For the Reckord | JCDC banks on laughter
"There's money in the laughter business, and that's not a joke," said Andrew Brodber, a specialist in speech and arts development and training with the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC). He was speaking to participants in a workshop on stand-up comedy last Thursday at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre, Old Hope Road, St Andrew.
The information would have been 'brawta' to some of the two dozen or so participants (mainly teachers) attending the workshop for information to pass on to students planning to enter the JCDC's speech competition. While the students will be competing for bronze, silver and gold awards, the teachers heard how they could make real money out of comedy.
Internationally known educator, comedian, writer and producer Owen 'Blakka' Ellis was the workshop's facilitator, who Brodber cited as an example of a financially successful comedian. Shortly after, however, Brodber's words were given the proverbial twist when Ellis said he is drastically dialling down his appearances as a comedian.
"I'm performing fewer shows now. It's a pleasure to be able to refuse requests for shows," he said.
Ellis said that apart from getting older, he now gets more pleasure from writing than performing comedy - he is the conceptualiser, producer and chief writer for the television series The Ity and Fancy Cat Show. "I'm stepping back and giving the stage to the younger up-and-coming comedians. I like working behind the scenes and coaching comedians," he said.
In Ellis' opinion, Christopher 'Johnny' Daley is the most promising of Jamaica's many young comics.
During a break in Ellis' five-and-a-half-hour session, Brodber told me that the JCDC regards stand-up comedy as one of the 'commercial' performing arts that it is developing. He mentioned dance and storytelling as two others that already have national and international impact.
"We're involved in dance and storytelling worldwide," he said, reminding me that L'Acadco dance company director Dr L'Antoinette Stines has developed a well-respected dance technique, L'Antech, and that Amina Blackwood-Meeks was, at that time, representing Jamaica at an international storytelling festival in Scotland.
"We want to give stand-up comedy the respect and recognition that it deserves as another viable Jamaican speech product," he said, noting that "we have dub poetry, a uniquely Jamaican form" as one category in the speech competition.
The newest category is 'Poem, Prose and Monologue', specially created for graduates of the Speech competition. "When people get to Class Five (the adult class), if they're going to (a performing arts) college, they need a monologue for their audition," Brodber explained.
He said the speech category is the most diverse of all the JCDC competitions and attracts the most entries. "We're an oral society, and youngsters find they're at least able to attempt the speech competition and we do find success coming out of many nooks and crannies of Jamaica. A lot of gold medallists who go on to the national finals come from outside the urban areas," Brodber said.
Competitors are judged on voice production (audibility, projection, tone, resonance, colouring, texture and pace), speech (articulation, enunciation, pronunciation), presentation (costume, stage presence, performance, energy, style, visual impact) and interpretation (comprehension, expression mood, feeling and believability).
Towards the end of the workshop, Brodber made an announcement that caused quite a buzz among the participants who would be getting a JCDC Certificate of Participation. He told them that the JCDC had begun discussions with the HEART Trust/NTA to develop a four-day workshop course that would result in participants getting JCDC/HEART Certificates of competence in all the performing arts areas, including stand-up comedy.
The next performing arts workshop at the entertainment centre on November 17 and 18 will focus on drama and will be led by playwright-producer Aston Cooke. It will be followed by Traditional Folk Forms (in dance) on November 23 and 24, facilitated by folk dance specialist Linette Richards.
The workshops begin at 9 a.m.