Arts News!

Seyi Omooba and the Color Purple – The Verdict

On February 4th 2021 we published an article detailing our thoughts on the Tribunal of Seyi Omooba vs. Curve Theatre Leicester and her former agents Global Artists who claimed unfair dismissal, discrimination and harassment on the grounds of her religious beliefs. 

Seyi Omooba and Curve’s The Color Purple

Omooba was originally cast to play the lead role of “Celie” in the musical adaptation of The Color Purple based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer prize-winning 1982 novel of the same name. Telling the story of Celie, a poor, young, sexually abused African-American woman in the deep south of the United States in the 1930s. Celie discovers love and a close, physical relationship with a female singer, named Shug Avery.

Following a transparent audition and casting process, Omooba was given the lead role. Prior to rehearsals commencing actor Aaron Lee Lambert retweeted a Facebook post from 2014 that revealed Omooba’s homophobic and bigoted view on homosexuality. It called into question the hypocrisy of her playing an openly gay role on stage with such homophobic beliefs.

The Original Facebook post later retweeted.

Following a massive public backlash, Omooba refused to take back her comments and stood by them. The Curve was left with no choice and informed Omooba she could either resign from the production or be dismissed. She choose the later, then with the backing of Christian Concern a bigoted “Christian charity” co founded by her father, Pastor Ade Omooba launched legal action. Seeking £128,000 in damages, lost earnings, potential lost earnings and emotional distress. Interestingly in the final day of the hearing Omooba’s team reduced the total claim to £71,000

Following a week long sitting the Panel at the Central London Employment Tribunal have rejected all of Omooba’s claims in full. In a written judgement, it concluded it was “the effect of the adverse publicity from [the 2014 post’s] retweet, without modification or explanation, on the cohesion of the cast, the audience’s reception, the reputation of the producers and “the good standing and commercial success” of the production, that were the reasons why she was dismissed.”

Taking  the harassment claim into account, it said: “In the view of the tribunal Mr Stafford [Chris Stafford, chief executive of Leicester Theatre Trust] did not have the purpose of violating the claimant’s dignity or creating an intimidating or humiliating environment for her. His purpose was to save the production.”

Miss Omooba had claimed the character’s sexuality was ambiguous and she would have refused the role if she had considered her gay

But this was further rejected by the tribunal, with the panel commenting: “She had taken part in a similar production, she had the script, and knowing that a lesbian relationship was at least one interpretation, she should have considered much earlier whether a red line was to be crossed.”

The panel also went on to reject Ms Omooba’s demands for compensation for loss of earnings, future losses and reputational damage as a result of her agency contract being terminated.

“There is no financial loss because she would not have played the part,” the panel said.”There is no loss of opportunity to enhance her reputation by performing, because she would not have played the part.”If there is damage to her reputation, it was not caused by being dropped from the production but by an unconnected person’s tweeting… of her Facebook post and the outcry resulting from that.”

Christopher Milsom QC, representing Global Artists, described Omooba as “the author of her own misfortune.” The tribunal’s judgment said that: “there is no breach of contract because the claimant was in prior repudiatory breach…the contract was empty because the claimant would not have played the part, and her conduct, pulling out at a late stage, had she not been dropped when she was, would have wrecked the production.”

Andrea Williams, Christian Concerns chief executive, said: “We’re disappointed by the judgement and Seyi is considering her options for appeal.” Even still with her career in ruins she is considering pursuing further action.

The Curve’s Chief executive Chris Stafford and Artistic director Nikolai foster released a joint statement saying “we now look forward to drawing a line under this painful chapter and focusing our energies on how we rebuild our theatre after the pandemic” going on to say “we do not condone any negativity Seyi Omooba has been subjected to and we respectfully ask anyone in support of this ruling to be kind and respectful in acknowledging this victory for Curve and Celie”.

Final Thoughts:

The Curve quite simply has to be commended; they took on the challenge of not only defending themselves but challenging homophobia in what is the most diverse industry on earth. For too long, religious beliefs and convictions have been used as justification for espousing hate.

This wasn’t about free speech; Omooba believes her beliefs outweighed that of those she hurt with her comments. She is fully entitled to her thoughts and opinions and to share them in the public forum. There is however consequences to those actions and she simply didn’t want to face up to them.

Seyi Omooba is an incredibly talented and gifted musical performer and the Curve team are correct it is a time to be Kind and respectful and there is much to be learned for everyone involved in this case.

