Belgrade’s Black Youth Theatre challenges perceptions around HIV and AIDS in new drama
Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre is exploring the stigma that surrounds HIV and AIDS in its brand new production Close to Home, which will be performed by the Belgrade’s Black Youth Theatre in B2 from Weds 11 to Sat 14 July.
Now 20-strong, the Belgrade’s Black Youth Theatre has grown from strength to strength since it was created in 2007 to bring the stories from the city’s diverse communities to life on stage. In keeping with its original ethos, the group’s new play, Close to Home, is a critique of the silence and ignorance that still surrounds HIV and AIDS, despite medication now making it possible to live a long and happy life.
The story follows Misi, a young Coventrian of Zimbabwean origin, who is torn between the values of her African family and the prejudices of her peers at school. She makes friends with Wendy, a popular white girl at the top of her class. But Wendy has a secret and the revelation drives a wedge between the girls, driving Misi back home to Zimbabwe with life-changing consequences for both of them.
Close to Home was penned by local writers Joan Carty and Lorna French with members of the Black Youth Theatre and the Belgrade’s dramaturg, Ola Animashawun. Writer Joan Carty is no stranger to the Belgrade, having completed the theatre’s Critical Mass playwriting course. Her play Holding the Centre received a reading at last year’s New Black Showcase in the Belgrade’s B2 auditorium.
Close to Home will be directed by the Belgrade’s Drama Worker Leon Phillips and the Belgrade’s Associate Director for Community & Education, Justine Themen. Justine said the idea for creating a show around the issue of HIV and AIDS initially came from a member of the Black Youth Theatre who was fascinated by the impact that the HIV epidemic in Africa was having on African families living in Coventry.
She said, “Many families arriving in Coventry from Africa are already living on limited means, but many continue to send money and parcels back home to support ill family members. Furthermore, Coventry has the highest level of HIV infection outside of London, and yet HIV is little talked about. With this in mind, we began to develop a story that sought to raise awareness of the issue of HIV and AIDS within Coventry, amongst both the black and white communities. Everybody has worked really hard to create Close to Home and along the way the participants have even discovered a hidden talent for a capella singing, which will feature throughout the show.”
Close to Home is the final instalment in the Belgrade’s Creative Gymnasium project which aims to stimulate engagement with the arts as a way to promote health and well-being, both through participating in arts activity and as a way of exploring key issues.
Tickets for all of the Creative Gymnasium events are free, however the theatre will ask for a donation at the end of the performance. All proceeds will go towards supporting the Belgrade’s ongoing work within the local community, which is carried out by the Belgrade Community & Education Company.
The Creative Gymnasium project is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Awards for All and will be delivered by the Belgrade Community & Education Company over two years.
Although tickets for Close to Home are free, booking is still advised by calling the Belgrade’s Box Office on 024 7655 3055 or going online at www.belgrade.co.uk.