How Origin Stories Help Tell People’s Amazing WorkLife Achievements

Stories of Celebration and Suffering. Stories Both Triumphant and Tragic

Resources to help you self-direct your WorkLife learning
Learning Resources From School of WorkLife. Resources to help you self-direct your WorkLife learning.

Red Velvet: A Story Both Triumphant and Tragic 

Origin Stories That Matter. Stories: Some Forgotten or Never Told Before, of People’s Amazing Achievements in Difficult Times and Difficult Situation.

Red Velvet tells the true story of African-American actor Ira Aldridge (1807–67). The playwright (and actor) Lolita Chakrabarti brings this fascinating story to vivid life and her husband Adrian Lester plays the part of Aldridge.

Today I’m revisiting the story, of a play/book review I wrote some time ago which I’ve revised for today’s story.

A Case Study: Red Velvet: A Story Both Triumphant and Tragic

The story begins and ends in a theatrical dressing room, where Aldridge is preparing to play King Lear in the last year of his life. Adrian Lester, in playing the lead role at the Tricycle Theatre London, beautifully captures the pained dignity and irritation of the ageing, ailing actor preparing to play Lear in white face paint not long before his own death.

The story then moves back in time to 1833 and to the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. Aldridge is drafted in to play Othello when Edmund Kean, the great Shakespearean actor collapsed during a performance.

What should have been a breakthrough for Aldridge became a setback that haunted him for the rest of his life, despite the fact that he was the recipient of many honours, and became the highest paid artist in Russia. This was because of the racist reviews by the British press along with the deep discontent from some of the actors in the theatre over the manager’s decision to replace Kean with a black performer.

Lester gives a strong impression of the power of Aldridge’s playing and stage presence. He thrillingly replicates the charisma of the young Aldridge and the idealistic passion of the twenty-six year old, through to the weight of his weary disillusion towards the final chapter of his life.

Thankfully Lester has long-since broken the mould in roles that Aldridge did not get a stab at, and with a nice twist of fate starred as Othello at the National Theatre London.

Book Wisdom

The poignancy of Aldridge’s story was beautifully told in Red Velvet by Chakrabarti. She gives a social and historical context for the story while also providing contemporary insights. That Aldridge, as a black actor, was not only playing the lead role on a London stage, but the much-coveted role of Othello, was unprecedented. Notwithstanding that he became renowned for the greatness of his Shakespearean performances on his tours outside of the UK, his bittersweet memories of his time in London remained with him.

Interestingly, Chakrabarti took time to chat to the audience at the end of the performance and told the story of how the play had evolved. She first heard of Aldridge in 1998 and was determined to find out more, but there was little known about him. This was pre-internet, and so her research and her quest to uncover his story took her many years and across continents and finally cumulated in this wonderful story with the support of Indhu Rubasingham, the artistic director at the Tricycle Theatre — another woman on a mission to draw in people who don’t go to the theatre, and her desire to make the world a smaller place through theatre was perhaps a goal she shared with Aldridge.

“Theatres and the arts are a positive force for our community in turbulent times.” The National Theatre Home

Sage Wisdom

Origin Stories matter because as people we love stories. We’re curious about a person’s story that made them who they are. Stories help us to understand and relate to each other.

Your origin story matters. To help you tell your story ask yourself the following questions:

  • What was it that compelled you to do what you do?
  • What is something you’ve taken a stand on that benefited you?
  • What is something you’ve taken a stand on that cost you?
  • What triumphs and tragedies have you experienced along the road of your WorkLife journey?
  • What has changed over the course of your WorkLife — ask yourself How? And Why? to flesh this out more.

Take time to reflect on these questions and use the self-feedback that comes to you through the answers to help shape and tell your origin story.

Words of Wisdom

There are a lot of threads to this story, but perhaps the one that stands out for me is: in spite of obstacles, how talent shines through. This man, in a period when slavery still existed in America and the British were debating whether to get rid of slavery in the colonies, was performing on a Covent Garden stage.

He defied the preconceived judgements about authenticity because of the colour of his skin. Judgements made before he had even opened his mouth, judgements made before he could demonstrate his talent and ability as an actor. It was his talent supported by a determination to make his career happen, the courage to follow his purpose and passion, the courage to fight adversity that won through.


