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To The Streets!

Home > Birmingham > Festivals | Musicals | Outdoor | Theatre
by dpm (subscribe)
dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Event: -
Concert performance of new musical
When director Christopher Haydon read a newspaper article about the Bristol Bus Boycott, he knew immediately the story would make a great musical. Taking place in 1963, the boycott saw activists in the town overturn the Bristol Omnibus Company's bar on employing black and Asian drivers and conductors.

That story now forms the basis of a musical concert being performed in Handsworth Park as well as Windmill Hill at Warwick Arts Centre Coventry and West Park in Wolverhampton this August. Produced by China Plate and Birmingham Hippodrome, To The Streets! brings together both professional and community performers and forms part of Birmingham 2022 Festival.

To The Streets Birmingham Hippodrome
To The Streets

For Christopher, the Bristol events, which paved the way for the passing of the 1965 Race Relations Act, was a story waiting to be told. "The boycott was not an event I had ever heard of and I was kind of shocked when I read the article," he says. "I thought 'this is an amazing thing, how did I not know this happened?' And the article was saying this is a little-known story and yet an essential part of our civil rights history."

And it is a story about a community coming together he says. "When the boycott happened it was led by the black community but they found support across the city, for example white students at the university came out in support, and it was a really brilliant example for how you effect change by finding people with the same set of values regardless of their demographic identity. It's also a story full of surprises. And finally it's a story that has a great sense of hope and has really important lessons for today."

Working with writer Roy Williams, composer Tim Sutton and choreographer Dannielle 'Rhimes' Lecointe, Chris and the team wanted to ensure To The Streets! is also a fun musical with memorable characters, great songs and vibrant dance. "I hope people feel a sense of joy when they see the show," Christopher says. "If you leave the show knowing more about this important event in our history and feeling joyful, empowered and hopeful then what more can you ask for?"

The outdoor performances this summer are an opportunity to begin sharing the work. "What we are presenting is a concert performance of the music and the choreography with narration, it is not the full show. This is absolutely about showcasing the music and the dance and it will be an exciting and thrilling event."

The team were keen for the concert performance to involve both professional and community casts. "It's a story about community activism and a story about a community standing up for itself and getting a sense of where their bonds lie," Christopher says. "In the story, groups that wouldn't necessarily mix in other contexts find themselves together. So for these performances we wanted to make sure we have a community presence with community performers. The way to find a direct line into the heart of a community is to also go into that community. Performing outdoors is a really good way of literally getting rid of any physical barriers. Touring community parks draws the audience to you. It's about binding a group of people together through a show."

Writer Roy Williams had met one of the boycott's key activists Paul Stephenson in the past and was keen to dramatize the story so jumped at the chance when approached by Christopher.

The playwright, whose previous works include Sucker Punch, Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads and The Gift, was fascinated by the parallels of past and present. "These activists were extremely young when they did this and they are the same age as the young people I see protesting now," Roy says. "I see how young people have taken to protest over the past couple of years with #MeToo and most significantly with George Floyd. For me, watching on the news, this worldwide protest was led by the young and I was so heartened by that."

He continues: "This story reminds us that people were doing this 50-odd years ago it's just that we don't know about it. It's a story we should know about, what a moment of history that was, what a moment of protest. Every change, I would say worldwide in history, has shown protest does make a difference. So this story is really relevant to today."

To The Streets Birmingham Hippodrome
Community cast

The creative team have undertaken extensive research, meeting some of the real-life protesters and reviewing news archives and then Roy has built a fictional world into the tale. "We follow the events quite closely as they happened but I felt it needed another layer so that was an opportunity for me to tell an additional story," Roy explains. "So we fictionalise a character, who actually is based on a real-life person who at a very young age joined the boycott. So we have a character in our play called Lorraine, and the audience follows a parallel of her story and the bus boycott story. That was great fun doing that because we were very careful to honour the bus boycott story but it's also the story of a young girl finding her identity in a hostile country where she's just arrived and come to live."

And Roy hopes To The Streets! will ensure those who protested for the bus boycott are remembered today. "I hope people will gain an understanding and a knowledge of a key event that happened in this country that they don't know about. One of the things I look for when I go to the theatre, or from any form of art, is that I want to be educated. It is an incredible story and people should know about it."

To The Streets!
is performed at Handsworth Park in Birmingham on August 19-20, Windmill Hill at Warwick Arts Centre Coventry on August 24-25 and West Park in Wolverhampton on August 28. See for more details.
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Why? Discover a little-known part of British history
When: 19-28 August 2022
Phone: 0844 338 5000
Where: Parks in the West Midlands
Cost: From 15
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