Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Barracks emphasises research, marketing

Published:Friday | June 3, 2016 | 6:00 AMMichael Reckord
Jodian Findley as Mitzie, who has to struggle in the United States to help her son, Prince, in Jamaica.
Sheka (Christina Harris, left) tries to persuade her boyfriend Prince (Tevin Gibbons) to call his mother in the United States.
Bulbie (Horace Gordon, left) and Babsie (Latoya Moulton) making plans in 'Barrel Pickney'.
Fabian Barracks
Part of the audience watching 'Barrel Pickney' at Phoenix Theatre, Haining Road, New Kingston, last week.
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"Writing is not just sitting and imagining," Fabian Barracks told said last week in the Phoenix Theatre (formerly The Theatre Place), Haining Road, New Kingston. After a performance of his latest production, Barrel Pickney, Barracks explained his success as playwright, director, writer and producer of an annual series of plays for teenagers.

The 27-year-old, who has a degree in entertainment and cultural enterprise management from the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, launched Barracks Entertainment Productions Company in 2010 and has mounted six commercial productions.

Some 300 students from six Corporate Area schools had just watched the suffering and triumphs of the play's main character, Prince (played by Tevin Gibbons), an ambitious Manning Cup footballer. His girlfriend is Sheka (Christina Harris).

Barracks called the work a comedy-drama, but because it is directed and acted in such an over-the-top manner, farce-melodrama is more accurate.

Whatever the label, the production satisfies the playwright and vociferous young audiences. When the students were not singing along, they were cheering, jeering, laughing, screaming or groaning in empathy with some character.

Barracks' intention was to entertain and send a message. To effectively do the latter, he had to do the former. Still, he was considering toning down the exaggerated acting for the adult audiences expected at three shows from today to Sunday.

"I'm passionate about portraying people's lives on the stage because, at the end of the day, I want my message to impact and empower persons who are going through the same thing," Barracks said. "My main thing is youth empowerment."

His plays begin with a great deal of research. Investigation into the barrel-children phenomenon showed "a harsh reality, especially in the inner city". Barracks' focus tends to be on the issues young people there have.

When parents leave their children in Jamaica, Barracks said, "they don't know how they are being treated. They are fed lies over the phone by guardians or relatives they're left with."

The emotional and physical abuse Prince receives from his Aunt Babsie (Latoya Moulon) and her boyfriend Bulbie (Horace Gordon) is bad, but Barracks said many barrel children have it worse. "If I was to put in the reality what some go through, I would include sexual abuse, but I didn't want to put that into this play because Force Ripe [last year's production] deals with that," he said.

Writing about those issues can be tricky, as "some teachers don't want their students to be exposed to certain things." Barracks was referring to the depths that Prince's mother, Mitzie (Jodian Findley), has to sink to keep him fed and in school. However, Barracks said, "They have to be exposed to the reality and if a mother has to do these things for their children, they have to understand. Teachers, parents and the children, too, have to know the reality."

Barracks spent a lot of time finding the right between-scenes songs. He auditioned 50 people to get the right actors.

Barracks calls marketing "tiresome", but necessary.

"We went to 15 schools this time, to their devotions, and did an excerpt from the play. And we brought a lot of goodies from our sponsors," Barracks said, laughing. "Yes, we kinda bought them out like what happens at election time. At Merl Grove, we went classroom to classroom. We have an ad on TV. We utilise social media, where we have paid advertisements. The sponsors also help with their social media pages to promote the play."

Twenty-four sponsors' logos are on the Barrel Pickney programme's front cover.

The final staging for the season will be on July 2 in Oberlin High School's 1,000-seat auditorium, where Force Ripe was mounted last year. Then Barracks will begin research for his next play about teenage pregnancy.