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Shakespeare’s Globe to commemorate pioneering African-American actor Ira Aldridge

Against Prejudice: A Celebration of Ira Aldridge - Tuesday 19 September, 7.00pm Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe - Click here for tickets.

  • Evening to include performance of Ira Aldridge, Theatre Manager: 1828, with a portrayal of Aldridge by RSC Associate Artist Ray Fearon, and discussion led by historian David Olusoga.
  • Performance of newly rediscovered anti-slavery monologue written for Ira Aldridge, The Negro Boy.
  •  ‘Ira was relentless. He didn’t take no for an answer and he never, ever gave up. After spending so long absent from our artistic history, it is fitting and just that we celebrate him now.’ – Adrian Lester, who played Ira Aldridge in Lolita Chakrabarti’s play Red Velvet.

Coventry City of Culture 2021

Shakespeare’s Globe, the University of Warwick’s Multicultural Shakespeare Project and Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre are to celebrate the life and legacy of the pioneering African- American Shakespearean actor, Ira Aldridge, and to mark the 150th anniversary of his passing.

Ira AldridgeAgainst Prejudice: A Celebration of Ira Aldridge, 19th September in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe, will see a performance of Ira Aldridge, Theatre Manager: 1828, with Aldridge played by Ray Fearon, and a discussion, The Heirs of Ira Aldridge, led by historian and TV documentarian David Olusoga – alongside music by Una May and the Belgrade Theatre’s Black Youth Theatre.

Commenting on Ira Aldridge’s influence on him, Ray Fearon said:

"Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new centre of gravity. Don't fight them. Just find a different way to stand. Thank you, Ira Aldridge."

The evening will also include a performance of the newly rediscovered The Negro Boy, a monologue written by James Bisset specifically for and performed by Aldridge over 100 times.

Bringing alive the sufferings of a child slave, the monologue – lost until this year - played a significant part in Aldridge’s career while he battled the prejudice of London critics.

“Me the Negro Boy/ Once my parents’ joy/ From dere bosom torn/ O’er de Ocean borne…”

Leaving the United States to escape racism, Aldridge (1807-1867) came to Britain, where he became a citizen and was manager of the Coventry Theatre before successfully touring Europe – where, in Germany, he became the first British actor ever to be knighted.

He was set to return to the States following the end of Civil War, but died in Poland soon after the abolition of slavery.

Earl Cameron CBE

A plaque to commemorate his time as Manager of the Coventry Theatre was unveiled on its original site in August this year by Earl Cameron CBE, the Globe evening’s guest of honour, who was taught by Aldridge’s daughter Amanda.

The evening marks the climax of a year-long collaboration between the University of Warwick, the Belgrade, and the Coventry City of Culture 2021 Bid. This has also included performances, talks and a procession through Coventry to commemorate Aldridge’s legacy.

Commenting on the evening and his uncovering of The Negro Boy, Professor Tony Howard of the University of Warwick, author of Ira Aldridge, Theatre Manager: 1828, said:

This has been a thrilling year for us, and Against Prejudice at Shakespeare’s Globe will be a homecoming, as it was on the south bank of the Thames that he scored his first successes.

“Bisset’s ‘Negro Boy’ may never have been printed, and it’s unwieldy. Aldridge must have trimmed its 22 stanzas in performance. So on September 19th 2017, in the candle-lit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Ray Fearon will deliver an edited version and it will be spoken not sung.

“But I can promise that you’ll find it as moving and unsettling as it must have been when Ira Aldridge travelled round this country for decades performing it. Whenever we celebrate Aldridge as an historical pioneer – and would we call him a ‘refugee’ today, or an ‘economic migrant’? – we sense him looking us in the eyes, quizzical and challenging.”

11 September 2017

Contact:

Tom Frew, Senior Press and Media Relations Manager – University of Warwick:

E: a dot t dot frew at warwick dot ac dot uk
M: +44(0)7785433155