On 24 June 2023, as the sun blazed down on the streets of Derby, a small intimate audience took their seats in Dreams Bistro ready to enjoy the premiere of short film The Songstress. A story about Donna Briscoe-Greene, the first Black woman to run a theatre-bar-cafe in the UK. 

The journey of The Songstress actually started in May 2021 as the world came out of lockdown and New Perspectives’ Participation Director Jayne Williams was searching for the next Open Pitch project. Open Pitch is a programme run by New Perspectives that gives first-time artists an opportunity to tell a story in a creative way. 

Having lived in Derby for the last 15 years, Jayne knew the name Donna Briscoe-Greene but found herself wondering what Donna’s story was. “Out of everything I’ve heard about Donna being a great cultural leader and helping other people with their own art, I hadn’t heard Donna telling her own story and creating her own art,” Jayne said as she introduced The Songstress at the premiere

So, after some research, Jayne asked Donna if she’d be interested in doing an Open Pitch project about her life. As well as being a story about Donna’s life and experience, The Songstress asks the question ‘What defines us?’ and explores many of the struggles that Black women experience in the entertainment industry. 

“The reason why it has taken me so long, this journey to tell my story, was because I’d encountered things that set me back or made me feel that I wasn’t going to be competitive enough out there,” Donna said. “People told me I needed to dress a certain way or that I needed to be slimmer - those kinds of things.”

Despite wanting to tell her story, Donna is a performer, not a writer, so the next step was to find someone who could take her words and turn them into a narrative. Having spoken to many dramaturgs and writers, Donna finally found the perfect person in self-proclaimed accidental poet, writer and performer Ravelle-Sadé Fairman.

“It was daunting, I will admit,” Ravelle-Sadé said. “My background is in poetry, talking about mental health and speaking about taboos. But, it was a really organic process - we just sat down and had brilliant conversations. We just listened to Donna tell her story - we were in awe but she would just reel off these stories like it was normal.”

Donna and Ravelle-Sadé worked together on the script for the film and went through many drafts in the process. While writing, Ravelle-Sadé says she was very cautious of making this not a story about an angry Black woman but instead making The Songstress a way of communicating and healing with the audience. “Being from a Black Caribbean background there’s this kind of notion of not speaking out, not speaking up or being true to your experience. Even with the whole Windrush generation and the issues they had to face. So I was really inspired by Donna’s willingness to share. It’s revolutionary, especially in our community.”

If the Q&A after the premiere is anything to go by then it looks like The Songstress is going to be a conversation starter where people feel they can relate to the topics explored in the film and share their own experiences. Creative entrepreneur and author Bea Udeh who was invited to the screening said: "It was beautiful to experience the conversations in this room afterwards where people are sharing parts of the narrative of being Black British which is especially important as we've just had Windrush 75."

We are so thrilled that the premiere of The Songstress went spectacularly with poignant conversations being had as a result of the film. As part of New Perspectives ongoing Open Pitch project we are constantly looking for ways to share Donna’s story with communities so keep your eyes peeled for more information over on our Open Pitch page.

As Jayne said, “We are aware that there are great stories in our communities that don’t get told” and we want to help tell these unheard stories. If you have a story you think we might be interested in, please contact Jayne at [email protected].