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Absolute-ly Fabulous!

Coventry's ground-breaking Theatre Absolute celebrate 10 years of the UK's first Shop Front Theatre and the launch of Humanistan, an ambitious series of eight original commissions.

L-R Actor Lee Colley, Julia Negus, Chris O’Connell and break dancer Marius Mates. Photo by John Whitmore Photography

One of Coventry’s most creatively ambitious duo’s, playwright Chris O’Connell and producer Julia Negus, celebrate the 10th birthday of the UK’s only Shop Front Theatre and the launch of Humanistan, eight new commissions.

The founders of award-winning independent theatre company, Theatre Absolute, held a special anniversary launch evening where they announced their latest three-year project, which encompasses Coventry City of Culture in 2021.

Humanistan features a series of 8 original commissions over three years, including a collaboration with three international break dancers, a new work by artistic director Chris and acclaimed Scottish theatre writer Sharron Devin who specialises in performances designed for one person at a time.

Amahra Spence. Photo by Thom Bartley.

The first show on Wednesday Nov 6 and Thurs Nov 7  is Utopia, a piece about the absurdity in everyday life by multidisciplinary artist and creative producer Amahra Spence in the Shop Front Theatre – ‘a shop trading experiences’ housed in a former fish and chip restaurant in Coventry’s City Arcade. It starts at 7.30pm.

Amahra’s work is heavily collaborative and invested in elevating the voices, truths and experiences of being Black in Britain. Since graduating in Drama from the University of Worcester, her most recent productions, Abuelo (2016) and Concubine (2018) premiered with sold-out runs at Birmingham REP.

Humanistan – image by Chris O’Connell

Humanistan takes inspiration from the musings on nation and society from Benjamin Zephaniah, Francois Matarasso and Ben Okri, and will discuss topics from climate change to democracy.

Chris O’Connell said: “We’re really interested in the dynamics of local and large-scale activism. Where can we currently look to see this activism? The Shop Front Theatre is a micro example of activism – taking control of the means of making art, pushing hierarchy to one side, building a broad base of representation and voices that over 10 years have allowed it to evolve and become so many things to so many people. Humanistan is a harnessing of that energy.”

The launch night included a few surprises, an extract from Chris’s play Car – winner of a Fringe First Award for Outstanding New Work and Innovation at the Edinburgh Fringe Festivals 1999 and Time Out Live – by one of the original cast members actor Lee Colley; plus a break dance performance by Romanian-born and Coventry University MA graduate Marius Mates aka bboy Marius who has worked with the Paralympics UK 2017, BBC Breakin convention, The Place, Sadler’s Wells, Red Bull and Pepsi.

Chris was writer-in-residence for Paines Plough, 1999-2000, and Playwright in Residence at Birmingham University, attached to their M(Phil) in playwriting, 2005-2006. Chris also wrote Hymns for Frantic Assembly, 1999.

Theatre Absolute has been working with Third Year BA Theatre and Professional Practice students from Coventry University, who are this week performing their responses to Humanistan this week including Fri Oct 18 at 7.30pm. Tickets are free but please reserve your seat via info@theatreabsolute.co.uk

theatreabsolute, Shop Front Theatre, 38 City Arcade, Coventry, CV1 3HW

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