2 July 2019

10 Unusual Facts About Les Misérables

It’s just under a week until our musical theatre workshop At The End of the Day so we have been investigating the award-winning musical Les Misérables. Written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alan Boublil, Les Misérables is based on the 1862 novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. It follows the story of ex-convict Jean Valjean through France as he tries to find redemption and escape the clutches of police officer Javert. The story culminates in a student revolution (based on the Paris uprising of 1832) and has become incredibly popular since its première in 1985. Les Misérables is one of the most successful musicals ever – it has been performed across the world and is the longest-running show in the West End. A show with this much history is bound to have some interesting stories to tell, so we have done some digging to come up with ten interesting facts that you may not have known about Les Misérables.

  1. When it opened in the West End in 1985 the reviews were awful! The critics hated the musical but the public fell in love with the show and within 24 hours, an unprecedented 5,000 tickets had been sold. It has since gained critical acclaim and won several awards, including the Tony award for Best Original Score in 1987.
  2. Each professional performance includes 392 costumes, consisting of over 5,000 individual items of clothing!
  3. A visit to the musical Oliver! inspired the show. Lyricist Alan Boublil went to see the London revival production and the Artful Dodger instantly reminded him of the urchin Gavroche from Les Misérables.
  4. The musical was adapted into a film in 2012 starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway. Usually the music for film musicals is pre-recorded months before shooting starts but for Les Misérables, all the singing was recorded live on set which required a sound crew three times the normal size!
  5. In the film, the set used for the barricade scene was the same as the set used for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), just remodelled!
  6. In Victor Hugo’s novel he dedicates a whole chapter to discussing social reforms of the Parisian sewers. Thankfully this did not make it into the musical, although there is a short scene that takes place in the sewer as a reference.
  7. The late-Romantic composer Giacomo Puccini was approached about turning the novel Les Misérables into a full-scale opera but declined because he did not feel it was suitable for a stage show. Luckily Boublil and Schönberg did not share this opinion as then the musical may have never existed!
  8. The stage production in London famously features a revolving stage that allows seamless scene transitions.
  9. The musical has been translated into an astounding 21 languages, including Hungarian, Korean and Catalan!
  10. Les Misérables is a sung-through musical, but there are only two soundtrack albums that feature the whole score. One of these, The Complete Symphonic Recording, features cast members from all over the world and had to be recorded in three different places.

Les Misérables certainly has an interesting history and is a musical worth exploring. If these snippets of information have inspired you to want to find out more about the musical, why not come along to our musical theatre workshop At The End of the Day to perform songs from Les Misérables!

13 June 2019

Young Ambassadors Bring Windrush Into Schools

Over the past two years, GCF have been working on a Windrush project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The first half of this project culminated in the production Sorrel & Black Cake: A Windrush Story that was performed at the Mandela Centre in Chapeltown, The Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds Central Library and at the Ilkley Literature Festival. We also developed a Windrush Learning Resource that contains everything you need to plan and teach a lesson on Windrush or simply educate yourself.

As the project draws to a close two of our Young Ambassadors, Adeline Pitu and Lulia Togara have been developing a workshop to deliver in schools throughout June. To find out a bit about how they have found the experience of putting together a workshop and presenting in schools I asked them a few questions.

Adeline and Lulia presenting the workshop at Notre Dame Sixth Form College.
Adeline and Lulia at Notre Dame Sixth Form College

What have you learnt from creating the workshop?

Lulia: The importance of the bigger picture! Not just focusing on the interesting bits of information I want to share, but really thinking about how to make an engaging exercise into a life lesson.

Adeline: How to deal with certain information, materials and different ages, applied to Windrush and migration.

What’s been the hardest part about it?

Adeline: This one is a little difficult to answer, as I’ve only had a few experiences of creating workshops before. However, I do think it’s hard to pin down what material you want to use and why and keep in mind the time of how long each section and response will take. But I know that this situation can be experienced in any type of workshop, depending on the topic.

It also depends on what age range you will have to teach, as it can be difficult to try to balance different perspectives on what they would and would not be used to. (E.g. Different learning styles, visual, auditory, etc).

Lulia: Realising there’s a lot of information I want to share and only an hour to do it in.

What’s your favourite bit of the workshop?

Lulia:  If I had to pick, I’d say the Powerful Passports exercise, but I think all the sections are really lovely.

Adeline: Having fun while learning.

How do you feel the first workshops went?

Adeline: It was hard at first but by the end we really got into it. The hardest part was being nervous at the start, but I know that the more practice we get with the workshop, the easier it will get.

Do you want to do more things like this in the future?

Adeline: I would like to lead different workshops when I can, that can help and inspire others as well as learning from them myself. The more I put things into practice, the more confidence I have to give others what they need.

Lulia: Definitely!

Many thanks to Adeline and Lulia for letting me chat to them, and congratulations on delivering several successful workshops!

Lulia presenting the workshop.


9 May 2019

Introducing our Windrush Learning Resource

In just over a month’s time on Saturday 22nd June, we’ll be celebrating Windrush Day 2019. It is a wonderful opportunity to come together to celebrate and commemorate the remarkable contribution of the Windrush Generation to British economic, social and cultural life.

In the meantime, we’d like to take the opportunity to do a big shout out about our Windrush Learning Resource, where you can find out all about the Windrush Generation. Our resources combine a mixture of short films, interviews, recipes, reading lists and playlists. View the full resource here.

If you would like a free workshop in school or the community about the Windrush Generation, please contact GCF: selina@gcfoundation.co.uk.

