Students will be able to learn all about race issues in Norfolk from this month, thanks to a pioneering project led by a seaside community theatre. Young performers Ashton Owen and Tilda Fassih explain how they are helping to rewrite rural racism
Tilda Fassih would’ve loved to have been part of a pioneering project about race issues in her home county, if such a thing had been around when she was younger. The 21-year-old is one of a group of talented young performers involved in Sheringham Little Theatre’s Rewriting Rural Racism series of online workshops and films. During what is proving to be a challenging time for theatre.
Thanks to their efforts, from this month school pupils in the North Norfolk and Great Yarmouth area will be able to study race and black history looking at key figures in history, and spark discussion about colour blindness, white privilege and how people identify themselves.
The online Zoom sessions are being run by the Arts Council-funded scheme being created and curated by the young performers such as Tisha, who are based at the Theatre.
It is also shooting a series of short films, which highlight the story of migration in the county stretching back to pre-historic times, Viking and Norman invasions, medieval Dutch ‘Strangers’ and wartime refugees.
They also get youngsters thinking about the challenges of growing up as an ‘incomer’ – which can be made all the harder by other people’s attitudes, actions and language.
And there is a one-man show by Ashton Owen, called Outskirts, which recounts real-life mixed-race experiences, including hurtful words and animal noise chanting. It has switched from stage to online screening due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions on performing artists and venues.
The hour-long interactive workshops, mainly in schools in North Norfolk and Great Yarmouth, begin this month. They will discuss issues including racism, people’s identity and the impact of positive and negative words phrases.
They are delivered by Ashton, 25, from Norwich and Tilda, from Sheringham, who are both from mixed race backgrounds.
Tilda added: ‘I wanted to get involved in the project for a number of reasons. Being able to engage with the students in our local area and introducing them to ideas of race and helping them understand identity, is something I would have loved to have been a part of when I was younger. Growing up mixed race in a rural area can feel isolating, however, this project has highlighted a range of community groups and initiatives in North Norfolk alone!
‘It’s the kind of workshop I wish I had had when I was at school, and I will encourage young people to do more research into the issues.’
Ashton adds: ‘We hope the workshops will start students on a journey into British history they are not normally taught in schools, see them having new discussions and encourage them to embrace their true identities.’
Some youth theatre workshops will explore black creatives and the contribution they have made to the performing arts.
Project co-ordinator Katie Thompson, 23, from Knapton, says: ‘Norfolk has mainly white schools, so we hope to spark discussion about issues that don’t happen naturally.’
Daisy Winchester, aged 23 from Thursford, is also involved in the project doing research among people and community groups for the films, safeguarding and producing resources packs for teachers.
The project is due to be complete by April, but hopes it work will live on in the minds of students and the curricula of schools who will be provided with teaching resources for future sessions on the subject of racism.
Great Yarmouth’s Time and Tide Museum, which is supporting the films, is engaging local young people in research and will hold the finished works in their archive.
The Little Theatre’s legacy from the project will be using it as a springboard to add diversity to its programming and the audiences it attracts.
This has been really exciting and positive project during such a challenging time for theatre
Debbie ThompsonDirector of Sheringham Little Theatre
Its director Debbie Thompson says: ‘This has been really exciting and positive project during such a challenging time for theatre.
‘The young people behind it had been amazingly motivated and creative, and showed a lot of flexibility in lockdown to achieve what they set out to do.’
Any school or theatre venues interested in the workshops should email Debbie@sheringhamlittletheatre.com. For updates on the project please see the Little Theatre website news section and social media channels – Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
(Picture credits: Rewriting Rural Racism)