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Kwame Kwei-Armah

Kwame Kwei-Armah

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Kwame Kwei-Armah, is a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 actor
Actor
An actor is a person who acts in a dramatic production and who works in film, television, theatre, or radio in that capacity...

, playwright
Playwright
A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

, singer and broadcaster
Presenter
A presenter, or host , is a person or organization responsible for running an event. A museum or university, for example, may be the presenter or host of an exhibit. Likewise, a master of ceremonies is a person that hosts or presents a show...

. In 2005 he became the second black Briton to have a play staged in the West End
West End theatre
West End theatre is a popular term for mainstream professional theatre staged in the large theatres of London's 'Theatreland', the West End. Along with New York's Broadway theatre, West End theatre is usually considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English speaking...

. (Ray Harrison Graham
Ray Harrison Graham
Ray Harrison Graham is an English playwright, screenwriter, and director from a Jamaican family, and was born in Oxford in 1962. For many years, his parents ran the renowned Elm Tree public house, on the Cowley Road, in East Oxford...

's Fringe First award winning play GARY played at the Arts Theatre in 1990.) Kwame's award-winning piece Elmina's Kitchen
Elmina's Kitchen
Elmina's Kitchen is the fifth play from the British actor, playwright and broadcaster, Kwame Kwei-Armah. Set in a West Indian restaurant, Elmina's Kitchen tells a tale of family, drugs and crime on Hackney's Murder Mile. The play is centred around the character of Deli, the owner of a West Indian...

transferred to the Garrick Theatre
Garrick Theatre
The Garrick Theatre is a West End theatre, located on Charing Cross Road, in the City of Westminster. It opened on 24 April 1889 with The Profligate, a play by Arthur Wing Pinero. In its early years, it appears to have specialised in the performance of melodrama, and today the theatre is a...

 in 2005.

He was brought up in Southall
Southall
Southall is a large suburban district of west London, England, and part of the London Borough of Ealing. It is situated west of Charing Cross. Neighbouring places include Yeading, Hayes, Hanwell, Heston, Hounslow, Greenford and Northolt...

, he changed his name aged 19 after tracing his family history
Family history
Family history is the systematic narrative and research of past events relating to a specific family, or specific families.- Introduction :...

, through the slave trade
African slave trade
Systems of servitude and slavery were common in many parts of Africa, as they were in much of the ancient world. In some African societies, the enslaved people were also indentured servants and fully integrated; in others, they were treated much worse...

 back to his ancestral African roots in Ghana
Ghana
Ghana , officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country located in West Africa. It is bordered by Côte d'Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, Togo to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south...

. His parents were born in Grenada
Grenada
Grenada is an island country and Commonwealth Realm consisting of the island of Grenada and six smaller islands at the southern end of the Grenadines in the southeastern Caribbean Sea...

. He has 4 children.

On 1 July 2011, he became Artistic Director of Center Stage
Center Stage (theater)
Center Stage is the state theater of Maryland and Baltimore's largest professional producing theater. Center Stage was founded in 1963 as a regional playhouse....

 in Baltimore, MD, succeeding Irene Lewis.

Early life


Kwei-Armah was born in Hillingdon Hospital
Hillingdon Hospital
Hillingdon Hospital is an NHS hospital, located in Pield Heath Road, Hillingdon, Greater London. It is a general hospital serving the local area, providing a wide variety of services including Accident and Emergency , In-patients, Day Surgery and Outpatient Clinics...

 and named Ian Roberts. He changed his name aged 19 after tracing his family history (he became first interested as a child after watching the TV series Roots
Roots (TV miniseries)
Roots is a 1977 American television miniseries based on Alex Haley's fictional novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Roots received 36 Emmy Award nominations, winning nine. It also won a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award. It received unprecedented Nielsen ratings with the finale still...

), through the slave trade back to his ancestral African roots in Ghana
Ghana
Ghana , officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country located in West Africa. It is bordered by Côte d'Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, Togo to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south...

, descendent of Coromantins. His parents were born in Grenada
Grenada
Grenada is an island country and Commonwealth Realm consisting of the island of Grenada and six smaller islands at the southern end of the Grenadines in the southeastern Caribbean Sea...

, then a British colony. His maternal grandmother moved to Trinidad
Trinidad
Trinidad is the larger and more populous of the two major islands and numerous landforms which make up the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. It is the southernmost island in the Caribbean and lies just off the northeastern coast of Venezuela. With an area of it is also the fifth largest in...

 where she later died, leaving her five children including Kwei-Armah's mother to become orphans in Grenada. Kwei-Armah's mother moved to England in 1962. His father, Eric, moved to England in 1960 at a time when there was high unemployment in Grenada, and found work in London at the local Quaker Oats factory.

