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National Youth Theatre search the Black Country for Olympic tales

01 July 2011

The National Youth Theatre of Great Britain (NYT) is on the hunt for stories and memories from the Black Country and the rest of the West Midlands to help inform their new Olympic heritage project called White City/Black Country. This two year project will explore the significant role played by the Black Country in two UK Olympic Games in 1908 and 1948, and has been made possible by the announcement of a £50k grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. White City/Black Country will launch this summer with a large-scale promenade performance at the Black Country Living Museum, celebrating and sharing the region’s role as an Olympic medal manufacturer and as a home to veteran Olympic medallists.  Examples of the West Midland’s rich Olympic heritage include Dudley resident Victor Johnson, an employee of Rover Bicycles, who won gold at the 1908 Olympics in the 660 yard cycling event before returning to the factory to continue making bicycles.  In 1948, Tommy Godwin and Bob Maitland, employees at the same factory, followed Johnson's journey to London to win cycling medals for Britain. Andrew Lovett, Director and Chief Executive of Black Country Living Museum said: “I am very excited that we are working in partnership with the National Youth Theatre to present White City/Black Country.  The industrial setting of the Museum is a unique location for a play.  Performances will take place on 27, 28, 29 August and form part of an exciting new programme of events.”The NYT is now on the hunt for more stories like these, and would also welcome contributions and memories from members of the public on what life was like in 1948 when the Games were dubbed ‘The Austerity Olympics’.  In 2012, White City/Black Country will culminate in a 1948 style street party at the Museum, akin to those held during the 1948 Olympics, marking the return of the Games to the UK.

Britain’s leading youth arts organisation, the NYT have been working in the West Midlands from a regional base in Brierley Hill since 2007 and White City/Black Country follows a series of successful productions including Ghost Office in 2010, Flight in 2009 and ID1000 in 2008. The Olympic themed project follows NYT’s performance at the 2008 Olympic Handover Ceremony at the Birds Nest Stadium in Beijing.

Artistic Director of National Youth Theatre Paul Roseby, said:

“National Youth Theatre are delighted to be working with the young talent in the West Midlands again on this project of Olympic-scale ambition.

Executive Director of National Youth Theatre James Mackenzie-Blackman, added:

“We want White City/Black Country to celebrate the rich Olympic heritage of the West Midlands and we can only do that by discovering the memories and stories from the local community so we’d love people to get in touch.”

Anne Jenkins, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund West Midlands, said:

“The return of the Olympics to the UK in 2012 provides the perfect opportunity for us to reflect and celebrate our sporting heritage. Through collecting, exploring and sharing the stories of Olympians from the West Midlands, these young people will create a lasting record of this important part of our  social history. Projects like this provide opportunities for the generations to mix and learn from one another, and pass on their stories to future generations.”

You can be part of this production by sharing your memories or your families’ stories of the British Olympics by emailing or writing to National Youth Theatre, 52 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3UD. The National Youth Theatre of Great Britain is extremely grateful to Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, Dudley Community Partnership, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, Black Country Living Museum, The William A Cadbury Charitable Trust, The Sheldon Trust and The Rowlands Trust for their support of this project.

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