Festival to celebrate migration and activism announced

Free day of arts activities at Bus Boycott Block Party.

Created with local artists and residents, independent theatre studio China Plate and Birmingham Hippodrome are hosting a block party to celebrate the heritage of migration and activism in North Birmingham. The family-friendly day of free art includes a curated walking tour of Soho Road, vintage bus provided by National Express West Midlands, a bus stop transformed into a mini-gallery, banner art, food, DJ and songs from new musical Bus Boycott (working title), in development throughout 2022.

The programme is inspired by Birmingham’s reputation of intergenerational activism and the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott campaigners. They galvanised the nation into creating the first piece of UK legislation which explicitly outlawed racial discrimination. Bus Boycott Block Party is the start of a programme of art exploring intergenerational stories in Caribbean and South Asian communities, and the event represents a chance to share histories, meet the artists, and influence what the programme will be.

The day will feature Black Heritage Walks Network, who are co-curating a new creative walking tour with residents in Handsworth featuring the people, places, stories and events that the local community wants to commemorate. Participatory and Visual Artist Jane Thakoordin will be having conversations and creating protest banners with local residents in Ladywood.

Supported by Transport for West Midlands, Artist-Curator Nilupa Yasmin will unveil her plans to transform bus stops along the iconic 74 bus route into public art galleries along Soho Road. Both Jane and Nilupa will be running free craft workshops during the day. Local residents will also get a chance to admire a 1960’s vintage bus, hear songs from brand-new musical Bus Boycott (working title), and the day will be complete with throwback tunes from the live DJ, and food on offer from South Asian and Caribbean stalls.

Jane Thakoordin said, “I made Birmingham my home twenty years ago, have raised my two daughters here and feel like the city is now part of my DNA! I am never happier than working with people to use creativity to express shared experiences. To be able to have open and sensitive conversations with people, many of whom can relate to the discrimination and racism of the boycott, and from these, draw out beautiful, authentic dialogue makes me love my job!

“This project is especially resonant for me as my dad, an immigrant from Guyana, was a London bus conductor in 1963, and he remembers this time with bittersweet memories. I really hope that I can do justice to the beautiful people I have spoken to over the first stages of Bus Boycott, and I look forward to discovering what we produce together.”

New musical Bus Boycott (working title) is based on the events of 1963, when Bristol became the epicentre for the civil rights struggle in Britain. In response to The Bristol Omnibus Company’s refusal to employ Black and Asian conductors, four young West Indian men organised a mass boycott of their buses. Backed by students and political figures such as Tony Benn and the high commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago, their stand brought about a sea-change in race relations in the UK – leading to the first ever legislation explicitly outlawing racial discrimination.

Based on these events, Bus Boycott brings together an outstanding creative team: one of the UKs leading dramatists, Roy Williams (Death of England) on book, Tim Sutton (Olivier Award-nominated musical director of Memphis the Musical) on music and lyrics, and director Christopher Haydon (Twelve Angry Men, Grounded). A first taste of the show will be seen in 2022 ahead of a premiere and planned tour in 2023/4, produced by China Plate and Birmingham Hippodrome.

Writer Roy Williams said, “History is littered with forgotten stories, especially black stories which always enrages me. The more important they are the angrier I become. The Bristol Bus Boycott is such an important event in British history. The protestors’ actions brought widespread attention to the problem of racism in Britain at the time. Their success brought a profound and positive sense of hope for the possibility of progress.”

Bus Boycott Block Party has been programmed and commissioned by Aksana Khan and Diandra McCalla, Associate Producers at China Plate. China Plate Co-Artistic Director Paul Warwick said, “Having Diandra and Aksana lead this work with communities in North Birmingham has been brilliant – despite the difficulties of the pandemic. We can’t wait to share some of that work in person with those communities on the 28th August, find out what they think and talk about what’s next.”

Chris Sudworth, Birmingham Hippodrome’s Director of Artistic Programme, added, “The Block Party is such an exciting opportunity to take the next step in developing a new large-scale production not only made in Birmingham, but with Birmingham; and continues Birmingham Hippodrome & China Plate’s commitment to produce new work which better represents our society and prioritises voices that have often been excluded from our nation’s largest stages.”