For the Reckord | 'Blood' from three streams - Productions combined for award-winning ‘total theatre’
The producers of Blood, staged over the weekend at Phoenix Theatre, Haining Road, New Kingston, may have created a new type of ‘total theatre’. Over a half-century of paying close attention to Jamaican theatre, I had never seen anything quite like it.
Musically, it is driven by the drum and its fundamental form of dialogue is dub poetry. These elements are what make it different from traditional total theatre, which is a combination of dance, drama, song and spectacle all of which are also present in Blood.
Cramming these components into a mere hour and 40 minutes makes the production extremely compact. The action seldom stops, with there being just enough time for a few characters to occasionally have a normal, naturalistic conversation. Most of the time the performers are chanting poetry to the audience while moving dynamically around the stage.
The movement is a mix of dance and standard dramatic movement of the limbs and body (walking, gesturing, etc.) and the production is a mix of opera and straight drama, except that the words are spoken (dub) poetry, not sung. Therefore, the production is not an orthodox play, which is doubtless why it was entered as an experimental drama in this year’s Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) competition.
It won seven national awards, including Best Overall Dramatic Production (for Tacius Golding High School, Modern Revolutionary Dance Collective and Nyah Bless Music) and Best Overall Director, for Webster McDonald, the school’s drama teacher and Blood’s choreographer, costume designer, and chief author.
He and the cast wrote the piece through improvisation over two years, and the production at Phoenix Theatre is an amalgamation of three separate JCDC entries. Last year’s experimental drama, Blood, received seven national awards, including Best Overall Director and Best Overall Dramatic Production. The follow-up 2017 experimental drama, Trapped won 10 national awards, including Best Overall Director and Best Dramatic Production. The dub poems entered in this year’s Speech Competition won six national awards.
“This achievement means that Tacius Golding High School’s speech presentation was the best out of 4,000 speech items competing across the 14 parishes and that we maintained the title for Best Drama two years in a row,” McDonald said.
After the opening show last Friday, McDonald told me, “It evolved out of the CSEC Theatre Arts course, in which students were given 10 minutes to prepare a piece through improvisation for the practical exam. In playmaking, the students have to use a cultural form to create a dramatic presentation, and revival was used. (Blood has a revival scene.) After the play was created through improvisations, a script was written.”
Blood tells the story of Anna, a 16-year-old schoolgirl who is sexually abused by her stepfather. Experiencing low self-esteem and feeling isolated, she tries several times to kill herself by cutting her arms. A revival meeting helps her to find God and hope.
The story has the starkness of a melodrama. Shading and subtlety are absent, so is humour. McDonald said about Blood’s single-minded focus on anti-abuse that getting the message out was more important to him than commercial success.
The producers hope to take the play on a tour to the Bahamas, Grenada, Guyana, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.