When he was one year old, Kwei-Armah's family moved to a two-story terraced house in Southall
Southall
Southall is a large suburban district of west London, England, and part of the London Borough of Ealing. It is situated west of Charing Cross. Neighbouring places include Yeading, Hayes, Hanwell, Heston, Hounslow, Greenford and Northolt...

, London, where they rented out two rooms to help to pay for the mortgage. Kwei-Armah started at his first primary school as a five-year-old, and after a teacher disciplined him by kicking him in the back, his mother took on three jobs to pay for him and his two siblings to go to a private stage school – working as a child minder, as a night nurse at Hillingdon Hospital
Hillingdon Hospital
Hillingdon Hospital is an NHS hospital, located in Pield Heath Road, Hillingdon, Greater London. It is a general hospital serving the local area, providing a wide variety of services including Accident and Emergency , In-patients, Day Surgery and Outpatient Clinics...

, and doing some hairdressing work. At the age of about 35 years his mother had a stroke leading to left-sided weakness, which she slowly recovered from.

Kwei-Armah grew-up in Southall in the 1970s at a time when Asian
Asian people
Asian people or Asiatic people is a term with multiple meanings that refers to people who descend from a portion of Asia's population.- Central Asia :...

 families were moving in and white families were moving out, and he perceived animosity from the Asian community towards the Afro-Caribbean community. One day, at the time of the April 1979 Southall riots, his father came home after the evening work-shift and took him out to see the Hambrough Tavern on fire. Kwei-Armah saw a police van arrive, and when the police started to charge at the crowd using batons and shields he ran home frightened. From the upstairs front room he saw the police chasing black and Asian boys along the street followed by skinhead
Skinhead
A skinhead is a member of a subculture that originated among working class youths in the United Kingdom in the 1960s, and then spread to other parts of the world. Named for their close-cropped or shaven heads, the first skinheads were greatly influenced by West Indian rude boys and British mods,...

s, who also had batons and shields, chasing behind the police. The event shocked him making him feel that he was living in an alien environment, and reinforced his resolve to do well in his education. He later wrote about the event is his first play, A Bitter Herb.

Appearances on stage, television and radio


Kwei-Armah appeared in the original London production of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens
Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens
Elegies For Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is a song cycle with music by Janet Hood and lyrics and additional text by Bill Russell. The work features songs and monologues inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology...

, which played at the Criterion Theatre
Criterion Theatre
The Criterion Theatre is a West End theatre situated on Piccadilly Circus in the City of Westminster, and is a Grade II* listed building. It has an official capacity of 588.-Building the theatre:...

 in 1993.

Kwei-Armah first achieved fame playing the paramedic
Paramedic
A paramedic is a healthcare professional that works in emergency medical situations. Paramedics provide advanced levels of care for medical emergencies and trauma. The majority of paramedics are based in the field in ambulances, emergency response vehicles, or in specialist mobile units such as...

 Finlay Newton in the BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 drama series Casualty from 1999 to 2004. His other television credits include appearances in episodes of the Casualty
Casualty (TV series)
Casualty, stylised as Casual+y, is a British weekly television show broadcast on BBC One, and the longest-running emergency medical drama television series in the world. Created by Jeremy Brock and Paul Unwin, it was first broadcast on 6 September 1986, and transmitted in the UK on BBC One. The...

's sister series Holby City
Holby City
Holby City, stylised as Holby Ci+y, is a British medical drama television series that airs weekly on BBC One.The series was created by Tony McHale and Mal Young as a spin-off from the established BBC medical drama Casualty, and premiered on 12 January 1999...

, the BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

's Afternoon Play, Between The Lines and The Bill
The Bill
The Bill is a police procedural television series that ran from October 1984 to August 2010. It focused on the lives and work of one shift of police officers, rather than on any particular aspect of police work...

. In 2003 he appeared as a contestant on the Reality TV programme Comic Relief does Fame Academy
Comic Relief Does Fame Academy
Comic Relief Does Fame Academy is a spin-off of the original Fame Academy show where celebrities sing as students of the Academy. The programme was launched in 2003 to help raise money for the charities supported by Comic Relief, with the final of the show occurring on Red Nose Day...

 and subsequently released an album, Kwame. In 2007, he starred as "E.R. Braithwaite" in the two-part BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

 adaptation of To Sir, with Love.

Kwei-Armah has recently been seen in an episode of the new BBC1 revival of Robin Hood
Robin Hood
Robin Hood was a heroic outlaw in English folklore. A highly skilled archer and swordsman, he is known for "robbing from the rich and giving to the poor", assisted by a group of fellow outlaws known as his "Merry Men". Traditionally, Robin Hood and his men are depicted wearing Lincoln green clothes....