For now a bench mark has been set, Theatre remains the last truly uncensored and creative space where being who and what you are irrespective of colour, class, religion, sexuality or gender is no barrier. However maybe being honest in the characters we are willing to play and comparing that character to our personal beliefs is the core of the issue. Had Omooba done that in the first place this entire situation may never have happened.

Brett Herriot

Editor.

Arts News!

Seyi Omooba and the Color Purple

The Arts in Court!

Even during the ongoing lockdown and complete closure of our theatres, the theatre industry is still in the news for many reasons. Alongside the battle to survive for the entire industry there is the ongoing story of Actress Seyi Omooba who is suing The Curve Theatre Leicester and her former agents, Michael Garret Associates Ltd (Global Artists) for breach of contract and religious discrimination for a total of £128,000.

Omooba was cast in the lead role of Celie for the 2019 Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome co production of the Musical “The Color Purple” based on Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning novel famously adapted for the Cinema by Steven Spielberg.

Omooba was successfully cast in the role by the producers following a transparent audition process which would begin rehearsals in late April 2019 with scheduled performances in May and June of that year.

On the 15th March 2019, Aaron Lee Lambert of the “Hamilton” company tweeted a screen shot of Omooba’s tweet from 2014 that laid bare her bigoted homophobic views, which she justifies by her religious Beliefs.

From the publication of that Tweet came the justified public back lash based around one simple question! “How can an openly homophobic actor truly portray an openly gay Character and not see the hypocrisy of that choice?”

That question amongst others were what the producers and production team faced, they gave Omooba the chance to respond and explain, as with all humanity we grow and learn and her thoughts and opinions may well have changed over the 5 year gap of the original tweet and its re-tweet.

Omooba stood by her original tweet and her homophobic belief’s which she again justified by her religious scruples. These beliefs were not shared by the Curve, and she was given the chance to resign from the production. She chose against that and therefore was removed by contract termination. She was also subsequently terminated by her Agents.

Clearly stung by this decision and the ongoing public backlash Omooba backed by Christian Concern (which is governed by her Father Ade Omooba who supports Gay Conversion therapy and unbelievably was awarded the MBE in the Queens Honours) have launched legal proceedings which have led to the ongoing Tribunal currently taking place in London.

Everyone has the inalienable right to their religious beliefs irrespective of what those are even if to others there wrong or against their own personal beliefs. There are many performers in the arts with strong faith; they however don’t use that to espouse homophobic rhetoric.

Many interesting issues have come out of the hearing to date, and here are our thoughts on them and the case thus far:

  • Omooba is justifying her homophobia by way of “this is what the bibles tells me” that is exactly the downfall of her argument. The bible is interpretive, we all interpret it differently. If the bible tells her that homosexuality is wrong (even if legal) she is entitled to that belief. What she isn’t entitled to is to hurt others with that belief which she has done on an epic scale.
  • The Tribunal has revealed that Omooba is claiming £4309 as part of the overall financial tally as this was the figure she would have been paid for the role. Omooba has been offered that sum by the Curve from the moment her contract was terminated. She made the choice not to Invoice the theatre to claim the payment. The offer of that payment remains open to this day. Therefore Seyi why didn’t you invoice for the payment?
  • Omooba has also said in court she hadn’t read the script of the musical and thus didn’t know Celie was a lesbian character. This is interesting; in 2017 Omooba performed the show in a “Concert” production at the Cadogan Hall, London in the role of Nettie. She clearly did this without reading the script or understanding the show entirely.
  • Omooba went on to say, if she had known that Celie was a gay character or it was brought to light during rehearsals that was the creative direction for the character she would have withdrawn from the production. Leaving both the cast and production team high and dry. She defends that by simply saying “that’s why theatre uses “covers” and “alternate” performers. Defence council then said to her in court, this is a most unprofessional method of working. We fully agree with the defence, how many performers would accept a role without reading the script, then finding out it doesn’t match your religious beliefs simply walk away even if that leaves just days before the opening curtain?
  • Alice Walker the author of the source book confirmed in court papers that “Celie” is based on her mother who was open in her sexual attraction to women confirming the character of “Celie” from her creation was homosexual. Therefore it’s somewhat mystifying that Omooba maintains her belief that “Celie” is not a lesbian character.
  • Two expert reports submitted by Omooba by respected director and arts Critic Lloyd Evans and Theologist Dr Martin Parsons were disallowed but can be read in full on the Christian Concern website. We have examined both documents especially Lloyd Evans which is a long winded defence document that delves into the theory of classical Greek drama’s by way of defending Omooba’s homophobia and thus justifying her suitability to play “Celie”. Its therefore clear Omooba maintains her homophobic views and her ability to play any character irrespective of the hypocrisy that might engender.
  • Hypocrisy is the very heart of the issue, the arts especially the theatre has a lifelong and unbreakable bond with the LGBTQI+ community they are often the life blood of one another. This situation is not an attack on a woman of colour, or indeed her incredible talent as an actor and vocalist. Omooba is blinded by religious belief that she simply cannot see she is the walking embodiment of a selfish hypocrite. She is fully allowed to express her belief that homosexuality is wrong, irrespective of how hurtful that is to not only her fellow cast members, the arts industry and indeed the non homophobic world. The fact she can absorb that hurt and still justify she can perform a role of a character she truly and utterly believes is wrong and a sin is sheer hypocrisy.
  • No Matter how good her portrayal of Celie would have been, it would have been a lie to the audience who would have either boycotted the production or worse still turned up to boo her from the stage. The law does protect the right to free speech and Omooba is fully entitled to share her views but she must be willing to accept the consequences of that decision. Something this tribunal shows she isn’t willing to do.
  • Oomba has a red line in her casting choices, she said she would not play a homosexual character due to her religious beliefs. She never informed the Curve or to a certain degree her agents of that decision. She still however accepted the role of Celie which defies logic.

