Wed | Aug 21, 2019

A changing role for women - Free theatre festival targets development

Published:Sunday | March 12, 2017 | 12:13 AMMel Cooke
Yaneek Page
Dahlia Harris
Harold Davis
Members of the cast of Trial of Governor Eyre at the St. Thomas court house, Morant Bay, St. Thomas on Sunday, October 25, 2015.
Fae Ellington
Jean Small

Among the hopes which actress, director and producer Dahlia Harris (whose credits include Judgement and God's Way) for this week's Jamaica Women in Theatre Festival, is to encourage diversity. "There are different voices in theatre," Harris said, noting that a production may not necessarily be for a three-month run, as there are those which will be staged for a night or two. Still, she said, it is important to get the work going.

The festival, organised by Harris and Nicole Brown, of talent management agency 231EP, will have more than a night or two on its inaugural run. It begins tomorrow, March 13, and ends on Sunday, March 19, at The Blue Room, 8 Haining Road, New Kingston. The schedule is diverse, as there will be panel discussions on the first three days, beginning with, The Business of Theatre, followed by Stagecraft and then Directing.

The panellists include Yaneek Page of Future Services International, attorney-at-law Coleen Lewis, Nadia Roxburgh (technical manager, Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, UWI, Mona), actress Yvonne Brewster, stage manager Mijanne Webster and costume designer Carolyn Chin Yee. Nicole Williams, Nadene Rawlins, Jean Small and Fae Ellington are among the directors who will steer productions during the festival.

On the other three days theatrical productions, from The Trial of Governor Eyre and Woman Tongue through to Who Will Sing For Lena, will be showcased.

Therese Turner-Jones, the Inter-American Development Bank's general manager, Caribbean Country Department, is guest speaker at tomorrow's opening session. Harris said many creative persons embark on projects out of love for the art and end up in problems financially, "so from the first day we are discussing the business of theatre ... It is developmental."

She made it clear that men are not being left out of the festival. There is work included which is written and directed by men. Male panellists include Harold Davis and Lenford Salmon.

"It is not about excluding the men, but recognising the women and seeing how we can develop their skills," Harris said. "I think in terms of being actresses we are on par with the men, but in terms of being producers and directors and the technical aspects -- the business of it -- I think we need a lot of development. I think there is not enough recognition of the work we have done."

Among the other areas in which women involved in theatre need development are light and sound and set design. "We know fashion, but do we know costume design? We have women with that knowledge on the panels," Harris said.

The festival starting within a week of International Women's Day 2017 is a coincidence, as Harris says it was the time the venue was available, "so it was fortuitous."

Although the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport has recently confirmed its support, Harris said the festival had been funded out of pocket. However, the participants are contributing their work and talent and there is no admission fee to any of the events. "It is all free. I did not want to limit who is allowed to access the activity," Harris said.

"I want people to come out every night."

After this first run, Harris does not expect the Jamaica Women in Theatre Festival to be dormant until 2018. "We complain a lot about not getting support, but development grants are sector driven. I think that coming out of this it is important that we formalise ourselves as a group going forward," Harris said. That group would also do theatre related activities such as staging readings and workshops.

She has heard a lot of the complaints and says "what I am trying to do is move the discussion from the telephone and social media to a physical space. We talk a lot about what needs to be done and we need to move from the talking to the doing."

The objective is "to share the knowledge ..."From my own experience I know there are the challenges I have faced because I am a woman. We do not all have to go through it. It is not a rite of passage."