For the Reckord | Enlightening perspectives at Edna Manley College
Visitors to Jamaica for last week's Rex Nettleford Arts Conference at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) got a chance to also see our society through the eyes of others.
Performing and visual artists communicated through music, dance, drama, paintings and three-dimensional art (like sculpture and installations). Other presenters transmitted their messages from behind lecterns.
The presentations were mainly about millennials (those born in the last 20 years of the 20th Century) and their relationship to arts and culture in the current century. Outsiders' Narratives on Jamaica: Disrupting the Tourist Lens through Engagement with its Arts and Culture was presented by Ohio State University lecturers Dr Karen Hutzel and Dr Joni Boyd Acuff. It was about the perceptions of Jamaica by a group of their students brought to the island in the summer.
Excerpts from some students' reports revealed as much about the authors as their views of Jamaica. Iman wrote: "The fact that I was not (in the) minority there soothed my soul and relieved me of the idea that I am a statement everywhere I go. This trip provided me with the chance to find more of my self-identity as a black female artist/performer."
Strazinsky wrote: "I am a white woman who has never had to question her race in a country in which I am the majority. However, studying in Jamaica was my first experience abroad, but also my first experience as the minority ... . (The trip) opened my eyes to how hard it must be to understand one's identity as a black American."
Other responses came in the form of dance, visual art, and poetry. Acuff showed us some of the actual products or videos of them. Among the many takeaways was the saying, 'travel broadens the mind'.
The last item on the three-day conference programme, The Listeners, would have also been a mind-expanding experience, especially for visitors. Not a play in the traditional sense, it provides intriguing insights into Jamaican psychology and behaviour over approximately a century.
As cleverly created as it is enjoyable, it is a first-of-its-kind piece for production students of the EMCVPA's School of Drama. According to director Elizabeth Montaya-Stemann, "The entire script was created using actors' research contributions, individual and group vocal/oral improvisations and discussions."
The writers/performers are second, third and fourth-year students. The script comprises 20 to 30 skits involving even more characters. With poetry and perspicacity, the work addresses littering, bad-behaving children and abusive parents, cheating, prejudice, the emotional turmoil of adolescence, crime, violence, and infidelity.
The acting is outstanding. The eight performers play multiple roles - male and female, young and old - and frequently switch from one character to another with the turn of a head or body. Generally, the performers are in black or white - like the simple double-platform set with a tall silver pole thrusting upward - but every now and then a bit of colour is added.
The term "total theatre" could be applied to the piece, as drama, dance, song and video are incorporated. Frequently, to show transitions, the years in which particular characters were born are flashed on the backdrop.
The Listeners continues at 7 p.m. today and tomorrow and at 6 p.m. on Sunday in the Dennis Scott Studio Theatre.