National treasure Ade Adepitan MBE is to be made a patron of Blue Sky Actors, Stratford Circus Arts Centre’s resident theatre company, run in partnership with Face Front Inclusive Theatre. The ensemble, of which Ade’s sister is a long-standing member, has been devising and producing two professional shows a year since 2011 and also offers participants support to develop their employability skills, whether as a performer or in other areas of work.
After moving from Lagos to the London borough of Newham aged three, Ade developed a passion for wheelchair basketball and has since gone on to win a bronze and gold medal at the Summer Paralympics and Paralympic World Cup respectively. A familiar face on screen, Ade fronted Channel 4’s London 2012 Paralympics coverage and has led numerous documentaries for the BBC.
Blue Sky Actors also welcomes retired professional footballer Vincent Mark Hilaire, one of the first established black players in English football, as a patron. Vincent has played in the Football League for Crystal Palace, Luton Town, Portsmouth, Leeds United, Stoke City and Exeter City.
The ensemble forms part of a varied programme of creative learning opportunities hosted by Stratford Circus Arts Centre aimed at ensuring access to great cultural experiences for all. In addition to Blue Sky Actors the centre is also home to a resident choir, hosts regular activities and art sessions for older adults and regularly fundraises to offer low or no cost tickets for performances to targeted community groups and organisations.
The announcement also comes at a time when the venue’s latest season features a number of shows accessible to d/Deaf and disabled audiences: as part of the venue’s LGBT History Month Takeover ParaPride will present the largest disabled queer performance review ever produced in the UK, whilst My Mother Said I Never Should features a cast of one hearing and three d/Deaf actors using spoken English and British Sign Language. Jamboree and To the Moon and Back are both made for children and young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD).
Ade Adepitan said, “I’m extremely pleased to be the first patron of Blue Sky Actors, based at Stratford Circus Arts Centre. My sister is a much-loved and long-standing member of the group having joined in 2012; our mum is a big fan of their work and has seen every show! The group has grown in popularity with thirty members and a long waiting list. In recent years their shows have always sold out, which just goes to show the importance of theatre. I’m very pleased to hear that the group works in partnership with Face Front Inclusive Theatre and has recently had a continuation of funding from City Bridge Trust and new funding from Foyle’s Foundation. Unfortunately, I’m away for their Radio Blu project in April but looking forward to their annual panto - oh yes I am!”
Vince Hilaire said, "I was delighted when I was asked by Blue Sky Actors to become one of their patrons. I attended Stratford Circus Arts Centre at Christmas to see their panto in front of a packed out theatre. It was great to see so many different people all having a moment to shine but most importantly working together to succeed as a team – something I know a bit about as a retired professional footballer. I also know how important and valuable it is for people who are underrepresented in a field to have access and opportunities to succeed in doing what they love.”
Tania Wilmer, Director of Stratford Circus Arts Centre said: “We are hugely proud of the Blue Sky Actors and the work they make, and we’re thrilled that Ade and Vince have been appointed as their patrons. Their support is really important in raising the profile of this exceptional company and in helping us continue to break down barriers to accessing the arts, ensuring more people in east London can reap the benefits of creativity and performance, regardless of age or ability.”