TUESDAY AT THE THEATRE: Publish, lest the play perish
Each Boxing Day, Jamaica's year-end commercial theatre season opens with a slew of productions with extended runs well into the new year, when they are joined by other productions of varying run lengths.
In addition to the major commercial theatrical pro-ductions, there are smaller ventures and non-commercial plays, then, by the time the curtains go up on another Boxing Day opening, the plays of the previous cycle would have faded. And, overwhelmingly, there is very little chance of their being staged again, due in no small part to the script not being published.
Damion Radcliffe, who is involved in theatre from the academic angle as a drama teacher and is hands-on with the IAM movement, explained to The Gleaner a practical consideration and historical context which contributed to the lack of plays being published. While, ideally, the roles of playwright, director, actor and producer are separate, "the Jamaican model is jack of all trades. The writer is often the director, the actor and the producer." With all this already on one person's plate, publishing would have meant spending more money to hire an editor and illustrator (for the cover).
Then, with playwrights having to churn out successive scripts, Radcliffe compared the process to a "cook-food situation", where the emphasis was on consump-tion rather than posterity. Of course, advances in digital publishing have had some impact on the need for additional personnel in order for a play to be published, although Radcliffe chuckles as he points out another possible inhibitor - that there are cases where there is a reluctance to publish, as persons will quickly realise that the playwright is recycling ideas. And although the actual publishing is now easier, including e-books, Radcliffe noted that many plays may need extensive dramaturgical work before being publication ready. This is related to the jack of all trades set-up, where the writer may have some details in their head, which are not written down, although the actors are given directions.
The level of direction in the script varies. Radcliffe said, "I remember Stafford Ashani, he was one of the teachers who said you must allow the director to interpret the work." Radcliffe, who studied at the School of Drama, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, said, "A good example of the minimal direction approach is William Shakesperare's plays, which have just entrances and exits." He noted that there are some plays where there is extensive audience interaction, to the extent that there can be whole scenes which are improvised, and two stagings on the same day are significantly different.
Through IAM, Radcliffe has staged five plays in the multiple award-winning Anancy Chaptaz series, featuring a mix of mainly children actors with adults. The productions have a strong music base and Radcliffe said while none of the plays have been published, IAM had been approached to do so, but it fell through. "We are now getting into the possibility of self-publishing," Radcliffe said. "I am going to do it so the work can have life.."
Two of the Anancy Chaptaz plays he has a keen publishing eye on are Winner's Circle (written by Sabrena McDonald Radcliffe) and Monkey Bizniz (written by him). "The stories are original, and the themes explored in them are universal, so they are relatable," Radcliffe explains.
Noting that there is an element of caution among playwrights that other persons may take their ideas, Radcliffe said ," Publish the thing, let us not be fearful anymore."