Final Thoughts:

 The tribunal is ongoing until 11th of February, and we at Scotsgay arts hope the court find in favour of the Curve Leicester and Omooba’s former agents. The only person to blame for this situation is Seyi Omooba herself, No one is denying her religious freedoms but she is happy to deny the freedom of human sexuality based on that religious belief, is it really ok for her to say it’s wrong to be homosexual yet whilst being wrong can happily play one of the great LGBTQI+ characters?. Seyi, once your homophobic truths came to light you were then no longer a suitable actor to portray the role of Celie, it really is that simple.

Theatre is a family we all stand by one another when one person hurts we all hurt together, Omooba’s words in that original tweet cut deep but what cuts deeper still is her inability to accept her actions have consequences and these now include costing her the career she so cherished.

In the video posted to youtube by Christian Concern, Omooba says just wants those who are Christian to be able to perform in theatre. Seyi yes they can perform in Theatre but when you spread homophobic hate and defend it by Christianity that isn’t Christian and isn’t in the heart of what Theatre making is all about. 

Have a look at the video from Christian Concern but do remember this is purely one side of the argument; we shall update this article once the verdict comes in. For now however what do you think?

Christian Concern Youtube Video

Arts News!

Andy Gray a reflection.

Andy Gray:

Starting this article hurts, finding the words to sum up one of our countries greatest comics, actors, writers and his crowning achievement King of Pantomimes just a day after his untimely passing was announced still feels surreal and palpably untrue.

On Screen:

As “Chancer” in BBC Scotland’s “City Lights”

Andy Gray is gone at 61 and looking back at his life it’s a rich legacy of man who was born to perform and made the arts world his life. Starting out his career in his native Perth working at Perth Rep and Borderline along with connections to 7:84 and other ground breaking companies of the late 70’s and early 80’s . Andy rose to national promise thanks to his stints on BBC’s Naked Video which led in 1987 to the creation of “Chancer” opposite the Late Gerard Kelly in “City Lights”. Andy also put in spirited cameos in other Comedy Unit productions for the BBC including Rab C Nesbitt. Although the bulk of Grays Career was spent in his true love, the theatre, nothing matched the thrill of a live audience. Andy returned to our Screens in BBC Scotland’s “River City” as the beloved “Pete Galloway” in 2016. It was in River city that viewers got to see the depth of Andy’s acting skill. Although “Pete” had a strong comic element there were powerful scenes as the character battled mental health issues and Andy shone as the consummate actor, tears of laughter replaced with tears of raw emotion.

In the Theatre:

The Cast of ” I Dreamed a Dream”

In the theatre mention the name Andy Gray and instantly people connect him to Pantomime and rightly so, but Andy had a varied career in the theatre including Straight drama, Musicals and classical theatre parts not to mention his stints performing in the Edinburgh Fringe.

Stints at all the major theatres across Scotland beckoned for Andy including “Werewolf” at the Traverse in Edinburgh, a rollicking performance as Nicely Nicely in Kenny Irelands acclaimed 2001 production of Guys and Dolls at the Royal Lyceum opposite his friend Elaine C Smith. 2002 saw Gray team up with his “City Lights” co star Gerrard Kelly for a production of “The Odd Couple” at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews which would then go on to tour the country.

