For the Reckord | Mute for first role, star for the rest - Grace McGhie reflects on decades of theatre
Grace McGhie spoke not a word when she first went on stage. The year was 1971; the place, The Garden Theatre, 72 Hope Road, St Andrew; the production, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Paul Methuen.
And all McGhie had to do was hold the train of Queen Hippolyta, played by Leonie Forbes.
Within months, she was not only talking a lot on stage but being talked about a lot, hailed as a major theatrical find.
After a break of "about 10 years", McGhie returns to the stage next weekend as a special guest performer in 7 x 11, a production of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts' (EMCVPA) School of Drama. It will feature only EMCVPA part- and full-time faculty in acting, directing and writing roles - a first of its kind for the school - and comprises seven plays, each about 11 minutes long.
She will be in The Runaways by French playwright Sophie Aguille.
Pierre Lemaire, acting director of the school and the producer of 7 x 11, included McGhie because he wanted a "versatile" and "subtle" actress for a particular part. And the three-time winner of the Actor Boy Best Actress Award is certainly versatile.
Yet, she told me before rehearsal at the school last week, she is "a shy person". She didn't look shy, portraying a feisty old woman running away from an old people's home at 3 a.m. McGhie said, "I only project on stage. When I get out there, I let it all hang out. Apart from that, I'm very private."
Using the word 'wonderful' a lot as she spoke of her life in theatre, McGhie recalled her non-speaking debut in A Midsummer Night's Dream (which also starred Ranny Williams). Then, months later, there was her first speaking part in the bawdy Tony Gambrill comedy Paradise Street, staged at The Creative Arts Centre, Mona.
Directed by the late Eddy Thomas, it starred Lois Kelly Miller, Raymond Hill, Chris Leon and Linda Gambrill. McGhie said, "I was the only non-prostitute in the whorehouse. I was Linda's cousin from the country who came to spend time with her. She was the head whore and Lois was the madam," McGhie said. It ran for six weeks.
McGhie's next play, which propelled her to stardom, ran for nearly three years. "That same year, about October, I went into Smile Orange, Trevor Rhone's epic, at the Barn Theatre. It was directed by the late, great Dennis Scott and was the start of great things for me," she said.
The production ran on and off at The Barn from 1971 to 1973, with breaks for rural shows and a 1972 showing in Guyana at the first CARIFESTA. Her next two or three productions were also Rhone's plays at The Barn.