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Tyne Bridge to host epic civil rights performance commemorating Martin Luther King anniversary

Just as the Edmund Pettus bridge in Alabama was the setting for one of the most iconic moments of the civil rights movement, it has been announced today that the Tyne Bridge will be the setting for a spectacular performance celebrating the courage and sacrifice of those that have led the long march for civil rights.

Held on Sunday 29 October as part of a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s visit to Newcastle, Freedom on the Tyne will bring together international artists, performers and community groups from across NewcastleGateshead in a unique afternoon of theatre, music, dance and art.

Starting from various locations across the city, four stories of the struggle for civil rights from across the world will be told in a unique performance that will build throughout the day and be joined by a march in celebration of the Jarrow March before coming to an inspirational climax on the Tyne Bridge.

The event will take place as one of the highlights of Freedom City 2017 – the year-long, city-wide programme commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. receiving an honorary degree from Newcastle University.

The free performance will be directed by acclaimed theatre director Tim Supple and scripted by BAFTA-award winning playwright Roy Williams.

Tim Supple, director of Freedom on the Tyne, said: “The iconic Tyne Bridge is a thrilling setting for the climax of this unique city-wide performance commemorating Martin Luther King and those who risked their lives to gain our freedoms.”

Supple, a former artistic director of the Young Vic Theatre and a regular National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company director, has several large scale international productions on his track record. Most recently his celebrated Indian A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Dash Arts and the epic Arabic One Thousand and One Nights, which premiered at Edinburgh International Festival in 2011. Roy Williams was nominated for an Oliver Award for his play Sucker Punch and his latest play, Soul, explored the life and death of music legend Marvin Gaye.

Workshops are being held around the city in the run up to the event and local people are invited to sign up and be part of a spectacular afternoon of theatre, music, dance, performance and art. It’s not too late to join the hundreds already involved and the invitation will remain open until the last minute. Event organisers urge local people to represent their communities from across the North East and get involved in the once in a lifetime performance.

Supple added: “The people of NewcastleGateshead will be the stars of the performance showcasing epic civil rights struggles from across the globe. We are still keen for more people in communities around the North East to get involved by signing up to one our workshops where they will learn more about the unique performance.

“People coming to watch the performance, as well as those involved, are offered a moving, inspiring and memorable afternoon. Standing together on the Tyne Bridge in a moment of reflection and solidarity for civil rights will be a powerful and striking image to send the world.”

On 13 November 1967, Newcastle University gave Dr Martin Luther King an honorary degree – the only UK university to do so during his lifetime. Remarkably, Dr King took time to visit Newcastle to receive the award. He then gave an impromptu acceptance speech – his last public address outside of the US before his assassination barely six months later.

Dr King spoke of the challenge in overcoming the three ‘urgent and great problems’ of racism, poverty and war. Freedom City 2017 aims to keep Dr King’s legacy alive by inspiring a new generation to contribute towards tackling these issues.

Leader of Newcastle City Council, Cllr Nick Forbes, said: “It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King visited Newcastle and his themes of war, poverty and racism still have a huge resonance today. I’m proud that our city is remembering his visit through the Freedom City celebrations and I’m sure that this event, Freedom on Tyne, will be one of the highlights. The Tyne Bridge will provide an iconic backdrop to what I’m sure will be a moving and joyous commemoration.”

Vikki Leaney, senior festival and events manager at NewcastleGateshead Initiative, added: “Freedom on the Tyne promises to be an exciting and joyous celebration for people’s global struggle for civil rights. The aim of the performance, along with the wider Freedom City programme, is to inspire people to tackle the issues of war, poverty and racism which will be discussed during our varied and dynamic cultural programme.

“50 years on from Dr King’s speech at Newcastle University we are still feeling the effects of war, poverty and racism in our societies today. These issues which he spoke of impact on all of us, no matter what age, sex or race.”

Freedom on the Tyne will involve four stories that will be woven together in a unique performance by a local cast. Hundreds of local actors, dancers, singers, musicians and performers will be recruited from communities from across NewcastleGateshead to work alongside professional artists to bring Freedom on the Tyne to life.

Starting from different locations throughout the city before coming together for its conclusion, the stories are:

  • The Ballad of Peterloo from St Peter’s Field, Manchester, 1819
  • The Haunting of General Dyer from Amritsar, India, 1919
  • A White Man’s Burden from Sharpeville, South Africa,1960
  • The Turning of Martin Luther King from Selma, USA, 1965

These four stories will be joined by a march celebrating the Jarrow March from North East England which will in turn lead to a roll-call of seminal UK protest movements.

Freedom on the Tyne takes place on Sunday 29 October and is free to attend. Join one of the civil rights stories from 3.20pm or join the Tyne Bridge performance for the culmination of the celebration.

For more details about Freedom on the Tyne and how to get involved visit www.FreedomCity2017.com

By Emily