Tue | Jan 22, 2019

Michael Dawson, dance hall aficionado and touring playwright

Published:Tuesday | April 17, 2018 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small/Gleaner Writer
Michael Dawson
Oliver Samuels
Volier Johnson

Michael Dawson is well known for his work in the dancehall community.

As the CEO of Whirlwind Entertainment, Dawson wears many hats as the entity owns House of Dancehall (located at 6 Cargill Avenue); Ghetto People Publishing (publishers of The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto, written by the controversial Adidja Palmer, more popularly known as Vybz Kartel, and the comedic dancehall duo Twins of Twins); Vybz Kartel's clothing line, and the recently launched SloWhine liquor.

The dancehall aficionado has also staked his claim over the theatrical segment of the local entertainment industry as Whirlwind Entertainment also owns Whirlwind Theatre.

"Traditionally, people tend to think that Jamaican theatre is comedy. I give respect for traditional Jamaican theatre history, but I think its time has passed ... . I think some Jamaicans want to see current reality," Dawson told The Gleaner.


Candid commentary


Dawson has penned and produced a number of plays, which may lean comedic but are also meant to be seen as a candid commentary on Jamaica's current state of affairs. "When you go against the grain, it's not easily accepted. We do different aspects, not just comedy, which is the leading genre. Our goal is to represent current topics," he explained.

Dawson's foray into theatre production began with penning Who Ah Di Don, starring beloved Jamaican thespian Oliver Samuels. In this serious attempt at theatre, Dawson chose not to include an original song. To the absence of music, initial responses to Who Ah Di Don pulled comparisons to Pantomime productions (the medium introducing many Jamaicans to theatre) as they are identified distinctly for their musical contributions.

Dawson revealed that Who Ah Di Don ran for 15 months, earning nine showings in the United States and seven in Toronto, Canada.

Whirlwind Theatre's content focuses more on communicating pertinent societal issues. His productions' themes range from domestic abuse to religion and sexual expression.

In 2016, Dawson penned Tek Yuh Hand Offa Mi - a satirical commentary on domestic violence and societal expectations that continue to affect Jamaican women. Another production, called Mama, Please Take Me Back to Church, featured Dorothy Cunningham of Lime Tree Lane fame. As the name suggests, Dawson said the play tackled the idea that "people don't go to church as much anymore."


Sexually charged


Whirlwind Theatre was the local producer of Debra Ehrnhardt's one-woman play called Cock Tales, a candid production about the wiles of an unabashed heterosexual woman. The production was directed by Joel Zwick (My Big Fat Greek Wedding). Another sexually charged production housed was called Do You Want to Be Kinky?, and was an exploration of various aspects of sexual intercourse.

The production house's latest work, Frenemy, starring Samuels and fellow veteran actor Volier Johnson, has been running since last September. In the coming weeks, Whirlwind Entertainment will continue its tour of Fenemy with four showings in the UK.

Currently in pre-production, Whirlwind Theatre hopes to extend its international touring prowess with Black Woman and Child, a musical based on the work of reggae artiste Sizzla. "I would like to look at it as a tribute to his music, because his music has powerful concepts of black struggle. I'm hoping to stretch it further - our aim is to take it to Africa," he said.