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10by10: a unique portrait of England from a Black British perspective

  • Date: 19 November 2012
  • Artform: Theatre
  • Area: National
Man lying on bed in prison cell Jimmy Akinbola in Rage by Kingslee 'Akala' Daley

10by10 is a new project from Eclipse Theatre, one of the UK’s foremost Black-led theatre companies, and consists of 10 short online films written by and featuring the best of Britain’s Black writers and actors.

Background

In April 2012 Eclipse Theatre invited 10 writers to attend an intensive two-day workshop based on the central themes of Chester Himes’ 1956 novel A Rage in Harlem, which the writers were asked to read. The writers were then given 10 days to produce their first draft before filming began over just 23 days in June 2012.

Each 10by10 film was shot in a single day and is set in a different location across England: Middlesbrough, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Wolverhampton, North and South London and Sheffield. 

Challenges

10by10 was a hugely challenging project, if only for the incredible timescales involved. Artistic Director Dawn Walton, who commissioned and directed the films, remembers how 'all the films had to be shot in one day – we couldn’t afford the actors for any longer'. And so between 6 to 29 June they filmed absolutely everything. She recalls 'running from place to place in a minibus', and admits to being 'extremely organised' and working fast. 'We did exactly what you’d do in a feature film, but we did it very quickly,' she says. They had no time off and went straight into the editing process after filming.

Using local knowledge was extremely important, and Dawn explained how they drew on their experience of theatres in the Eclipse Theatre network in each city. 'We were just a small team of five; if we needed extra help, we used our networking ability to find somebody,' she says. When filming in Liverpool they needed a gaffer, for example, so used a local gaffer. They also relied on the local knowledge of the writers who, as part of their original brief, had to set their film in the location they were from.

But perhaps the most important factor in the project’s success was the sheer talent of the people involved, from experienced producer Victoria Wood to the exceptional writers and actors. Dawn describes the initial workshop as 'the best workshop I’d been a part of ever' and 'a wonderful process', and although the writers taking part were from very diverse backgrounds, she says they were all hugely talented. 'We had Maurice Bessman, the writer from Brookside, sitting next to someone like [hip hop artist] Kingslee 'Akala' Daley, a very talented musician but who hadn’t made a film before or had a script produced before,' she says. 'Those talents fed each other so that they all raised their game, and everyone was fully committed because everyone wanted it to work.' The actors too were at the top of their game. 'Michael Maloney, Jimmy Akinbola, Sharon Duncan Brewster - these are the cream of Black talent,' says Dawn.

Outcomes

Eclipse Theatre has an impressive track record of engaging new audiences: on average, 29 per cent of their audiences for touring productions are first time attendees, and 10by10 continues this positive trend. Dawn admits that the National Lottery funding through the Arts Council 'allowed us to engage with new audiences up and down the UK… Without the funding we could never have made those films or engaged those people'. Making these films accessible online rather than at a theatre is also an important way of reaching large and new audiences and engaging people into theatre who might not ordinarily think it is for them. 

As well as engaging new audiences, Eclipse Theatre also aims to instigate change that will lead to a more diverse theatrical landscape by producing work from a Black British perspective. Dawn says that 10by10 is 'a really great promotion of the talent that is available from the Black and minority ethnic sector. Not a single actor said no, which says something about the opportunities that actors from that sector are offered. They just don’t get those parts. But there was no hesitation – they were just excited to be part of a project that breaks down boundaries.'

The 10 films are available to watch at The Space, the Arts Council‘s free experimental digital media arts service, delivered in partnership with the BBC. The most popular and most debated about film will be developed into a fully realised theatre production and toured to each of the 10 locations. 

Public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England made the arts activities in this case study possible. 

Find out more about National Lottery funded arts projects.