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Dawn Walton steps down from role


DAWN WALTON, founder, chief executive and artistic director of the UK’s foremost black-led production company, Eclipse Theatre, will step down following a hugely successful decade at the company.

Walton established Sheffield-based Eclipse in 2010. Frustrated and motivated in equal measure by the lack of inclusivity she experienced in the performing arts and the prevailing view that mainstream theatre did not have “an audience for black work”, she set out with a mission to disrupt the idea that publicly funded theatre spaces have exclusive audiences.

By making Eclipse entirely about audiences, she leaves an impressive legacy for the company and British theatre in better shape.

One of the first wave of new organisations to achieve Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisation status, Eclipse is now a significant cultural player and under Dawn’s leadership has been the driving force behind the largest ever delivery of new black British writing for theatre, film and radio.

Through Eclipse, a new generation of black British artists in the North of England have become less isolated and are now making innovative new work.

In the last decade Eclipse has produced new work and toured to most major regional theatres in England and Wales. Dawn has been instrumental in shaking up the way in which regional theatres programme work by black artists.

In 2018, Eclipse published The R Word: Risk or Racism, a report compiled from audience data gathered from the sell-out national tour of Black Men Walking. The powerful report kicked aside the barriers and assumptions faced by black artists and black theatre companies when trying to tour their work, clearly showing that risk is all too often closely associated with race.

Walton was pivotal in launching two of Eclipse’s most crucial movements to date: "Revolution Mix" and "Slate:Black.Arts.World.". Out of ‘Revolution Mix’, which is spearheading the largest ever national delivery of new black British productions in theatre, film and radio, has grown Black Men Walking (nominated for the UK Theatre Best New Play and Writer’s Guild Best Play 2019), The Last Flag (BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play), Princess & the Hustler (National Middle-scale tour), all of which were directed by Walton, and the film Samuels’ Trousers (in Post Production).

"Slate: Black. Arts. World" supports black artists in the North to work locally, nationally and internationally, guided by a producer and a cohort of Enablers (black arts professionals). "Slate" has generated a tangible and buzzing black arts scene in the North of England, and Eclipse is now taking the project worldwide, having successfully secured Creative Europe funding for a cooperation project to pilot Slate in Lisbon and Amsterdam.

In January of this year, Dawn entered The Stage’s 2019 list of 100 most influential people working in the theatre and performing arts industry for the first time, with her work on Revolution Mix praised as "one of her most ambitious projects yet".

This year has also seen Eclipse launch The Eclipse Award, a £10,000 bursary and support package which aims to help UK black-led artists and theatre companies achieve the notoriously difficult but life-changing step of undertaking a run at the Edinburgh Fringe. The first recipient of the pioneering award is Rachael Young, who will take two shows, OUT and NIGHTCLUBBING to this year’s Fringe.

She enthused: “I have been living and breathing and - with the help and collaboration of others - carrying this beautiful company for 10 years and I could not be more proud of all of our accomplishments.

“Revolution Mix is a marvel of new black British work in theatre, film and with the work of black writers demanding space and excelling on every platform. No-one can try and tell us now that new black work “hasn’t got an audience”.

“Slate has generated a tangible and buzzing black arts scene in the North with artists being enabled to "take risks" by a team of enablers who are themselves growing in their own areas of expertise. Black artists will no longer be fobbed off with a tiny seed commission now there are £8k and £4k development awards from Slate.

"Our lovely audiences have grown across the country and returned show after show. But having stood on the shoulders of black artistic pioneers of the 70s, 80s and 90s it is now time for me to try and be the shoulders of the next black leader. I am excited by the future of Eclipse. Having channelled so much of my creative energy in the North of England and then across the country, I am now looking forward to exploring opportunities to innovate internationally.”

The Eclipse Board of Trustees commented: “Dawn Walton is a visionary and has been an exceptional artistic director for Eclipse Theatre Company, she has taken what was originally an ‘initiative’ and turned it into one of the most valuable, vibrant and radical theatre companies in the UK. Her dedication to supporting black British artists has had an unquestionable impact on the ecology of British theatre. She has made visible and long-lasting change, empowering writers, directors and theatre-makers to make work at scale in theatres across the country. Programmes such as Revolution Mix and 'Slate: Black. Arts. World' have had a major impact, creating a UK-wide network for new black British artists to have a voice.

"Alongside this Dawn has made and created critically acclaimed work for the stage. Productions like One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show, and more recently Black Men Walking have not only been celebrated by her peers but have gained incredible audience acclaim, and perhaps most significantly have opened a door to audiences who have often felt that theatre is not for them. The ground-breaking audience development initiative pioneered by Eclipse has seen an increase in black audiences at theatres across the country and she has made relationships that will help carve out a way into theatre for generations to come.

"As a board we are incredibly proud to have supported Dawn on her journey, after 10 fantastic years she is stepping down and making way for the next artistic director of Eclipse to realise their vision. We wish Dawn huge amounts of success for the future and thank her for the incredible foundation she has created for the future of Eclipse Theatre Company.”

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