Baton passed, youth issues staged
Michael Reckord, Contributor
"The old order changeth yielding place to new /And God fulfils himself in many ways /Lest one good custom should corrupt the world."
Those lines from The Passing of Arthur by Alfred Tennyson came to mind earlier this week as I mused over two theatre-related events I attended on Sunday evening and a third I had planned for Tuesday morning.
Sunday, 8:30 p.m., found me at Alhambra Inn, where the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company (JMTC) held a party to congratulate long-time Chairman Douglas Bennett on receiving a national award - the Order of Distinction (rank of Commander) - last month. Two hours later, I was in the audience at The Theatre Place, Haining Road, watching The Real Show, a production comprising a series of linked sketches written by Sherine Bailey, co-directed by herself and Ricardo Nicholas.
I was back at The Theatre Place on Tuesday morning for Bad Apple, a play written, directed and produced by 25-year-old Fabian Barracks. It was an amazing experience. The story of the fall and redemption of a 15-year-old schoolgirl, who is seduced and abandoned by her teacher, it is perfectly tailored for teens. The audience of nearly 1,000 students, most from Queen's High School, was hysterically enthusiastic.
It features Shantol Jackson as Apple, Nicholas Amore as Apple's teacher Brian Gayle, Shauneca Wollery as Apple's friend Poochie, and Jodian Findley as Apple's aunt. More about it anon.
As expected, JMTC vice-chairman Peter Haley said many nice things about Bennett, calling him not only a good chairman and producer of shows, but a wonderful performer himself. In his reply, Bennett spoke of taking over the helm of the JMTC in 1981 and that the company has won more than 50 International Theatre Institute (ITI)/Actor Boy awards, donated millions of dollars to charity, and is currently in rehearsal for its 157th show.
Many performers who have worked with Bennett were present. Among them was the energetic David Tulloch, who told me that, in 2015, he will be taking over from Bennett as the producer of JMTC's shows. The multitalented Tulloch will not only be producing the next one, At The Barricades, an adaptation of Les Miserables - he will also be writing the script, directing, and acting in the musical.
Also at the function were three actresses that Tulloch said will be in the show. They are singer-actresses Dana Lawson-Chisholm, Jodi HoLung and Stephanie Hazle. The production opens in August 2015 at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Tulloch said.
The Real Show grapples with a number of social issues in its nine scenes. These include parent-child relations, community poverty, violence, unemployment and gang murder. The problems are real, of course, but the writer treats them superficially - inevitably, perhaps, as it's difficult to say anything profound in a 10-minute skit.
A chat with Bailey and Nicholas showed me both are genuinely concerned about using drama to help solve the problems raised in the production. The two, who are products of Cathi Levy's Little People and Teen Players and Ashe Performing Arts Ensemble, teach at St Andrew Preparatory School and came up with the idea of a commercial production in the summer of 2013.
Bailey spoke passionately of her desire to take her message of tolerance and acceptance of differences to young people. And she told me of the challenges, caused both by chikungunya and scarce funds, that she and Nicholas faced in producing The Real Show.
The two should look to Barracks for a solution to the financial challenge. After four years in show business part-time, he seems to have found an answer - corporate sponsors. They include a bank and a couple of food distributors, who were very visible at the theatre when I saw Bad Apple.
Barracks said it was initially "quite a challenge" to get his school audience. He reached out by telephoning, as well as visiting principals and drama teachers. For this week, he has had first to sixth formers from seven or eight schools. "I got a lot of nos, but when they (teachers) do take the students, they're happy with the show," he said.
"I'm just in love with theatre," Barracks continued, and I asked how the love began. "I had it as a passion from primary school and when I went to Wolmer's, and then UWI, it carried through," he said.
At UWI, Barracks joined the University Dramatic Arts Society and spent so much time with theatre work (including producing his own play, which he used part of his tuition to mount) that he failed three courses.
His first play, Family Remedy, got a very bad review from the Gleaner, Barracks told me. But, laughing, he said it was spread over two pages and so he was "really happy" for it. He was even happier when his third play, Gaza Boys, about a youth struggling to escape the ghetto, got a good Gleaner review.
For the past four years, Barracks has been producing a play every year, in May and November. He takes a week off from work in those months to stage the plays, which are always about issues bothering young people.
"I'm deeply disturbed by some of the issues I read about in the news," Barracks said. He tries to show that, despite their problems, there is hope for young people.
"I don't like sad endings," Barracks said.