Change begins with an apology

7 Mar 2018

Bristol Post begins Year of Change with a step towards facing the city's troubled past.

In November 2017, Bristol Old Vic announced that the 2018 programme would be built around the theme of change. This was inspired by one of our associates, Roger Griffith of Ujima Radio and driven by the period of unprecedented change we live in today. From The Cherry Orchard's social upheaval to The Meaning of Zong's benchmark moment in the abolitionist movement, Bristol Old Vic's programme is looking at change in all its forms.

Taking this theme of change beyond the theatre's walls, Bristol Old Vic has also committed to a programme of events throughout the year, including a specific partnership with The Bristol Post and Ujima Radio, where each of the organisations have committed to changing attitudes in the city to the Transatlantic Slave Trade and its legacy, still keenly felt by many Bristolians. 

Today Bristol Post has taken a first huge step towards changing those attitudes by apologising for its notorious "Faces of Evil" front page. It also announced a series of City Conversations, conceived and programmed in collaboration with Bristol Old Vic and Ujima Radio, to allow the different communities of Bristol to listen to each other's experiences and find a way of moving beyond the city's troubled past.

The City Conversations will take place at four venues across the city, with the first taking place in April and a final conversation at the theatre in the autumn. These Conversations are part of a strand of work on Changing Attitudes to the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Bristol, which will also include:

  • A newly commissioned performance piece celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and his visit to Bristol in 1846.                 
  • A partnership with Festival of Ideas to curate a series of conversations relating to the topic and building on the city conversations.
  • A workshop reading of playwright and Hamilton actor Giles Terera's new play The Meaning of Zong on 11 October 2018.
  • Around this, a series of readings, new plays, revivals and commissions reflecting the legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the experience of BAME communities in Bristol and in Britain today.
  • An open invitation to others who are already thinking about changing attitudes in the city on this topic to join in the conversation, link activities and initiatives which are already planned or conceived to this programme, curate their own events and share communication about them. This conversation and this topic can and must belong to the whole city, not to us or any single organisation within it.

Speaking today, Bristol Old Vic Artistic Director Tom Morris said:

"The starting point for this was a report published by the Runnymede Trust in January 2017 which found that Bristol was the most segregated city in the UK. Several of us in the city agreed to take whatever initiatives we could to change that. Bristol Old Vic had already commissioned a major drama reflecting on the Transatlantic Slave Trade, still a topic of division and controversy in the city. 

We sensed that the city's thinking on this topic was finally changing and that the completion of our refurbishment gave us a chance to support this change of attitude. Steve Tompkins refurbishment is conceived and designed to welcome the whole city to share in and contribute to our programme. It is inspired by our ambition that the theatre should not only be a place of entertainment and imagination for the city, but somewhere where the issues that most concern us as a city can be aired, shared and debated in the illuminating company of the most extraordinary artists we can find.

Hundreds of other initiatives and conversations across the city are already taking place on this topic, including the bold and inspirational decision of Colston Hall to change its name. This programme and the City Conversations are also inspired by that context and the fact that the city seems ready for change. That's why we are also inviting anyone who is doing so to connect with our programme. These conversations belong to the whole city, not to us or any other institution within it, and we are fascinated and hopeful to see where they might lead."

Bristol Old Vic is the longest continuously running theatre in the UK, and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016. The historic playhouse aims to inspire audiences with its own original productions, both at home and on tour, whilst nurturing the next generation of artists, whether that be through their 350-strong Young Company, their many outreach and education projects or their trailblazing artist development programme, Bristol Ferment.

They use their funding to support experiment and innovation, to allow access to their programme for people who would not otherwise encounter it, or be able to afford it, and to keep their extraordinary heritage alive and animated.

On 24 Sep 2018, Bristol Old Vic completed its 2-year multi-million pound redevelopment project, which transformed its front of house space into a warm and welcoming public building for all of Bristol to enjoy, created a new studio theatre and opened up its unique theatrical heritage to the public for the first time.

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