Mon | Sep 24, 2018

Women’s work in Jamaican theatre celebrated

Published:Thursday | March 29, 2018 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord/Gleaner Writer
Dahlia Harris (left) introduces Dorraine Reid, the director of 'Belly Woman' by Omaall Wright.
From left: Curdella Forbes, novelist and short story writer, with playwrights Amba Chevannes and Omaall Wright, during a discussion on Jamaican theatre at JAMPRO.
Grub Cooper (left) speaks about writing lyrics as Aston Cooke listens.
Dahlia Harris (left) introducing Evone Walters, director of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest.'
Kenrick Alexander as Caliban, in Shakeapeare's 'The Tempest.'
Hugh Douse (left), as Prospero, with Shak-quera South, as Miranda, in Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'.
The cast of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest', directed by Evone Walters.
Lyrics-writing panelists (from left) David Tulloch, Grub Cooper and Aston Cooke.
Velma Pollard (left) explains her approach to creative writing. Beside her are Amba Chevannes and Paul O. Beale.
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The weeklong Jamaican Women in Theatre Festival (JWTF), which ended on Sunday, undoubtedly ac-complished its objective to display and encourage the work of the island's female theatre practitioners. It featured many actresses and female playwrights and directors.

But even as the conceptualiser-organiser, Dahlia Harris, received congratulations for the festival, which she started last year, she was looking forward to JWTF 2019.

On Sunday, at the final activity for this year, a panel discussion on the writing of lyrics for musical productions, Harris told her audience, "I'm hoping to see some things that came out of these last three days on stage next year."

Harris was referring to two major pro-jects of the festival. On its first three evenings, March 19, 20 and 21, the focus was on women as actresses, writers and directors, respectively. This involved works on the stages of the Edna Manley College's Schools of Dance and Drama. Then, on the last three days, there were two-hour panel discussions in JAMPRO's training room on, respectively, creating compelling characters, writing dialogue and writing lyrics.

The third major activity of the festival was the honouring of playwright Patricia Cumper, actress Lois Kelly-Miller and theatre group Sistren Theatre Collective by way of exhibits about them throughout the festival and, on March 23, the staging of excerpts of their work at the drama school.

On the opening evening, in her greetings from the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, one of JWTF 2018's sponsors, Gillian Wilkinson McDaniel, senior director in the entertainment division, brought good news. She revealed that through her division, the ministry has, in the fiscal year, supported the literary and dramatic arts with funding of more than $1 million.

She promised that the Bureau of Gender Affairs would encourage young women at the Women's Centre to submit pieces for JWTF 2019, and said that the ministry wanted a partnership with her, "to create the space where new talent is discovered and women and girls have an outlet to tell their stories".

In her opening remarks, Harris said that theatre could assist women with many of their issues, and she was "excited" about having the festival inspire young women to get into theatre. Five short, passionately acted pieces followed.

In an excerpt from Patrick Brown's current comedy, Right Girl, Wrong Address, Sakina Deer and Sharee Elise portray two friends with "man problems," one because she lives in a "bad area," the other because of her stutter and the low self-esteem it causes.

Members of Jamaica Youth Theatre (JYT) performed a clever satirical skit, Text Me Back, in which the young people mock themselves (and others in their age group) on their dependency on their cellular phones. A soap opera-style excerpt from Barracks Entertainment's Wha Sweet Nanny Goat followed, showing a 15-year-old schoolgirl - her friend and her aunt finding out that she is pregnant for a much older man.

Next we got a well-acted solo sketch depicting a young woman charged with murder on trial in a courtroom. There, she explains to a judge how and why she killed her abusive partner.

 

The fifth piece

 

In the fifth piece, by the stylistic Tribe Sankofa, actresses sing and act in a skit about women inveighing against society's refusal to allow them to be themselves. As the piece ends, one declares ominously, "My resistance may very well cost you your life."

I missed the second night's production, which presented the works of some of our women writers, but caught the third, the session dedicated to female directors. One was Evone Walters, who mounted an excerpt from Shakespeare's The Tempest - the play she has chosen to launch a new theatre production company, House of Arts.

The play is now running at Phoenix Theatre, Haining Road, and the taste we got that evening indicated that the school audience at which it is aimed should find it both enjoyable and useful for their literature exams. The other directors featured were Dorraine Reid (with an excerpt from her recent imaginative production of Omaall Wright's Belly Woman) and Maya Wilkinson (poorly represented by a fuzzy, nearly inaudible video involving Quilt Performing Arts Company).

The audiences at the three JAMPRO writing sessions were regrettably small, inversely proportional to the enormous amount of information they got from the talented, experienced panellists. They were author-educators Dr Curdella Forbes and Dr Velma Pollard, playwrights Amba Chevannes, Paul O. Beale and Aston Cooke, and musician Grub Cooper.

Amazingly, admission was free for all the events. There was not a better bargain in town.