For the Reckord | Four decades' reflection under full moon - Edna Manley College lauds multitalented Calvin Mitchell
After decades of work at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA), the multitalented Calvin Mitchell has retired. Appropriately, considering Mitchell's work in theatrical lighting, last Thursday's sentimental send-off took place under a brilliant full moon in the college's amphitheatre, 1 Arthur Wint Drive, St Andrew.
Mitchell, a Bronze Musgrave Medal winner for drumming and also an actor, electrician, lighting operator, lighting and set designer, and carpenter, went to the college in 1976 to study acting. Employed in various capacities, he subsequently ended up in the post of technical assistant for productions across the campus.
He has played nationally and internationally for several dance and music productions, and with numerous Jamaican bands, including the renowned Sonny Bradshaw Big Band and Cedric Brooks and United Africa.
School of Drama head, Pierre Lemaire, stressed that the send-off was not an "official" function, but an expression of thanks by friends for their relationship with Mitchell and for his contribution to the college. He called Mitchell "a master drummer" and "a man of the theatre" who "belonged especially to the School of Drama".
IMAGES OF MITCHELL
"He paints sets, he builds sets, he lights and designs sets. He does whatever is necessary for the show to go on," said Lemaire. As Lemaire spoke, various images of Mitchell, from his youthful days to the present, were projected on to a screen behind the high chair on which Mitchell sat for most of the proceedings.
The college's principal, Nicholeen DeGrasse-Johnson, recalled that when she first attended the college as a dance student, Mitchell, one of the drummers in the dance classes, would give her and other new students useful pointers on the music. He became a friend and continued giving her support when she became principal. She expressed confidence that even after retirement, Mitchell would remain at the college both physically and spiritually.
"We're here because of people like you. Thank you, sir," she concluded.
Other staff members praised Mitchell's character and work. Among them were School of Dance head Kerry-Ann Henry, School of Drama lecturer Elizabeth Montoya Stemann, and theatre director and School of Drama lecturer Trevor Nairne. Former School of Drama head Eugene Williams, who was unavoidably absent and under whom Mitchell served the longest, emailed his message of appreciation.
Read by Lemaire, the message expressed Williams' "admiration, love and respect" for Mitchell ever since they met in September 1978.
"Calvin was the first person I met when I arrived at the Jamaica School of Drama as a student from Guyana. He was watering the plants under the stairs in the foyer. He appeared to be the caretaker, the man in charge," Williams stated.
"When I became director of the Drama School, it was clear that Calvin was one of the pillars of the community," Williams continued, adding that he recommended Mitchell for the post of technical assistant for productions across the campus. Williams said Mitchell had been a trusted friend since they met.
Two students of the Drama School, followed by a trio of female college staff members, serenaded Calvin, and several friends from outside the college also paid tribute. They included Osa, a fellow drummer, who reminded the audience that Calvin was an early member of the Poetry Society of Jamaica (from its early incarnation as Poets in Unity), poet-drummer M'bala, and ceramist, drummer and drum maker Philip Supersad.
As each person spoke, he or she placed a lit candle on the amphitheatre's stone stage before Mitchell's chair. Supersad had a special gift for Mitchell - a brand-new drum that he made for the occasion.
In his response, Mitchell said he went to the college in 1976 to study acting, but had been interested in music as a child, as his father had been a musician. He was particularly proud of his Bronze Musgrave Medal, the only one given to an individual for drumming, Mitchell said.
Music has taken him around Jamaica, the Caribbean and parts of Africa, and Mitchell is looking to the future: "Mi nah stop," he said.
The presentation component of the evening ended with Mitchell's fellow drummers joining him as he played his new drum, which had been christened with white rum. Other uses were later found for the liquor when refreshments were served.