Posts Tagged ‘Earl Cameron’

‘I’ Article on Britain’s First Black Actor Manager in 19th Century

August 8, 2017

The I newspaper yesterday carried an article on a Black American, who moved to Britain in the 19th century to become this nation’s first Black theatre manager. The thesp in question, Ira Aldridge, has just been awarded his blue own plaque.

The article by Chantal da Silva, on page 19 of Monday’s edition, the 7th August 2017, reads

Britain’s first black Shakespearean actor has been honoured with the unveiling of a blue plaque in Coventry.

Ira Aldridge became manager of the Coventry Theatre in 1828. The actor, who died 150 years ago, put on performances which are believed to have inspired the people of Coventry to petition Parliament to abolish slavery.

Aldridge has now been honoured by the City: the Lord Mayor, Tony Skipper, unveiled a blue plaque celebrating his legacy as the UK’s first black theatre manager.

Professor Tony Howard, of Warwick University’s Multicultural Shakespeare project, said: “He’s been admired and respected for a long time as the first black Shakespearean actor, but people are less aware that the had also been the first black theatre manager.”

The ceremony, marking the 150s anniversary of Aldridge’s death, was attended by Earl Cameron, an actor who was trained by Aldridge’s daughter, Amanda.

Aldridge was born in New York in 1807 and worked as an actor in the US until the 1820s when he migrated to England and being brutally beaten in racist attacks. He rose to fame in the UK, managing to break down racial barriers, playing principal roles, including Romeo, Hamlet, Othello and King Lear.

The theatre building that Aldridge managed was demolished long ago, but the permanent memorial marks the site where it stood.

This is an excellent move, as Black activists have complained that there are too few blue plaques for great Black historical figures. I also think Radio 4 may have put on a programme about Aldridge way back in the 1990s. All I can remember of the programme was that it was about a Black American actor who came to Britain, and that he played Othello in whiteface. This sounds very much like Aldridge. As for playing Othello in Whiteface, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t, as at the time and for a very long time afterwards the part was usually played by a White actor in makeup. I think that tradition might have been ditched a few years ago, after people understandably complained.