THE BELGRADE Theatre has teamed up with Warwick University’s Multicultural Shakespeare Project and Coventry’s City of Culture Bid to honour an African-American actor.
Ira Aldridge became manager of the Coventry Theatre in 1828, a time when slavery was still widespread across Britain’s colonies and the USA.
In honour of his work, the Belgrade will present an evening performance in the theatre’s B2 auditorium to honour the remarkable achievements of the actor.
The free to attend event, which takes place on Thursday, November 17, will be followed by a night-time procession through the streets of Coventry.
Extracts from The Slave by Thomas Morton – one of several plays that Ira Aldridge programmed at the Coventry Theatre during his brief time as manager – will be performed.
The procession will lead to the site of the long-lost playhouse where Ira and the local community made history – with scenes, speeches and songs from Aldridge’s Coventry season.
There will also be talks from Professor Tony Howard, who has been a leading researcher on Ira Aldridge at the University of Warwick.
He said: “It’s an astonishing story.
“Adrian Lester has just played Ira Aldridge in London and New York and reminded the world of the achievements of a very great actor.
“But the fact that at the age of only 20, Ira – young, gifted and black – was handed Coventry’s Theatre to run, is truly remarkable.
“He presented plays that attacked slavery and at the same time he raised the standards of a run-down company in crisis.”
It is believed Ira was the first black actor to have played Othello in the country during October 1825.
His performances divided audiences and aroused racist hostility – campaigners even threatened him with ‘damnation’ and described his appearance as Othello as ‘heinous offence’.
Laura McMillan, manager of the Coventry City of Culture Trust, said: “The story of Ira Aldridge is incredibly moving and is one of which Coventry should be extremely proud.
“His links to the city have been largely anonymous over the years so we are thrilled to be playing our part in commemorating the impact he had here and on a much wider scale.”
The event, which is part of Being Human – a festival of the humanities and a national forum for public engagement – is free to attend, though tickets must be booked in advanced.
Visit www.belgrade.co.uk to book tickets or call the Belgrade’s box office team on 02476 553055.
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