Tag

geraldine connor

20 December 2018

Documenting the life of Geraldine Connor

Archive placement student, Millie Clift, is doing a brilliant job digging through Geraldine’s archives here at GCF. We asked her to tell us about what she’s uncovered and how she’s been getting on.

When I first started my placement with the Geraldine Connor Foundation I had no prior knowledge of Geraldine’s career, but I was quickly made aware of her outstanding production, Carnival Messiah. The success which it achieved and the support which she and Carnival Messiah had throughout its time amazed me. I had always known that performance, dance and music had an astonishing impact on people, but it wasn’t until I started reading about Geraldine and her life’s work beyond Carnival Messiah that I realised how much one person could do through the arts to inspire others.

Geraldine Connor © Diane Howse

Carnival Messiah has been described as the pinnacle of Geraldine Connor’s career, and this cannot be denied. However, I am trying to look beyond this production, into all the other amazing work which Geraldine did. What I didn’t realise was how much there would be. From academic brilliance, receiving her PhD from the University of Leeds, to being to first female Steelband arranger for the Panorama competitions; from helping to develop a degree course in Multicultural Music at the City of Leeds College of Music to singing on the original recording of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’; from co-ordinating Yorkshire Black Arts Week in 1994 to becoming a senior lecturer at Bretton Hall, University College of Leeds; not to mention all of her contributions to numerous productions at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and elsewhere, it appears that there is no part of the creative arts which she did not touch.

In order to acknowledge the full range of projects which Geraldine accomplished in her lifetime, I have been visiting several different archives. Particularly, the West Yorkshire Playhouse archive in the Brotherton Special Collections at Leeds University and the George Padmore Institute which is located in Finsbury Park, London. Most of her work on productions is kept within the Brotherton Special Collections, so if you are interested, this is the place to go! The George Padmore Institute is also somewhere which is well worth a visit; founded in 1991 it is a research centre which houses materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe (https://www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org/). It is also connected to the New Beacon Books shop, which has specialised in African and Caribbean Literature since 1966.

Photograph taken from https://www.newbeaconbooks.com/

These archives have told me a lot about Geraldine’s life, but I am sure this is only the tip of the iceberg and that there is much more which the Foundation and I can learn. If you have any stories of your time with Geraldine, or information on projects which Geraldine was involved with, I would love to hear from you. Please get in touch at info@gcfoundation.co.uk.

1 November 2017

Ashley Karrell on Geraldine’s ‘unique spirit’

Leeds based film-maker, Ashley Karrell, chatted to us about Geraldine Connor ahead of the screening of his film, ‘Carnival Messiah The Film & Documentary’, which is showing at Leeds Town Hall on Tuesday 7th November as part of the 31st Leeds International Film Festival…

Geraldine Connor was a professional mentor and personal friend. It was an honour to create the film and documentary that showcases all the fantastic aspects of her epic theatrical production of Carnival Messiah. This incredible musical spectacle shows some amazing carnival costumery, magnetic voices, and a creative cast of over 150 drawn from the local Leeds community and celebrated international artists.

 

The film marks the tenth anniversary of the original production, staged at Harewood House as part of the Trust’s celebrations of the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. A decade on, Carnival Messiah has taken its rightful place as a cultural landmark in Yorkshire’s arts scene and remains relevant today. Geraldine’s vision of empowerment and inclusivity through the arts lives on not only through the film, but also through the work of the many artists she mentored and inspired. It has been a privilege to ensure that her unique spirit and phenomenal impact are cherished forever.

Feel inspired too? Then come join us at Leeds Town Hall on Tuesday 7th November at 8.15pm for Carnival Messiah the Film & Documentary. More details here.

Carnival Messiah, Ashley Karrell, film, Geraldine Connor
Ashley Karrell at the premiere of ‘Carnival Messiah the Film’ at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Sept 2017

14 September 2017

Carnival Messiah: Proof That This World Needs Art

The wonderful Anna, who has been working at GCF as part of the Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship at the University of Leeds, reflects on the lasting legacy of Geraldine Connor’s magnum opus, Carnival Messiah

When I applied to do a summer research project on ‘The Impact and Legacy of Carnival Messiah’, I never imagined where it would take me. From being mic’d up to interview world class opera singers, to drinking tea with the Earl of Harewood, to spending an evening freestyling to Caribbean dancehall music with a group of strangers, I have been awed and inspired at every turn. After six weeks work I can safely say there is no simple way to describe my exploration of Carnival Messiah, but I’ll do my best.