9 April 2019

Exploring Leeds’s Black History with Joe Williams

We sat down for a cuppa with GCF Creative Associate, Joe Williams, to find out a bit more about his connection with Geraldine Connor, the crucial work he’s doing sharing Leeds’s Black history with Leeds Black History Walks, and how he is helping commemorate an important event in the history of Leeds.

First question on the agenda was ‘What was your connections with Geraldine Connor?’ Joe met Geraldine when she first came to teach at the Leeds College of Music in the 1980s. She was looking for a Black theatre company to connect with. At the time, Joe was a founding member of Kuffdem Theatre Company, helping to push the banner of diversity and producing productions in the Chapeltown area of Leeds that engaged with the local community.

Geraldine joined the company for their production of Ebony Eyes as Musical Director in 1990. She “brought in a sense of organisation” to the production with her “fantastic spirit”, and also helped mentor the young performers she saw had great potential, including Jason Pennycooke, now an award winning performer in London’s West End.

Once Geraldine had settled into her teaching post at Bretton Hall, she and Joe created the Black Expressive Theatre Enterprise, together with David Hamilton and Oliver Jones in 1993/4, an advisory group for the West Yorkshire Playhouse which advised the theatre on programme diversity and community engagement.

Joe remained close to Geraldine before her death in 2011, and particularly around the commemorations surrounding the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007. He set up the Leeds Bicentenary Transformation Project along with Arthur France, in which Geraldine was an honorary member. To Joe, Geraldine brought “a lot of reassurance to many of us in the arts. Because she understood us and she had that authority that was respected on both sides, which was rare.”

Following his MA in 2014 from the University of Leeds, Joe developed the Leeds Black History Walk and founded Heritage Corner. The Leeds Black History Walk shares the rich narratives that make up an African presence in Yorkshire dating back 2000 years: introducing walkers to Nubian pharaohs, an Ethiopian prince with connections to Queen Victoria, and abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Sarah Parker Remond, to name but a few.

On Friday 19th April, Joe is leading a very special heritage walk in Leeds to commemorate the life and death of David Oluwale (now sold out).

It’s 50 years since the British-Nigerian citizen, David Oluwale, was hounded to his death in Leeds. David arrived in Hull as a stowaway from his native Nigeria in September 1949. He served 28 days in a Leeds Prison for his breach of maritime regulations. Twenty years later, in May 1969, he was pulled out of the River Aire in Leeds, where he had drowned. David had spent ten of the sixteen years between 1953 and 1969 in High Royds Psychiatric Hospital; for the other six years he lived rough on the streets of Leeds. In November 1971, two Leeds police officers were acquitted of the manslaughter of David Oluwale, but were imprisoned for assaulting him.

Joe’s walk on 19th April will tour the places where David worked and socialised in Leeds, as well as the locations where he slept as a homeless person. Joe will guide us around the places where David had his good and his bad times, accompanied by musician Juwon Ogungbe.

“Without your history, there is no track record of your humanity. Without your humanity, people can say or do to you anything that they want. And David Oluwale is a perfect example of that. But with knowledge of history and heritage, you get more agency of self.”

A big thank you to Joe for sharing his knowledge with us. Joe’s walk is just one of many events commemorate the life and death of David Oluwale. To check out the full programme, head to the Remember Oluwale Facebook page here.

If you missed Joe’s Oluwale Walk, join him on one of his Leeds Black History Walks, which run from April to October on the first Saturday of the month. Find out more information here.



22 March 2019

Happy birthday Geraldine!

Today, the 22nd March 2019, marks Geraldine Connor’s 67th birthday. As always, we’re celebrating her incredible life by sharing people’s thoughts, love and photos of Geraldine, and sending a big shout out up to the sky to show that we are #RememberingGeraldine.

We asked our archive placement student, Millie Clift, to have a dig around the archives to find some information about Geraldine’s life to celebrate today. Millie has put together a great timeline of some important events in Geraldine’s life:

September 1976 – May 1984

Geraldine Connor was the Head of the Music Department in Trinidad’s premier boys’ school, Queen’s Royal College.

1984 – 1987

Geraldine worked as the Education Supervisor at the Brent Black Music Co-operative in London. She tutored black vocal techniques and consolidated her work as a composer.

1988 – 1990

Geraldine went back to Trinidad to work as a consultant to the Minister of Youth, Sport, Culture and Creative Arts.

She was also a major organiser for the fifth Caribbean Festival of the Arts, CARIFESTA V, which took place in Trinidad, 1992.


Geraldine was the first female musical arranger in the Panorama Steelband competitions. She played for Trintoc Invaders Steelband in Trinidad and Red Stripe Ebony Steelband in Britain.

1990 – 1992

Geraldine was employed as a full-time lecturer in Caribbean Music Studies at the City of Leeds College of Music, where she contributed to the development of a degree course in Multicultural Music.

3 – 9 April 1994

Geraldine was the co-ordinator of Black Arts Week, Leeds. Throughout this week-long programme, she emphasised the thriving community of Black Arts in Yorkshire.

6 – 18 December 1994

Geraldine attended PANAFEST’ 94 Arts Festival & Colloquium. Her connections to carnival were extremely strong throughout her lifetime.

17 – 20 November 1995

Geraldine took part in talks at the AKWAABA: Pan European Women’s Network for Intercultural Action and Exchange. Specifically looking at Diversity, Participation and Equality.


Geraldine devised music for ‘Jar the Floor’ by Cheyrl West, a West Yorkshire Playhouse production.


Geraldine had extensive experience as a radio producer and hosted the BBC Radio Leeds Nightshift programme.


The West Yorkshire Playhouse production of Vodou Nation, co-directed by Geraldine Connor, held some rehearsals in Haiti in order to successfully capture the richness of the Vodou religion in the final performance.