Dawn’s chorus of approval for black theatre

A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Hansberry, Pic: Johan Persson
A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Hansberry, Pic: Johan Persson
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A Sheffield theatre company championing black stories and talent has won £125,000 of Arts Council funding.

In six years, Eclipse theatre company has gone from artist director Dawn Walton working from a desk at Sheffield Theatres, bringing in the talent she needed for shows, to being the country’s top black-led national touring company.

Eclipse is now based at the Workstation and works with 12 theatres nationally, including Sheffield Theatres and the National Theatre in London.

Dawn said: “We’re still very much a Sheffield-based company, we just needed to have our own office.

“There’s something quite wonderful about having your own logo on the door. That makes me feel grown up!”

Eclipse are spearheading a project called Revolution Mix, which aims to create the largest-ever group of black British stories produced and performed in regional theatres.

The news of the £125,000 Arts Council Catalyst Evolve funding comes just after Shamser Sinha, one of the 15 writers Eclipse are supporting, held a rehearsed reading for an industry audience at the National Theatre of new play Ujamaa.

The play follows a Tanzanian family who move to the UK in the 1970s.

The project allows writers like Shamser to get top professional support. Other writers will also take part in research and development workshops.

Dawn is developing another story inspired by a Sheffield black men’s walking group that will be a walk through time, looking at 500 years of black and Asian history in Britain.

Sheffield has a long history of black performers such as actor Samuel Morgan Smith, who died in Lowfield in 1882, and Victorian circus owner Pablo Fanque, who is mentioned in the Beatles song Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite.

The play will be seen in Sheffield next spring.

Dawn said it’s important that theatre reflects modern society: “The demographic of our homes has changed considerably. That needs to be reflected on our stages, otherwise it makes no sense.

“When we’ve done shows in the past, 25 per cent were new bookers who had never engaged with those theatres.

“We have to start with the work on stage, not just in terms of casting, but the stories we’re telling.”

Dawn said: “I’m looking forward. It’s important to be positive and happy that we’re the leading company shining a beacon out of Sheffield, taking high-quality black theatre out across the country.”

For more about Revolution Mix, visit Eclipse Theatre