Gray would return to the Royal Lyceum for Kenny Ireland in 2003 for Yasmin Rez’s “Art” performing with James Macpherson and Forbes Masson. Their combined timing was a reflection of perfection in modern theatre.

Later years would see him rack up credits in west end hit “Stones in his pockets” playing opposite his panto partner Allan Stewart. “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” and “I dreamed a dream” the Susan Boyle musical both with Elaine C Smith along with a spell in “A midsummer’s night dream”. Andy’s pedigree in the theatre will never be matched our indeed surpassed.

On The Fringe:

Publicity Shot for “Kiss Me Honey Honey”

Andy became a regular at the Edinburgh Fringe popping up in 1999 in Theatre Archipelago’s “Communicado” although far from a smash hit success it gave Andy the taste for working in the constraints that the Fringe brings. 2005 saw him begin a long tenure with Gilded Balloon appearing Bob Steiner’s “A limited Run” at the Gilded Balloons Teviot House. It was to the Gilded Balloon in 2013 that Andy would return to team up with his Panto pal Grant Stott for a series of fringe adventures. 2013’s “Kiss me honey honey” written by Philip Meeks which was the runaway success of that year’s festival and returned in 2014. In the 2013 season Andy did double duty also performing in “God Bless Liz Locked” earning plaudits for both. 2015 saw Andy and Grant back in the Gilded Balloon Teviot for the darkly funny “Willie and Sebastian” in which Andy won the Stage Award for performing excellence. 2017 saw the pair move to Gilded Balloons new Space “The Rose Theatre” and there greatest success with “Double Feature” This play truly showcased how the partnership of Gray and Stott had matured working comedy with ease and pathos laden drama with equal skill it was a joy to watch. In 2018 Andy and Grant were scheduled to return to the Rose for Ruaraidh Murray’s “Junkies”. Andy completed one performance only as his diagnosis of blood cancer saw the cancellation of the run. Andy’s fringe adventures spanned over 25 years and the festival will be forever enriched by his contributions.

Pantomime:

The Golden Trio of the King’s Panto during “Mother Goose”

Andy’s true love and the part of his legacy he will be remembered for most is Pantomime.  Especially his long tenure with the King’s Theatre Edinburgh. Taking to the Stage of the King’s first in 1999 playing opposite Allan Stewart’s buttons and Dorothy Paul’s Fairy Godmother in Cinderella it was the start of something uniquely special. The following year local radio and TV personality Grant Stott joined the cast for Dick Whittington and Stewart donned the frock as Dame Aunty May and the Golden Trio was born. 2006 saw the King’s mark its centenary with Cinderella once more gracing the stage as it had 100 years before. The curtain down of this season would see the start of what Andy himself would call “his wilderness years”. Gray would miss 2007’s Goldilocks, 2008’s Aladdin and 2009’s Robinson Crusoe panto’s at the Kings. Panto never left him though during those years appearing in London at the Barbican as Dame for Jonathan Harvey’s Pantomime and in Glasgow King’s panto opposite his old friend Gerard Kelly. Ultimately the King’s Edinburgh was always home and a rejuvenated Andy returned to the Kings in 2010 for Jack and Beanstalk dawning the crown as King Crumble. It was the King’s Edinburgh that Andy would spend the rest of his Pantomime life. 2018 saw the Kings announce Beauty and the Beast as that year’s panto. Andy was announced in the casting, but following his diagnosis, a great deal of soul searching and on the advice of his doctors he reluctantly took the year off. However he made an unscheduled appearance on stage during the curtain call near the end of the run, the raw emotion flowing over the footlights Andy then knew just how much he was loved by the Edinburgh audiences and what he meant to them. It fueled Andy for his comeback to panto in 2019’s Goldilocks and the three bears. Arriving on stage in a glitzy production number adorned with a Top Hat, the show stopped for a sustained standing ovation, Andy beaming in the spotlight, he had come home once more. Alas that’s the lasting memory panto audiences will have of him, that and his ability to latch onto a single word, balloon, banana or umbrella all words that on their own aren’t funny but give them to Andy, comedy joy was created. Andy Gray truly is and always will be the King of the King’s Pantomimes.