Aldridge’s legacy is that of an actor whose name has long since outlasted his critics. He is recognised as one of the greatest Shakespearian actors that have ever lived. Aldridge’s story is both triumphant and tragic. His is a story that changed the world, by opening up the world to his fellow actors across many cultures who have followed in his footsteps in establishing their careers while pursuing and fulfilling their purpose and passion.

The reviews I write are by way of reflecting on cultural experiences to include performing, visual and literary arts that touched my heart and my mind and making sense of them in the context of learning and development in both the work-place and the community.

For this story I brought together reviews by a number of theatre critics, and added my own thinking.

Today’s featured book is: Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti

Red Velvet: A Story Both Triumphant and Tragic is part of A Story Worth Telling series. Origin stories that matter. Stories, some of which have been forgotten, or never told before, of people’s amazing achievements in difficult times and difficult situations. Stories where people showed courage in the face of adversity. Stories of celebration and suffering. Stories both triumphant and tragic.

WorkLife Book Wisdom Stories:

The intention of the stories I share is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories, you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles, failures and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride.

My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.

I believe stories are a powerful mechanism for teaching, a powerful medium to learn through, and a powerful way to communicate who you are and what you stand for.



This story was originally published on 28/5/21. I needed to republish it to add updates and also to tell you 

… The Continuing Story …

The pandemic brought about a change in my WorkLife from delivering in-person individual coaching sessions and group workshops to creating resources to help people self direct their WorkLife learning.

In the last three years, I’ve published 30 books and over 200 stories.

Each book and each story is based on real life struggles and successes that people have encountered in their WorkLife. They also detail the exercises that helped navigate through these situations, which are set as assignments for readers to adapt to their WorkLife situations and learning needs.

I believe stories are a powerful mechanism for teaching, a powerful medium to learn through, and a powerful way to communicate who you are and what you stand for.

My inspiration for creating my work comes from a lifelong passion for learning. My work has taught me that the one thing in life that can never be taken away from you is your learning. 

School of WorkLife Guiding Statement: To create resources that are helpful, insightful and inspiring in helping people to pursue their WorkLives with greater clarity, purpose, passion and pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes and resources that are accessible to everyone.

The resources I create will help you take ownership of self directing your learning in your own space and in your own time.


School of WorkLife helps you self-direct your WorkLife learning through resources that have been created to help you to take ownership of your learning in your own space and in your own time. 

What is Self Directed Learning? 

Self-Directed Learning is when an individual is motivated to take the initiative and responsibility on decisions related to their own learning. It is a series of independent actions and judgements free from external control and constraint. 

Resources to Help You Self-Direct Your Learning 

You may find the books below from The School of WorkLife Book Series helpful in meeting your learning needs as a self directed learner. Tap the book title to see a preview of what’s inside each book.

How To Live True To Who You Really Are

How To Start Something New in Difficult Times

How To Turn Your Story Into a Powerful Presentation   

Tap The School of WorkLife Book Series to view the complete collection of books. From here, you can tap on each individual title to see a preview of what’s inside each book.

Carmel O’ Reilly is a learning practitioner and writer. She creates resources to help people self-direct their WorkLife learning
Carmel O’ Reilly is a learning practitioner and writer. She creates resources to help people self-direct their WorkLife learning

Founder of School of WorkLife, Carmel O’ Reilly is a learning practitioner and writer. She creates resources to help people self-direct their WorkLife learning.  These include a Collection of Books which originated from her first book, Your WorkLife Your Way and a  Learn Through Reading Series of Case Studies.  which originated from her latest book WorkLife Book Club. 

That’s the power of writing (and reading, which is an integral part of the craft for writers). It helps you find, develop and tell the right story at the right time in all WorkLife situations – in day-to-day communication: WorkLife and feedback conversations, presentations, talks, and negotiations, at interviews, and when socialising and networking in building and maintaining good relationships. The practice of writing helps you to tell the stories that express who you are in an interesting and engaging way.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

I'm Carmel O’ Reilly. I'm a writer and learning practitioner. My books and learning resources are designed to help you self-direct your WorkLife learning. As founder of School of WorkLife, my guiding statement is to help people pursue their WorkLives with greater clarity, passion, purpose and pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.