Banner Theatre – one of the few remaining touring companies specialising in community and political theatre – is celebrating its thirtieth birthday this spring. The party kicked off with a two-day event at the University of Central England and Birmingham Library Theatre, and is marked by the publication of a songbook Singing the Changes, and the launch of a CD which includes songs from the new show, Wild Geese, which had its first performance on 8th April.
In keeping with the company’s long-standing tradition of working with excluded or disadvantaged communities, Wild Geese is based on stories of exile and migration – and includes material about the Chinese cockle-pickers in Morecambe, refugees working in Canary Wharf and Iranian asylum seekers in the West Midlands.
To organise the birthday event on 8th and 9th April, Banner joined forces with the University of Central England’s Department of Media and Communication, the Bournemouth University Media School’s Centre for Broadcasting History Research, the Charles Parker Archive and Birmingham City Archives.
Organisers were delighted that the weekend of debate, discussion, exhibition and performance, which combines the birthday celebration for Banner with this year’s Charles Parker Day, attracted a broad range of people with an interest in the role of the arts in supporting and stimulating social and political change.
” Banner Theatre has spent the last thirty years working with the trade union and labour movement, with the real-life experience of working-class people at the heart of all our productions,” said Dave Rogers, Banner’s artistic director and a founder member of the company. “Over the last three decades we have played an important part in helping some of society’s most disenfranchised communities to have a voice and it is fantastic to be able to celebrate that with this exciting event.
Dr Paul Long, Deputy Course Director in the Department of Media and Education at UCE said they were delighted to support the event and were looking forward to a lively and successful 48 hours.
“This event will both celebrate Charles Parker’s work and legacy – and the traditions of documentary theatre, film and radio to which he contributed – and the first 30 years of Banner Theatre. Charles Parker was a founder member of Banner Theatre and this event will give us the chance to mark the contribution he made and the continuing importance of the challenging and entertaining performances developed by Banner throughout their long and successful history.”
Over the years, Banner has attracted support and praise from throughout the labour and trade union movement, as well as from the worlds of theatre, music and art. Tony Benn, for example, a longstanding supporter, has described Banner as ” An inspiration to everyone who believes in social justice and peace,” and NATFHE General Secretary, Paul Mackney, described their performances as ” First class songs and satire rooted in the experience of ordinary people.”