The staff of Nottingham Playhouse are celebrating after winning this year’s Eclipse Award, presented by the Theatrical Management Association. The Award, supported by Arts Council England, is given to the theatre that makes the most outstanding contribution to cultural diversity in any year. This year’s judges chose to recognise the venue’s pioneering work in this field, noting in particular the recent showcase of black comedy PIECES, created by the Black Regional Initiative in Theatre (BRIT) at Nottingham Playhouse. The Eclipse Award was presented on Thursday 14 May during the TMA Management Awards ceremony in London, and marks the Playhouse’s second triumph in this category in just five years of the Awards’ existence, following its previous win in 2006.
The TMA stated that Nottingham Playhouse exemplifies the promotion of cultural diversity through its recent initiatives. Alongside its ongoing commitment to the Eclipse Theatre initiative and association with artists like Jonzi D, they were particularly impressed by the BRIT programme and its encouragement of new comic talent in PIECES. Subtitled Unity Through Comedy, PIECES was the brainchild of Bea Udeh, longstanding BRIT producer at the Playhouse and a leading cultural figure in Nottinghamshire’s black community. The project saw Bea bring together nine of the most exciting emerging comedy writers and performers in the region to develop new characters and assemble a brand new sketch show under the guidance of professional directors Richard Nyeila and John Simmit.
Accepting the award on behalf of Nottingham Playhouse, Bea described PIECES as an amazing journey and expressed her great joy that good work in a regional theatre had been rewarded. She says:
“This award is a fabulous surprise. It really honours the magic that initiatives like the BRIT programme have sparked amongst the theatre practitioners and audience members coming into contact with Nottingham Playhouse, certainly over the five years that I have been a producer here. One of the ways that magic has been realised this year is in the creation of PIECES: Unity through Comedy – a team and a production that encompasses what theatre can do: involve, ignite and excite. I’m really chuffed in a Halle Berry sort of way.”
The Playhouse’s Chief Executive Stephanie Sirr has also warmly welcomed the award, saying:
“Nottingham Playhouse is delighted to be the winner of the prestigious Eclipse award – it underlines our commitment to producing world class work with and for the diverse communities of the areas we serve”
Artistic Director Giles Croft took particular delight in this second victory, saying:
It is a remarkable achievement for us to have won the Eclipse Award for a second time – testament to the excellent work that Nottingham Playhouse has produced over recent years. Our commitment to promoting cultural diversity through that work will continue.
Simon Fitch, Head of Performing Arts at Arts Council England, East Midlands, has also expressed his pleasure in the news, saying:
This is a national award sponsored by the Arts Council, so we are delighted that Nottingham Playhouse has been recognised in a national context. This is the second time Nottingham Playhouse has won this award – previously in 2006. This shows how committed they are to culturally diverse work of the highest quality on an ongoing basis. We should all be proud that Nottingham Playhouse is a national award- winner in this field.
Nottingham Playhouse has been at the cutting edge of promoting culturally diverse work in regional theatre. In June 2001 it organised and hosted the original Eclipse Conference in conjunction with Arts Council England and the TMA. The Eclipse Award was itself one outcome of that conference. The Playhouse was the founder partner of a second: Eclipse Theatre, a consortium set up to create Black productions designed to tour regional theatres, the most recent being Oladipo Agboluaje’s adaptation of The Hounding of David Oluwale this spring.
Throughout this period the Playhouse has continued to support the Black Regional Initiative in Theatre, leading to this year’s production PIECES. Following auditions, a group of young writers and performers including Lola Ogunbadejo, Prafal Hall, Dimetrie Elliott-Grey, Natalya Brown, Andre Squire, Dominic Elliott-Spencer, Ian Aryeh-Thompson, Michelle Vacciana and “Fuzzy” Astill came together to develop vibrant new characters reflecting the generational gaps and social disintegration of modern black Britain. Their material had its first airing in February at the Leicester Comedy Festival, where it collected an award nomination as Best Participatory Project. A subsequent evening at Nottingham’s New Art Exchange helped the comedy develop further before the show arrived fully formed on the Playhouse stage at a well-received performance on Sunday 5 April.
Previous BRIT activities include the Femmes Fantastic conferences, the youth theatre project Nubian All-Stars and performance poetry event Griot Speak (Monday 13 November). Alongside its support for BRIT and Eclipse Theatre, Nottingham Playhouse also prioritises cultural diversity in the work of the Playhouse’s Theatre-in-Education company Roundabout; in the theatre’s use of integrated casting; and in the programming of both visiting and in-house productions.
The Theatrical Management Association (TMA) is the pre-eminent organisation providing professional support for the performing arts across the UK. Its members include repertory and producing theatres, opera and dance companies, arts centres and touring venues, national companies and independent producers. Nottingham Playhouse has consistently featured in its annual awards and, as well as winning the Eclipse Award in 2006, took the title of Most Welcoming Theatre the following year.