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Against Prejudice – Ira Aldridge in Coventry 1828

21 October 2016

In 1828, the Coventry Theatre employed a new Manager; a young African American Actor by the name of Ira Aldridge, aged just 20. Incredibly, this appointment was at a time when slavery was still legal in the British Colonies. In recent years, Ira Aldridge has emerged as a major black presence in British History. He was considered  ‘A Most Extraordinary Novelty, a Man of Colour’, who became the first black actor to play Othello.

Aldridge observed a common theatrical practice of assuming an identical or similar name to that of a celebrity in order to garner attention. He took the name of Keene, a homonym for the then popular British actor, Edmund Kean.

In addition to being called F.W. Keene Aldridge, and to gain even more attention; he would later be called African Roscius, after the famous Roman actor of the first century BC. It was with these names that he took over management of the Coventry Theatre from 3 March 1928 as observed on a playbill in the press.

On 17 November, Warwick University’s Multicultural Shakespeare Project and the Belgrade Theatre Present – Against Prejudice – Ira Aldridge in Coventry 1828

This event honours Ira Aldridge’s amazing achievement with a drama-documentary and a night-time procession to the site of the long-lost playhouse where he and the local community made history. With scenes, speeches and songs from Aldridge’s Coventry season. Featuring leading professional actors alongside performers from Coventry’s youth theatres and community choirs.

‘Being a foreigner and a stranger are universal passports to British sympathy.’ Ira Aldridge, 1828.

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