THE UK’s leading black theatre company Eclipse Theatre has announced the final round of artists to be commissioned as part of ‘Slate:Black · Arts · World’; a programme which has provided bespoke support to more than 2,000 black artists in the North of England over the last three years.
The third and final round of commissions sees four artists selected to receive either £8,000 to support a project that is ready to get up and running; or £4,000 to research and develop a new concept or idea.
The selected artists are:
- Keisha Thompson, a Manchester based writer, performance artist and producer who will develop her work, ‘The Bell Curves’; a performance piece featuring an all-female cast which will explore the human implications of CRISPR-Cas 9 gene-hacking technology.
- Dorcas Sebuyange, a Congolese multi-disciplinary artist based in Liverpool. Dorcas received funding in the first round of Slate commissions to develop her work ‘Vice Versa’; an album that politically explores realms of consciousness. She will use the additional grant to tour a theatrical gig sharing music and poetry from Vice Versa using animation and motion graphics, filmography, poetry, visual art and movement.
Research and development (£4,000)
– Houmi Miura, an East Asian actor and emerging theatre-maker based in Manchester. Houmi will develop her work ‘In the Beginning Woman Was the Sun’; a onewoman show that explores the immigrant experience as Houmi goes on a quest to find some Japanese female heroes from history to pin up as her new poster girls.
– Olivia Hannah, a Newcastle-based playwright whose first full-length play, Braids, was longlisted for the 2018 Alfred Fagon Award for Best New Play. Her as yet untitled piece, commissioned by Slate, will be set in Newcastle in the 1960s and tell the story of a young mixed-race woman becoming part of the Northern Soul scene to feel closer to her American heritage, set against the backdrop of Martin Luther King’s historic visit to Newcastle just five months before his assassination.
The artists will also benefit from a bespoke programme of professional support and expertise working with the Eclipse team of Slate ‘Enablers’ – specially selected Black arts professionals recruited to deliver Slate on the ground – and a consortium of partner organisations including York Theatre Royal, Pilot Theatre, Unity Theatre and HOME in Manchester.
The new commissions join eight other performers and theatre makers awarded Slate Commission funding in earlier rounds, with a number of those artists now touring their work across the country. These include Naomi Sumner Chan who received £8,000 in 2017 to stage her play ‘SAME SAME DIFFERENT’, which embarked on a North of England tour in the spring, with plans to showcase the piece at further venues next year.
Multidisciplinary artist, Nwando Ebizie’s exhibition ‘Distorted Constellations’, which uses sound, projections and holograms to create an altered reality inspired by Afrofuturism, was commissioned by Slate in 2017. The work is currently touring the UK throughout 2019/2020 and received acclaim from audiences and critics alike as part of the Brighton Festival 2019. Playwright and performance artist Chanje Kunda, who received an £8,000 grant in the second round of commissions, will premiere her work ‘Plant Fetish’ which combines live art and dance to explore the power of nature to combat anxiety, at ARC Stockton and HOME in November before embarking on a UK-wide tour in 2020.
Stella Kanu, chair of Eclipse Theatre said: “We’re thrilled to commission this final round of artists and add to the important body of new work being developed and toured thanks to Slate. The initiative has supported more than 70 new works by Black artists, with more 20,000 people attending workshops, residencies and social events since its launch three years ago. Slate has kick-started a recognisable shift in the independent sector – and Black artists across the North are meeting, collaborating and sharing knowledge and ideas organically.
More importantly, we are nurturing artists who are creating work audiences want to see. We’ve built a sustainable model for commissioning new work and it’s a legacy that everyone involved should be proud of.”
Slate, which received three years of funding from Arts Council England’s Sustained Theatre scheme at the start of 2017, has successfully built a sustainable model for black artists in the north of England by extending their networks locally, nationally and internationally. In 2018, Eclipse took the project worldwide, having successfully secured Creative Europe funding for a cooperation project to pilot Slate in Lisbon and Amsterdam to build an inclusive network to address the barriers that currently exclude black audiences and artists from participating in arts and culture across Europe.
To mark the final stretch of the current programme, more than forty artists gathered at a special ‘Slate Weekender’ in Sheffield last month to celebrate and showcase Black artists in the north. The four-day event included a programme of panel discussions, workshops and networking events exploring a range of themes including change-making, intersectionality, politics and culture, black experience, ecology and internationalism.
Melanie Abrahams, a Slate Enabler, who also curated the Slate Weekender said: “The Slate Weekender offered an opportunity to showcase a new wave of progressive, bold and brilliant black artists working in the north. Artists have benefitted enormously from having a forum to discuss, challenge and share their work with other like-minded professionals. Working as an independent artist can be an isolating experience, but over the last three years, the networks and partnerships that have been developed through Slate have ensured black artists, producers and theatre companies are supported in their growth. We’ve provided guidance on everything from how to apply for funding, retrain, forge new collaborations to advice on how to look after mental health and well-being in a climate of uncertainty in the independent sector, and Eclipse will continue to innovate ways to nurture black artists going forward.”