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In Robeson's Footsteps: British Black and Asian Shakespeare Now

The Cinema,Tricycle Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Rd., London NW6 7JR, 15 January 2016, 13:30 - 19:00

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You are invited to join us in celebrating the extraordinary contribution that British Black and Asian actors and directors have made - and are making - to the performance and re-interpretation of Shakespeare's plays. This event is hosted by the Multicultural Shakespeare Project (University of Warwick) and the Centre for Global Shakespeare (Queen Mary University of London/University of Warwick).

The Multicultural Shakespeare project was launched in 2012. Since then, issues of diversity, access and representation have become the centre of a national debate. Now to launch the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death we ask: Do we have a multicultural theatre? And can we?

As we enter 2016, Lenny Henry, the Act for Change movement, Equity and so many others are campaigning for more diversity on stage and screen and for more power for black and Asian practitioners behind the scenes.

The life of Ira Aldridge, the African American performer who played a major role in England’s theatrical life in the age of slavery, is being remembered in the West End in the revival of Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet in January 2016. Later this year in BBC TV’s epic The Hollow Crown, Sophie Okonedo plays Queen Margaret, dominating the Henry VI trilogy and Richard III.

In Robeson’s Footsteps

We present highlights from three years of research to document and contextualise BAME performers’ crucial yet undervalued contribution to our understanding of Shakespeare - our greatest cultural symbol of ‘Britishness’. It will also mark the launch of the British Black and Asian Performance Database, recording more than 1200 productions.

In the recent RSC Othello, black actor Lucian Msamati played Iago. Hugh Quarshie (Othello) said,
‘What we make of it tells us more about ourselves than it does about Shakespeare.’

13:30-15:45 Part I: ‘This Island’s Mine?’ - Shakespeare’s Communities Today.

Members of Global Shakespeare join Multicultural Shakespeare’s researchers in a public seminar, highlighting connections and differences in contemporary approaches to Shakespeare across cultures. The seminar and discussion will be chaired by Professor Ayanna Thompson (George Washington University) - critic, historian and screenwriter. Speakers will include

Professor Tony Howard: '"Ariel's Island": How Multicultural Shakespeare has Challenged, and Changed Us'

Dr Jami Rogers: 'Uncovering the Black Canon: The Findings of the British Black and Asian Performance Database'

Professor David Schalkwyk: 'Global Shakespeare'

Dr Preti Taneja: '"Who Is the wise man and who is the Fool?": The Importance of Buffoonery in Indian Shakespeare'

and Sita Thomas

There will be chance to see the exhibition ‘To Tell My Story’ which maps British Black and Asian involvement in the performance of UK Shakespeare since 1930, when the great Paul Robeson brought Othello to the Savoy Theatre.

16:00- 17:30 Part II: In Robeson’s Footsteps.

Interviews with dozens of actors and directors, collected during the project, provide the raw material for a dramatized account of their experiences, performed by leading BAME artists (subject to availability): Rakie Ayola (most recently Paulina in the RSC's Winter's Tale), Nicholas Bailey (most recent Shakespeare Macduff in Mercury Theatre's Macbeth) and Simon Manyonda (most recent Shakespeare Oswald in the National Theatre's King Lear).

Today’s event will foreground the Multicultural Shakespeare project’s core collaboration with the creative industries and BAME communities. The rehearsed reading will be followed by an open discussion about the current state of multicultural Shakespeare in Britain.

17:30- 19:00

Drinks reception

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