your “thing’, the thing you have been working on, you step back to check that it is in fact what you meant to say. Now that people are here and making comments and telling you what they think about what you think, this can sometimes silence you into solace.
Thankfully it can also cause a release of an unbelievably powerful blossoming of your art. A bit like nature when you pay it any attention and feed it, it grows. Unfortunately in nature this law works for both the good and the bad, for both the toxic and the empowering. We appear to spend a large fraction of our lives trying to work out which one is which and making choices between the two.
So, this is what it currently feels like to be me as a Black British Female Theatre Director based in the United Kingdom. When I reflect back on the changes over the years and how we have arrived at this point today, I am proud of the contributions made by myself and my close associates and in particular Hidden Gems Productions Theatre Company that I set up in Yorkshire back in 2010 with the writer Marcia Layne. I’m looking forward to sharing more about the story of Hidden Gems Productions alongside Marcia when the time comes.
Some of the measurable changes over the last few years have been annually documented and reported by the Arts Council of England, using the Creative Case conference as a launch pad to share the findings. The Creative industry appears to be making some ground with a wave of previously under represented arts practitioners now being recognised for their excellence. It’s good to be reminded though that we still have some way to go. This case was one of many and not to put too fine a point on it in terms of the Black Artists in this argument, there were many who fought the good fight and didn’t or couldn’t reap the benefits that some are reaping now. I want to take this opportunity to thank those who came long before me, stood along side me and those who are coming up, for their hard graft with the campaigns towards change. Facing a daily lived experience in times of deep isolation, they faced barriers that now appear to be widely acknowledged. This acknowledgement alongside genuine attempts to try and dismantle the structural and explicit barriers in place is long overdue.
As a Black British Artist, I learned to see my story everywhere. My parents taught me that. They’d watch some movie or listened to a song and discuss the original source. This could either be Elvis’s take on R’n’b music or the reggae arrangements British band The Police were rocking. It could be Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood on the radio which raised big laughs in our house, because they knew busy bodies like Mr and Mrs Willy Nily just like that back home in Jamaica. My parents taught me to listen, absorb and delight in hearing a new version of the same old stories. My dad ran a Sound System at the weekends, which meant a new cut of a reggae tune every Friday night. Innovation and entertainment were part of my household and growing up.
When I arrived to join the thing we now call the creative industries, I first immersed myself into my studies in Manchester, then after completing that ran to the hills of Yorkshire to find creative work. I found political art activists both working class and middle class fighting together for the right for the Yorkshire voices and experiences to be heard and understood within the UK. Through their struggle (generally playing downtrodden characters and never the King) they had a level of understanding of the worldwide political fight for freedoms. This resonated with me as a young Black arts activist. This was a time when South Africa was entering into a new era, now that the battle of oppression of apartheid had legally ended, having been long hard fought for and to a degree won.
I spent the next decade learning my craft and finding mutually respectful relationships to forge forward with, discarding the barriers found one by one. These barriers included self doubt and exhaustion when faced with a system not built with you in mind, or worst still feeling actively built to keep you out. It was beyond tiring and at times I felt like giving up.
Flash forward through to conferences, roundtables, panel discussions, initiatives, training, countless newspaper articles, imbalanced partnerships and reports and we have the term underrepresented.
At times it appeared to be enough to use the term underrepresented with no action attached. The next question would surely be why, followed by action? The stages of this movement towards change were delayed in inaction, false starts, dividing to conquer strategies, bad parent and child financial relationship models and even the denial of the very need for change at all. As Dr Martin Luther King said on that famous March day on Washington organised by a Civil Rights hero of mine Bayard Rustin.
‘This is not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.’
Here’s what I think. The benefits of a nation that hears itself and goes on to respectfully engage with the rest of the world cannot go underestimated, the consequences of doing otherwise is too awful to comprehend.
Within my Change Makers role, I have had the opportunity to write this blog, to share my practice and my journey. There is an infinite amount to be said about Social Change and artistic practice, but then there is the work it takes to put that change into action and so with this in mind you’ll be hearing from me now until the end of this year December at a less frequent pace.
I may invite guest artists, academics, writers, activists I admire to share their journey alongside my own, or simply link to my favourite podcasts, blogs articles and books, let’s see what happens. Please feel free to share links by sending to myself here at Hull Truck Theatre whilst I’m here.
As I always say…do what you can from where you are.
Looking forward to this next era and where it can lead us.
Image credit: Paul Floyd Blake