, as an ambitious town planner in Lewis, and in the feature film Fade to Black
Fade to Black (2006 film)
Fade to Black is a 2006 thriller film directed by Oliver Parker and starring Danny Huston as Orson Welles.-Synopsis:The year is 1948. His Hollywood career deadlocked, Orson Welles is in need to get over his failed marriage to Rita Hayworth...

 opposite Danny Huston
Danny Huston
-Early life:Huston was born in Rome, Italy. He hails from the illustrious Huston acting and filmmaking dynasty. He is the son of legendary director John Huston, half-brother of actress Anjelica Huston and screenwriter Tony Huston, uncle of actor Jack Huston, stepbrother of Allegra Huston, and...

, Christopher Walken
Christopher Walken
Christopher Walken is an American stage and screen actor. He has appeared in more than 100 movies and television shows, including Joe Dirt, Annie Hall, The Deer Hunter, The Prophecy trilogy, The Dogs of War, Sleepy Hollow, Brainstorm, The Dead Zone, A View to a Kill, At Close Range, King of New...

 and Diego Luna
Diego Luna
Diego Luna is a Mexican actor known for his childhood telenovela work, a starring role in the film Y tu mamá también, and supporting roles in American films. He is also known for his roles in Rudo y Cursi and Milk. Luna also had minor roles in Frida and Before Night Falls...

. He is also a regular on TheatreVoice.

He presented the 15 February 2009 episode of the Channel 4
Channel 4
Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began working on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority , the station is now owned and operated by the Channel...

 documentary
Documentary
A documentary is a creative work of non-fiction, including:* Documentary film, including television* Radio documentary* Documentary photographyRelated terms include:...

 Christianity: A History, during which he spoke about his own Christian faith and African identity, in addition to the African origins of Christianity in Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

.

In the summer of 2009, he presented the Channel 4
Channel 4
Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began working on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority , the station is now owned and operated by the Channel...

 series, On Tour With The Queen, which looked at the impact of Queen Elizabeth II's tour of the Commonwealth
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

 that took place between November 1953 and May 1954. He also met with King George Tupou V of Tonga
Tonga
Tonga, officially the Kingdom of Tonga , is a state and an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, comprising 176 islands scattered over of ocean in the South Pacific...

, Sitiveni Rabuka
Sitiveni Rabuka
Major-General Sitiveni Ligamamada Rabuka, OBE, MSD, OStJ, is best known as the instigator of two military coups that shook Fiji in 1987. He was later democratically elected the third Prime Minister, serving from 1992 to 1999...

 and Queen Elizabeth II herself on the trip. In March 2010, Kwei-Armah appeared in the final and penultimate episode of the fourth series of Skins
Skins (TV series)
Skins is a BAFTA award-winning British teen drama that follows a group of teenagers in Bristol, South West England, through the two years of college. The controversial plot line explores issues such as dysfunctional families, mental illness , adolescent sexuality, substance abuse and death...

.

For a number of years Kwei-Armah has appeared as a panellist on the arts discussion show Newsnight Review. He also appeared on Question Time on two occasions and reported for The Culture Show
The Culture Show
The Culture Show is a weekly BBC Two Arts magazine programme. It is broadcast in the UK on Thursday nights at 7pm, focusing on the best of the week's arts and culture news, covering books, art, film, architecture, music, visual fashion and the performing arts...

.

On 15 May 2011 he was the stranded person on BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

's Desert Island Discs
Desert Island Discs
Desert Island Discs is a BBC Radio 4 programme first broadcast on 29 January 1942. It is the second longest-running radio programme , and is the longest-running factual programme in the history of radio...

. His musical selections included the political power-rap of Chuck D
Chuck D
Carlton Douglas Ridenhour , better known by his stage name, Chuck D, is an American rapper, author, and producer. He helped create politically and socially conscious rap music in the mid-1980s as the leader of the rap group Public Enemy.- Early life :Ridenhour was born in Queens, New York...

 and his band Public Enemy, Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye
Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr. , better known by his stage name Marvin Gaye, was an American singer-songwriter and musician with a three-octave vocal range....

, Bob Marley
Bob Marley
Robert Nesta "Bob" Marley, OM was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician. He was the rhythm guitarist and lead singer for the ska, rocksteady and reggae band Bob Marley & The Wailers...

 and Lord Kitchener
Lord Kitchener (calypsonian)
Aldwyn Roberts , better known by the stage name Lord Kitchener , was one of the most internationally famous calypsonians. He was the son of a blacksmith, Stephen, and homemaker, Albertha.-Life:...

