Sat | Dec 10, 2016

UTech celebrates J'can theatre

Published:Friday | April 24, 2015 | 12:06 AM
UTech showcases Crystal Chambers and Brian Johnson as the captain of the Africa-bound ship.
Jomo Dixon (left) and Darian Reid in a scene from Smile Orange.
Brenton Barnaby (left) and Shantal Stewar perform at the 2015 UTech Cultural Showcase, held in the Papine campus’ Caribbean Sculpture Park recently.
UTech Fest (from left) Moderator Amina Blackwood Meeks, Carolyn Allen and Sabrina McDonald Radcliffe.
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Slade Hopkinson, who would become towering figures in Caribbean theatre. As the drama group consisted of adults, it had a high level of maturity.

"It was a vibrant time in theatre. The cast would go into town to promote their plays, and we generally had a close relationship with the community," Small said.

McDonald Radcliffe said while she was in primary school, she saw her first play, a Little Theatre Movement pantomime which made her go "wow!" When she went to St Jago High School, McDonald Radcliffe learnt that drama was "more than spectacle".

"I started to see that theatre was about telling our own story," she said.

She went on to the School of Drama at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. "I want to be a part of the growth (of Jamaican theatre)," McDonald Radcliffe concluded.

Clarke, who began his theatre involvement in Kingston but now pursues it in Montego Bay, said he came to theatre through dance. He stressed that theatre does not only happen in a room, and he has done street theatre in Montego Bay.

When he found out that many of the adults he taught in college had never seen a play, he invited theatre practitioners to speak in class about the art. "Their eyes were opened," he said about the students.

Wilson, a director of The Ashe Company, spoke of the company carving out a niche in "edutainment" - educating through entertainment. He said that for the past 22 years, Ashe has addressed social issues, among them the rights of the child, parenting and drug abuse.

"Theatre can teach everything," Wilson declared.

Allen spoke about the work of Sistren Theatre Collective in using drama to help to solve community problems. She also mentioned the decades-old Secondary Schools Drama Festival and the 10-year-old Jamaica Youth Theatre.

The three-hour Cultural Showcase was mounted on and around a large stage in the Caribbean Sculpture Park. The student performers (who get academic credits for being in the show) were members of the university's steel and instrumental bands; the drumming, drama and dance ensembles; and the choir. There were also a number of guest actors.

Executive producer and drama lecturer, Gracia Thompson, in part wrote and compiled the script which guided the production, which was about a sea voyage "back to Africa". Exactly what such a trip had to do with celebrating Jamaican theatre was never made clear; it's not that the items of the show had African themes. However, the long journey did provide a space - the ship's deck - for more than two dozen song, dance and drama items.

They included the various bands playing songs by Chronixx, Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley, Freddie McGregor, Michael Jackson, Third World, and others. There was a dramatisation of Louise Bennett's poem 'Colonisation in Reverse' and excerpts from Trevor Rhone's Smile Orange (featuring Jomo Dixon and Darian Reid). The students also performed Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (featuring Crystal Chambers and Brenton Barnaby) and Louis Marriott's Bedward.

A storyline that attempted to link the several episodes making up the voyage scenario involved a couple on the ship (Barnaby and Shantal Stewart) trying to have a romantic relationship in spite of the disapproval of the girl's aunt (Chambers).

Between episodes, video clips were shown on a large screen to the right of the stage. In the first, many well-known theatre practitioners, including Leonie Forbes, Oliver Samuels, Trevor Nairne, Glen Campbell, Ruth HoShing, Barbara McCalla, and Deon Silvera, commented favourably on the idea of the voyage to Africa. Another showed Samuels and others discussing changing tastes in theatre.

The climax of the fictional voyage came when the ship, captained by actor Brian Johnson, reached the shores of Africa. The climax of the Cultural Showcase itself came with the presentations of the plaques. There was also a citation praising Jamaican theatre presented to some of the practitioners who attended the function.