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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
Sixteen year old Charles was given the opportunity to do a week of work experience at GCF. A budding actor, we asked Charles to explore what acting means to him, where he sees his talents taking him in the future, and to research what opportunities there are in Leeds for young actors to gain more experience. Here’s what he came up with…
I’ve always loved watching movies and TV shows, and it gave me a desire to act in front of a camera. Acting is an art, an art of impersonating characters and making them come to life. Actors can build a character in many different ways such in method acting, imitating the character’s habits so that in a movie, they are more realistic and will have a convincing body language. Actors sometimes have to train for a role and have to learn how to play an instrument or do sports for a role. Show business is hard work and a lot of effort but despite that, it’s still an interesting profession that will keep any movie fan like me excited.
To be an actor, I need to focus on gaining as much experience as possible in both categories (screen and stage). I currently study acting in IPM acting school and aim to continue my studying in performing arts in college and apply for a drama-based University. Outside education I need to go to auditions – as many as possible until I’m used to it and can do better next time.
Leeds has many opportunities for 16+ year olds like me who are interested in taking part in acting. Theatres are always holding auditions, there are acting schools that are always open to new people. It’s really simple to find these, all it takes is a few clicks on Google. Theatres like Leeds Playhouse, the Carriageworks Theatre and RJC Dance all have opportunities for young actors to perform. If young students are interested in just doing film acting instead of stage acting, they can go to acting schools like IPM, YAFTA and ActUpNorth.
We’re getting close to This is the Hour: A Musical Theatre Workshop on Sunday 27th January at The Dance Studio Leeds. As we’ve been busily preparing for this event in the GCF office, there’s been some debate about what makes a musical like Miss Saigon a ‘hit’. Umi thought that the secret lies in memorable tunes that leave you humming for days. Selina came to the conclusion that it was all about the spectacle, the ‘whole shebang’; the best musicals have the ability to transport us to a completely different world. All this begs the question – is the story really that important at all?
The appetite for a night out in the company of an epic musical with memorable, hummable music shows no sign of abating. Back in 2013, when tickets went on sale for the 25th anniversary revival of Miss Saigon, £4.4m of bookings were taken on one day, a West End box office record.
Miss Saigon is an intriguing case. Looking back to when it first premièred at the Theatre Royal in London’s Drury Lane in 1989, it seems daring to have turned the Vietnam war into a song and dance show barely 15 years after the end of hostilities. But in its broader themes – refugees and orphans of war, the morality and consequences of western intervention, forbidden and doomed love – the production has acquired a topicality that has nothing to do with Vietnam. Maybe the intricacies of story aren’t so important to musicals then, as long as it can appeal to universal themes.
Written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr., the production benefits from an enduring collection of music that does what great musicals do: a balance of rousing choral numbers (“Morning of the Dragon”, “This is the Hour”, “Miss Saigon”) and haunting and emotive solo numbers (“American Dream”, “Movie in my Mind”).
Miss Saigon really does have the ‘whole shebang’. Audiences will forever be wowed by the life-size helicopter that miraculously descends from the rafters and appears on stage. The powerful, terrorizing machine is a deafening, airborne apocalypse and the show’s most theatrical moment. We’re left to wonder, just how did they do that?!
West End performer, Nigel Wong, who will be leading our workshop, starred in Miss Saigon at the Drury Lane Theatre from 1995-96. He starred as ‘the commissar’ as well as in the ensemble, and also covered the role of the Engineer. When asked what he thought made Miss Saigon a hit, Nigel said that the story WAS important, and that the vital ingredient was a good connection between the story and the music. He also said that, as a performer, it was crucial that a role could be adapted to the actor; there must be a flexibility to allow both the performer and role to shine through.
What do you think makes a ‘hit’ musical? The debate rages on in the GCF office. In the meantime, why not join Nigel for This is the Hour: A Musical Theatre Workshop. The workshop will give attendees an insight into how a musical comes together, the different genres within musical theatre, and the skills require to be a musical theatre performer.
Please note: this workshop is open to all levels, including complete beginners (16 yrs +).
WHEN: Sunday 27th January 2019, 11am – 1.30pm.
WHERE: Dance Studio Leeds, Mabgate Mills, Leeds, LS9 7SW.
Click here to book your place. Presented by the Dance Studio Leeds and Geraldine Connor Foundation.