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Actress Karen Harriott Returns To Stage After Five-Year Hiatus

Published:Sunday | March 27, 2016 | 12:00 AMLeighton Levy
Karen Harriott (left) and Gemmar McFarlane
Karen Harriott

After about a five-year hiatus, actress Karen Harriott is back on stage in the play He Said She Said, a comedy review written and directed by Owen 'Black' Ellis. It plays at the Courtleigh Auditorium in New Kingston on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Harriott is perhaps best known for the character Tiney Winey, in the early days of the long-running television soap Royal Palm Estate. She has also been the feature actress in several dramatic productions, including Brian Heap's revival of Not About Eve and Love and Marriage and New York City. She was also a fixture in several David Heron productions, including the successful Redemption. The Edna Manley alumna and past student of Knox College in Clarendon has also played real-life roles as administrative director at the Jamaica 50 Secretariat in the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture and as a judge for Jamaica's Actor Boy Awards.

He Said She Said is the vehicle in which she makes a return to the stage.

The comedy review is themed on sex. According to Harriott, all of the skits are looking at aspects of how we view sex and how we navigate the sexual space and saying the things that a lot of people are thinking but are afraid to say.

"I find it interesting from that perspective. I think it is craftily done. We all know that 'Blacka' bright and it's his creation. I play different roles. I play a woman who enjoys her own sexuality and loves herself and has no problem sharing it with her audience. I also play an old woman. I also play - I suppose this is not too different from Tiney Winey - but I play a back-up singer in a club, at my age," she said with a hearty laugh. "I'm like, young girls; eat your heart out, come watch the play, I'm hot. And I play a character, a young lady who is confronting the issue of men, knowing he takes you out and buys you a soda an you fi let off."

There are a number of funny moments in the production, but there is one that has resonated with her more than any of the others.

"The one that I think that's really classic is one that captures a man and a woman talking about 'the experience'; so you're hearing about it from the man's side and you're hearing about it from the woman's side, and I think that it is so fantastically done. When you come and see it you have to laugh because it's really funny," she said.


Working with some of Jamaica's best young talent has also been a refreshing experience for Harriott, who is more known for her dramatic roles but decided to try her hand at a bit of comedy. She finds the scripts interesting, as does working with the likes of Cathy Grant, Kenesha Bowes, who is her alternate; Lakeisha Ellison, Tesfa Edwards, Matthew Boyd, Jakeme-Jamar Clarke, and Gemmar McFarlane.

Coming back, she said, has been both an interesting and challenging experience, having been away from the stage for so long.

"It's kind of nice to ease myself in back to the stage. For the past four or five years, I have been an Actor Boy judge and there is that conflict of interest, so I was not on stage, plus, I was kind of busy and wanted to just take a break for a while," she said. "It's nice, it's challenging because as a method actress, a dramatic actress, I like to get into a role, and you study the role, and you get into it. You have nuff lines and you star the show and all that. With this, the work is shared and what I have to fight myself with now is not to get too deep into the character and try to find to lighter side of the character and trying to find the comedic moments. So that is challenging for me but I like it."


However, now that she is back does not necessarily mean she plans to jump at everything and anything being offered to her. At this stage of her career, she plans to be a lot more selective, primarily because a lot of what obtains now is not necessarily what she wants be part of.

"I am not going to say I am back on the stage, it has to be something I feel like I can grow with. Things are being dealt with differently; the theatre scene is different now. The landscape has changed. It is a good time and it is not so much of a good time."

She explained that when society is depressed, people don't want to think, they want to laugh, and the quality of the creative expression is degraded by what is happening in the society because producers have to make money.

"If you want to make money you have to give people what they want. It's a producer's decision as to what you put on the stage, and if people don't want to think, you have to give them surface things for them to laugh about. The onus then for the conscious writer, director, producer, if they can find the formula between artistic integrity and commercial viability, and that presents some challenges as creative business people," she said.

At this stage of her career, that is not what she wants out of acting. She feels she has already paid her dues.

"I really don't want to get back into doing a work because mi bruk. When you are a judge, you don't get no money, but the thing is I don't think that I am that hungry to go do a play because mi bruk. For me, that will reduce the amount of work that I do, because you see, since I am past 40, I don't need to impress nobaddy."