Tucked away in an obscure corner of the Victoria and Albert Museum, last Thursday the Clore Study Room lent itself to an invigorating, and emotionally charged talk on black theatre history in Britain. Led by writer and director Olusola Oyeleye (check out 17Percent’s interview with Sola), and curator of Unfinished Histories Ltd, Dr Susan Croft, the afternoon included a screening of Nu Century Arts’ film production Margins to Mainstream: The Story of Black Theatre in Britain, which charts black theatre history from the 18th and 19th centuries onwards – hidden or not heard about except by a few – alongside interviews with leading figures in contemporary black theatre such as playwright Don Kinch. The screening was then followed by group discussion on related questions and topics regarding some of the current trends that artists are experiencing now, such as a continued sense of marginalisation, the strive towards greater multiplicity in theatre and other art forms, and an on-going struggle to be heard. One point made in the film was the need to break away from the ‘illusion of inclusion,’ and this statement certainly resonated throughout the room. At the same time it gave way to a shared celebration of the achievements of several individuals present (many of them women), each of whom spoke with passion about experiences of telling their story from the margins, and an encouraging reminder not to sell ourselves short but support one another as we try to dissolve some of the historical and social barriers in place.
An important part of this mission is to retrieve other histories that have escaped cultural consciousness. Dr Croft’s project Unfinished Histories documents ‘Alternative Theatre,’ from 1968-88, and evolved from an oral history project that was then made available online, mediated to new audiences, instead of being lost forever to the archives. It includes material on a number of marginal theatres in Britain during that period, including Black, Asian, lesbian, gay and women’s, and disabled groups. Find out more here.
See a trailer for Margins to Mainstream here.