Williams outlines dramatic Anancy technique
Recently retired director of the School of Drama, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Eugene Williams, is trying to find a gateway to a new type of Caribbean theatre. He believes a technique he has devised for the development of playwrights, directors and actors may be the key to unlocking that gate.
Essentially, the technique combines the suppleness of the limbo dancer and the vibrancy of the colour, dance and music of Carnival, said Williams in a speech at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA), University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus. He was delivering the 2016 Philip Sherlock Lecture, Anancy Technique: Unlocking Embodied Cultural Memory, A Gateway to Post-Colonial Performance, on Monday, February 29.
Williams, who was introduced as "the best director in Jamaica, bar none", by Dr Honor Ford-Smith, an associate professor at York University, Toronto, Canada, said that the limbo is thought to have originated in the mid-19th Century in some Caribbean territories, along with the wakes and rites of passage performed for the liberation of the deceased's spirit.
In a conflation of history, myth and metaphor, Williams said Guyanese novelist Wilson Harris interprets the limbo as reflecting the "crabbed journey across the Middle Passage" of captured Africans who were forced to contract themselves into "human spiders" to fit into the slave ships.
Declaring that he was not downplaying the importance of Western theatre to the region or "attempting to define a homogeneous Caribbean aesthetic of performance", Williams said that "the scribal dominance of the theatre of the Western tradition intersecting with the oratory and rhythmic dynamics of the folk culture necessitated new ways of seeing, enabling and creating a postcolonial performance, at the centre of which was the black body."
Yet to be determined and codified, he said "are generative principles and mechanics of cultural and kinaesthetic liberation for the actor, as well as a method of shaping means for representation". He added: "I have arrived at the view that in body rhythms, perception as well as immersion in cultural forms of the region are paramount."
Williams decried what he called "the current thrust across the region of treating the arts and culture as a political lollipop" and he sees too much of a focus on "the art product" for the creative industry. More attention, he said, should be paid to "the process of the arts and culture as a humanistic development [as shown in] ... the teachings and creations of our cultural heroes".
Referring to his own early theatrical experience in Guyana, Williams said that while he received popular acclaim for his acting in many Caribbean dramas and comedies he was continually reminded by his critics that he "still needed to work on the cadence of the language and keep the gestures and the body from being distracting." Those critics, he said, were giving him the same advice that Shakespeare's Hamlet gave on acting:
"Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it,
as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines."
Williams said that the Anancy Technique is his attempt to begin the necessary codification and the search for a gateway of expression "for the actor and a postcolonial theatre in this new century." He revealed that currently 90 per cent of the actors graduating from the School of Drama can find no work in their field.
In a post-lecture chat I asked Williams about the practical application of his technique. He answered: "The Anancy Technique offers the pursuit an acting technique that provides the actors with ownership and ways of expressing that are distinctively Caribbean. It would also, by its process, provide training in devising theatre and in enabling playwrights to develop their craft with actors and directors. If it can be given funding and support, it can be a whole platform for development."