 A Personal Reflection:

Andy Gray and Grant Stott performing “Double Feature”

The greatest attribute of Andy Gray was his humanity, love and compassion regardless of how you met him, taxi driver, stage door keeper, fellow performer, journalist or even audience member you felt you knew Andy; he was a friend and a trusted one at that. For me I met Andy several times over the years at Panto and Theatre press nights, sharing many a laugh and glass or two of prosecco. In 2017 I ended up sharing a dressing room with Andy and Grant during that’s years Fringe, I was performing two musicals in rep which ran back to back with Andy and Grants “Double Feature”. The Captivate cast would be well into the second act of our shows when Andy arrived, to take up his space in the dressing room, it was always joyous, nothing got him down and the laughter would ring out as would the odd story of his adventures across his career which the younger members of our cast would devour. He and Grant were true professionals through and through, as we took our curtain call Andy and Grant would be on the stairs behind the stage waiting to get access to set up for their show. They spoke to every single cast member who passed them, saying well done and great show and you could tell by the sparkle in Andy’s eye he truly meant it. To share such an intimate space with Andy across the period of the festival was a true gift that’s left memories that will last a lifetime.

Thank You

Andy Making a curtain call appearance During Beauty and the Beast

Andy Gray, comic, actor, writer, performer, father, grandfather, family member and friend you have been taken far too soon and the irony of your beating cancer with humor and good grace you were renowned for does not go un-noticed only to be taken so soon after that victory. None the less we say thank you, for all those years of joy, laughter and memories you’ve given to audiences across Scotland. You were a true gentleman filled in equal measure with compassion, love and talent. We shall never see your likes again, but we will always remember you, standing in the spotlight on the Kings Theatre Stage taking in the adulation you so richly deserved.

All at Scotsgay arts send our love to Andy’s Partner Tamara, Daughter Clare and all his family. Also to Allan Stewart, Grant Stott and the entire team at the King’s Theatre Edinburgh Pantomime.

Until we meet again,

Brett

Editor, Scotgay arts.

Arts News!

2020 Years End:

Reflecting on a year like no other:

As the hours tick away to the clock striking midnight and heralding in 2021, we as we do every year look back at the 12 months just gone. I think we can all agree 2020 is a year like no other, our arts industry and the entire world beyond it have changed beyond recognition.

Since March Theatres and arts venues across Scotland have remained closed, the Edinburgh festivals were cancelled, concerts of all shapes and sizes didn’t take place and the rebirth of Drive in Cinema became the norm. Further afield theatres did reopen in England then got caught in the yo yo of ever-changing rules and regulations from a clueless government.

The fight to secure funding to carry on is a fight far too many companies and venues have lost and most heartbreakingly it’s the vast swave of freelancers who have born the brunt. That said its also been a humbling experience to see how people view the arts and value it, the quantity of online content and the overwhelming desire that no matter what, Theatre and arts will survive and prosper once more.

We at Scotsgay Arts published our last review in March before a substantial break and introducing our Theatre vs Covid series of news items, we were truly blessed to publish a few more reviews just this month including the London palladium pantomime.

Theatre matters, The Arts Matters and the burning light of creativity will never go out, so to all those productions we did manage to review we thank you for allowing us to cover your work. To all those in the creative industries from performers to technicians and beyond, the curtain will rise once more and we are so excited to be there and see the lights come one again.

To Mary Woodward thank you for your ongoing contributions, to our readers, we wish you a Happy, Peaceful, Prosperous and Healthy New Year. May 2021 truly be better for us all.

Arts News!

Innovations Dance Platform 2020

Dance Platform Returns Digitally:

Edinburgh based Innovations was initiated with the ambition of championing creative innovation within the field of contemporary dance. Opening doors for dance artists and companies at all stages in their career as a catalyst for presenting their work to new audiences. 

Innovations has held platforms annually since 2014 presenting eclectic and diverse programmes by artists from the UK and abroad. 2018 saw the platform open its first Edinburgh Fringe Festival Edition, giving artists the opportunity to present their work in the heart of the biggest cultural and arts festival on the planet. 

Dance Horizons now presents the first digitally produced edition of Innovations Dance Platform.

A company spokesman said “On the 28th of November audience members should be taking their seats at The Studio but due to the ongoing pandemic live theatre in Scotland is not possible and that all our live events this year have had to be cancelled. However, our dedicated production team have pulled together alongside our artists and companies to produce a programme of Scottish grown dance work for a very special digital edition.”

For full details and to book tickets for the digital performance go to: http://www.innovationsdanceplatform.co.uk/digital.html