. He said living with his parents was like existing with two very different types of theatre in the family home: he'd be serving his father and his pals rum, while his mother was hosting church meetings in the living room.

Work as a playwright


Kwei-Armah's fifth play, Elmina's Kitchen
Elmina's Kitchen
Elmina's Kitchen is the fifth play from the British actor, playwright and broadcaster, Kwame Kwei-Armah. Set in a West Indian restaurant, Elmina's Kitchen tells a tale of family, drugs and crime on Hackney's Murder Mile. The play is centred around the character of Deli, the owner of a West Indian...

premiered in May 2003 at the National Theatre
Royal National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

, and was shortlisted in the "best new play" category at the 2004 Laurence Olivier Awards. That same year, Kwei-Armah received The Evening Standard
Evening Standard
The Evening Standard, now styled the London Evening Standard, is a free local daily newspaper, published Monday–Friday in tabloid format in London. It is the dominant regional evening paper for London and the surrounding area, with coverage of national and international news and City of London...

Award for the Most Promising New Playwright of 2003. In 2005, Kwei-Armah was nominated for a BAFTA award for the television version of Elmina's Kitchen.

Walter's War, a drama written by Kwei-Armah and based on the wartime experiences of footballer Walter Tull
Walter Tull
Walter Daniel John Tull was an English professional footballer who played as an inside forward for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town...

's life, was made by UK TV channel BBC Four
BBC Four
BBC Four is a British television network operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation and available to digital television viewers on Freeview, IPTV, satellite and cable....

 and screened on 9 November 2008 as part of the BBC's "Ninety Years of Remembrance" season in November 2008. Kwame also had a cameo role in the film.

Kwei-Armah is a member of the board of the National Theatre and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Open University
Open University
The Open University is a distance learning and research university founded by Royal Charter in the United Kingdom...

 in 2008, and in 2009 was a judge for the BBC World Service
BBC World Service
The BBC World Service is the world's largest international broadcaster, broadcasting in 27 languages to many parts of the world via analogue and digital shortwave, internet streaming and podcasting, satellite, FM and MW relays...

's International Radio Playwriting Competition. On February 28, 2011, Kwame was named as the new artistic director at Baltimore's Center Stage Theatre, replacing Irene Lewis who served in the position for 19 years. Kwame is no stranger to Center Stage, his play Elmina's Kitchen
Elmina's Kitchen
Elmina's Kitchen is the fifth play from the British actor, playwright and broadcaster, Kwame Kwei-Armah. Set in a West Indian restaurant, Elmina's Kitchen tells a tale of family, drugs and crime on Hackney's Murder Mile. The play is centred around the character of Deli, the owner of a West Indian...

was staged in 2005, followed by Let There Be Love
Let There Be Love
"Let There Be Love" is a song by the English rock band Oasis from their sixth studio album, Don't Believe the Truth. Written by Noel Gallagher, it is the third Oasis song to feature Liam and Noel on lead vocals, the first being the B-side "Acquiesce", and the second being "Put Yer Money Where Yer...

in 2010, and in 2007 he directed Naomi Wallace's Thing's of Dry Hours.

He will also be partaking in the Bush Theatre
Bush Theatre
The Bush Theatre is based in Shepherd's Bush, in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. It was established in 1972 above The Bush public house by Brian McDermott, and has since become one of the most celebrated new writing theatres in the world. An intimate venue renowned for its close-up...

's 2011 project Sixty Six where he has written a piece based upon a chapter of the King James Bible

Plays

  • Elmina's Kitchen
  • Fix Up
  • Blues Brother Soul Sister
  • Hold On
  • A Bitter Herb
  • Big Nose
  • Statement of Regret
    • First performed at the National Theatre
      Royal National Theatre
      The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

       in 2007, this play was broadcast as The Saturday Play on BBC Radio 4
      BBC Radio 4
      BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

      , on July 18, 2009, with Don Warrington
      Don Warrington
      Don Warrington, MBE is a Trinidadian British actor.-Personal life:Warrington was born in Trinidad and Tobago on 23 May 1951 and brought up in Newcastle upon Tyne, England from age five. His father was the Trinidadian politician, Basil Kydd, who died in 1958. He has two sons.His acting career...

       and Colin McFarlane
      Colin McFarlane
      Colin McFarlane is an English actor and voice artist. He has appeared in several TV series, including The Fast Show, Judge John Deed, Jonathan Creek, Randall & Hopkirk , Jeeves and Wooster, Black Books and The Thin Blue Line. He is also known for portraying Police Commissioner Gillian B...

       reprising the principal roles of Kwaku and Michael.
  • Let There Be Love
  • Seize the Day

External links