Finsbury Town Hall is the home of The Urdang Academy, a college widely known as the institution that has nurtured and continues to nurture a large amount of the Black and mixed raced talent within the performing arts industry, so what better venue to host an event such as the inaugural Black British Theatre Awards?!
The atmosphere was glorious as we were led into the arrival room and greeted with welcome drinks and by fellow creatives complimenting each others gowns, three piece suits and African attire. An announcement was made that the ceremony was – promptly – starting and I followed the line of sparkles, diamonds, cornrows, braids, afros, twist outs, waves, shape ups and smiles into the Great Hall.
A room full of “My girl, long time! Where yuh been?” And “Yuh look good eee?” erupted around the hall and only Ore Oduba’s grand entrance could momentarily hush our excitement. Everything felt like home. From the song choices for the VT’s (Jill Scott – Long Walk) to the cocoa butter & plantain chips in our goodie bags. Hosts Indra Ové & Danny Sapani competed with Martina Laird & Matt Henry for ‘who had the best dance towards the stage’ however, Layton Williams accepting his award with an impromptu booty pop was the real crowd pleaser. While Clint Dyer & Kenneth Olumuyiwa delivered harsh yet witty truths about the state of the industry for people of colour and how far we were yet to go.
Only gasps were heard during ENO Harewood Artist, Nadine Benjamin’s jaw dropping rendition of Summertime and Sharon D. Clarke’s acceptance speech of her lifetime achievement award left me energised, as she marvelled at the fact that herself and Adrian Lester were the only faces of colour at a 1995 award show she attended, yet here we all were today with enough Black and Brown faces to fill a room. We were also given the opportunity to uplift creatives such as Lynette Lindon, Tony Gayle, Debbie Tucker Green, Tobi Kyeremateng and Shelley Maxwell to name a few and of course, tributes were made to theatre legend Lion King’s late, Thea Barnes.
With notable guests such as Dawn Hope, Simon Albury, Jason Pennycooke, Cherrelle Skeete, Shiloh Coke, Kwami Odoom and David Blake in attendance, Sunday 27th October 2019 was not a day to gather and simply complain about inequality. We all came together with one goal in mind, to build our own table – finally – and feast at it, and that we did. We laughed, we were teary, and we rose to our feet to honour the wealth of theatre royalty amongst us. Sule Rimi took a few of his famous group selfies and as the sounds of African Giant Burna Boy blasted through the hall, we ladies took off our heels, the men removed their blazers and we danced shaku shaku well into the night.
Solange gave me the pleasure of curating the Recognition List modelled after the “Black On Broadway” list and I was amazed at my findings. The list included Black and Mixed Black actors that had featured in London SOLT* theatres between August 2018-August 2019. The list was incredibly longer than I expected and so I enlisted the help of actor/activist and my dear friend, Daniel Bailey. I came across fellow black actors that I was previously unaware of and It was a reminder that despite certain reports, the talent is definitely available. We are here and thriving.
I’ll be eternally grateful to say that I was there. I am and always will be a part of a very momentous, historical occasion. For all those that supported in whatever way, thank you. For all those that chose to sit back and watch this year, I’m glad you witnessed the magic we created. Hopefully see you next year 🙂