Never Lose Sight of Your Dreams

 

Thea Nerissa Barnes, Resident Dance Supervisor for London’s West End production of the Lion King was recently asked to offer her ‘words of wisdom’ to practitioners of African peoples dance (APD). APD by the way encompasses both African and African-Caribbean dance paradigms, and is often referred to as black dance. Barnes’ advice to them, “never lose sight of your dreams”, apparently the title of this article, introduces my own succinct advice to young and upcoming Africa and African-Caribbean performers, who want to explore the possibilities of a career in the British theatre industry.

As a black person myself, I know that one question that aspiring Africa and African-Caribbean performer in Britain often ask is how their experiences as blacks figure in their work. This, I think, is the first issue that aspiring Africa and African-Caribbean performers must confront in order to move on. They must come to terms with is their apparent blackness, which invariably, informs the sort of reception that their efforts enjoy. Without addressing this vital concern, most upcoming performers will lose sight of their dreams as they will find it difficult to channel their creative efforts appropriately.

In a dream, one would usually experience feelings and emotions drawn from a sequence of events that are often difficult to control or recall. However, even though the events of a dream are not often susceptible to the control of the dreamer, there are exceptions to this. Lucid dreams are those in which dreamers become aware that they are dreaming, and can sometimes manifest the ability to control and often redirect their dreams. My interest in adopting Barnes’ idea of dreams as metaphor for aspirations and ambitions is partly because of my personal experience as a lucid dreamer. The rationale is that, just as the lucid dreamer can control and take advantage of his dreams, burgeoning performers of African and African- Caribbean origin must embrace and use their perceived “difference” to advantage. They must persist in identifying and addressing the place of the black performer within the mainstream British theatre. They must, perhaps, start from the fringe and work their way towards asserting their own distinct form of Britishness by drawing on the sort of “post-imperial ideology” that has helped to sustain the Notting Hill Carnival as a celebration of black, mainly African-Caribbean existence in Britain.

Mike Phillips and Trevor Phillips’ incisive book Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Cultural Britain (1998) presents the Notting Hill carnival, aptly captioned “explosion of black creativity” (p. 273), as a symbolic and cultural “re-colonisation” (p. 273) of Britain by blacks. One must also note that this “re-colonisation” is not hostile or aggressive; instead it is an uncompromising affirmation of the right of black people as equal citizens of Great Britain, an empire they and their ancestors contributed in building. The success of the Notting Hill carnival stands as a testimony to black people’s redefinition of contemporary Britishness to include, not only themselves but other races and cultures as well. The carnival play a major role in promoting the consciousness of what it means to be British and black, to the effect that, the recognition of African and African-Caribbean cultures as constituting contemporary Britishness was evidenced in the featuring of Notting Hill carnival as part of the Queens golden jubilee parade in August 2002.

If emerging black performers must rise from the chance of a few individuals having the good fortune to excel, to actually experiencing equal opportunities where a proportionate majority make it into the mainstream of British theatre, then they must learn to draw passionately from their identity and history to project an image that is both black and British. By drawing inspiration from their identity and success stories such as Notting Hill carnival’s rewriting of contemporary British history and identity, young African and African-Caribbean performers will have justified my confidence that given equal opportunities, they would transform and infuse new life and colour into the corpus of British Theatre.

*This blog post was first published as an article in Black History 365 Vol. 1, Issue 1, Autumn 2007.

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