Maya Wilkinson flips the script, directs all male play
Whether by fateful design, or simply art imitating life, Maya Wilkinson’s theatrical debut resembles her first attempt in production as a child.
The theatre bug bit young Maya at age nine in Wakefield, Trelawny, where she recalls directing her first ever production in her backyard.
“We were three families sharing two houses in a big yard and I was the only girl among five children,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.
Then and there, the future thespian scribed a play in a black and white hardcover book, and convinced the other boy-children to perform for an audience of “only mother and one of the ladies who lived next door.”
Despite the industry’s temperamental returns, the playwright decided to establish a career in theatre; and Wilkinson’s commercial debut as writer and director incidentally mirrors her childhood backyard production.
Wilkinson believes that Jamaica is replete with stories to be told, on the stage.
Wilkinson’s involvement in theatre began as a hobby, ‘something you’d do ‘on the side’ while you pursued your ‘real’ job.’ Before throwing all her weight into theatre production, Wilkinson studied and worked in multimedia art to support herself financially.
“Even that has taken a lot of sacrifice,” she told The Sunday Gleaner. “Doing any art exclusively and independently in Jamaica is quite difficult. We are far too creative and talented a people for our stories to not have opportunities to be told. Theatre, as well as the arts on a whole, has the potential to boost the economy.”
So far, Wilkinson’s pursuit for success in theatre appears plausible.
“Most directors are male and it was a serendipitous thing that this story was my commercial debut and just so happened to have an all-male cast. An unintentional choice, but an interesting one I believe,” she shared.
Currently, cast and crew are preparing for the revival of Wilkinson’s commercial debut, Heist! Originally, the production had a runtime of 20 minutes, and was first staged at the Tallawah Dramatic Arts Festival 2014 with a cast of three males (Desmond Dennis, David Crossgill and Darian Reid). There, it won awards for Best Production, Best New Play, Best Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Set, and High Commendation awards for Acting, Direction and Production.
The accolades and general positive audience reception sparked the short play’s development into a full two acts, calling for an increase in the cast from three to 15, all of whom are male.
“As the story came to me, the characters just all turned out to be male naturally. When I write dialogue, I hear the story in my head, and this time I just didn’t hear any female voices, except for the news reporter - but I’ll leave that one as a surprise.”
Wilkinson had already caught her practice after years of consistent involvement in theatre.
“I had no access to theatre training outside of television or my summer trips to Kingston, one during which I was able to attend the drama camp at the Edna Manley College. It was not until participating in JCDC festivals while attending Montego Bay High School that I began to see a possibility for theatre being a major part of my life,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.
“When I moved to Kingston to attend the University of the West Indies, I joined the University Dramatic Arts Society, where I started out as an actor and then began to explore other areas of theatre as a technician at the Philip Sherlock Centre.”
As a result, Wilkinson gained experience in lighting design, multimedia design, costume design, and stage management front of house management.
“After acting in Quilt Performing Arts Company’s debut production, I began my transition to being a writer and director when the company’s artistic director, Rayon McLean, asked me to write for our second production after reading some of my work. I am still interested in acting, but writing is my true love and I am extremely excited to grow as a director.”
Months after its initial run, from July 21 - 30 at the Philip Sherlock Centre, Heist, will be revived on the same stage on September 16 to 19.
“After the first curtain call, I was still in shock that the production I had just seen had come from me.
"It is still quite surreal. But after the months of work we all put in, it also felt extremely rewarding, especially after hearing the audience laugh almost non-stop for two hours and then erupt into applause. We were able to have four completely sold out shows, out of a total of six,” she said.