Anna May at the Carnival Messiah the Film screening
Anna May at the Carnival Messiah the Film screening

Carnival Messiah was the pinnacle of Geraldine Connor’s artistic career, both an exceptional piece of theatre and a politically charged platform for social and personal transformation. With its beginnings as a student project in the 90s at Bretton Hall and developing into a huge scale professional production with performances in Leeds, London, and Trinidad, it has now been seen by over 750,000 people across the globe. Geraldine herself described it as a ‘spectacular musical showcase, featuring a multi-ethnic multitude of singers, musicians, masqueraders, dancers and actors […] the excitement, music and colour of Carnival blended with Handel’s most inspiring and exhilarating melodies’. The classical Christian story presented in an explosion of global art forms sounds bizarre and chaotic, and in many ways it was, but it worked.

Carnival Messiah 2017 1 - Photograph by Diane Howse
Carnival Messiah, Photograph by Diane Howse

Carnival Messiah was a dazzling spectacle that received standing ovations from audiences night after night, but it was also deeply enlightening and transformative. The production was embedded with history and politics; it aimed to educate the diverse community of Leeds about its rich mutli-cultural heritage, with a focus on Caribbean culture, looking at themes such as the migrant experience, the meaning of Carnival, and the history of the slave trade. Geraldine was concerned by the harmful divisions in our society, by the way cultural difference was being exploited for conflict and exclusion, rather than celebration and unity. She saw Carnival Messiah as a way to approach these issues in a non-confrontational way, while helping each participant to develop professional and life skills at the same time. Through art, Geraldine created a platform for empowerment, equality, and hope, and paved the way to space of ‘safety and well-being where all can co-exist in love, peace and harmony’.

Carnival Messiah 2017 5 - Photograph by Diane Howse
Carnival Messiah, Photograph by Diane Howse

Ten years since the last performance at Harewood House, and six years since Geraldine passed away, Carnival Messiah is still alive and kicking. Every single person (and I mean about a hundred of them) who have spoken to me about their experience seem buoyed up by some sort of external energy, a sense of truth and joy unique to Carnival Messiah. Each person has been on their own journey, both professional and personal, which continues to impact them even now. Every interaction, the face-to-face interviews, the phone calls, even the emails, have been full of life and taught me a multitude of unexpected lessons about the creative world, but also about life more generally. I feel privileged to have had my eyes opened to the very special world of Carnival Messiah and am grateful to everyone I have met and who made this possible.

Carnival Messiah is the perfect example of good art. While drama, dance, music, design etc. may be seen primarily as a creative outlet, a source of entertainment, or a showcase of talent, we must not forget its powerful potential to enrich and transform people’s lives. To me, this is what art is, and this is what we should be striving for.

If you were involved in Carnival Messiah and would like to share your experiences about the production with us, please get in touch: info@gcfoundation.co.uk.

28 July 2017

Remember Carnival Messiah? Anna wants to Speak to you!

Hi, my name is Anna. I’m currently studying English and Sociology at the University of Leeds, and am lucky to have the opportunity of working with the Geraldine Connor Foundation over the next two years as part of the Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship (UGRLS). Over the summer I’m exploring the impact and legacy of Geraldine’s creation ‘Carnival Messiah’, with a particular focus on the production at Harewood House in 2007.

Anna

Carnival Messiah was widely praised for its community engagement, bringing professionals, semi-professionals locals and international artists on to one stage. To this day the foundation is inundated with stories of the effect Carnival Messiah had on individuals.

I’m interested in learning from artists, participants and audiences about their experiences, the influence the production had on their lives, and also their personal memories in order to try and capture the joy of the production. In building an archive of material about ‘Carnival Messiah’, not only am I hoping to record and celebrate its legacy, but I’m also hoping to demonstrate the importance of the arts more generally. Especially in a time when funding is being cut at every corner, I believe that the arts should be valued in all walks of life, both as a creative outlet and as a powerful tool for personal growth and social change.

If you took part in Carnival Messiah, or even if you simply went to see it and would like to share your experience then we’d love to hear it. Get in touch by emailing info@gcfoundation.co.uk with your name, contact details and a brief description of how you were involved, and we’ll go from there.

 

I hope to hear from you soon!

Anna