Tuesdays @ the theatre | Oliver & Maffy make big moves in Florida
The US Labor Day weekend became a celebration for the Caribbean theatre community. Iconic comedy duo Oliver Samuels and Volier 'Maffy' Johnson, in the company of Audrey Reid and Dennis Titus, premiered 56 East Avenue.
Whirlwind Entertainment CEO Michael Dawson said that this was the first time a Jamaican theatrical production had its debut off the island. Beyond that, the premiere was sold out.
According to Dawson, who manages Samuel's productions, it is typical that the promotion for a Jamaican theatrical production begins in Jamaica.
"Somebody may see it, like it, and then bring it up. But to have a show with no history in Jamaica, that was a risk. It was brave of Oliver to promote a show never seen in Jamaica. We usually rely on reviews to market, but here, we went in without a clip or a punchline," he said.
Whirlwind Entertainment's marketing manager, Shona-Lee Thompson, shared similar views.
"Usually, we have a local run with a show and then we move on to Florida. This year, we changed it up and we're glad to say, we were well received. Our online sales went up by 50 per cent."
Dawson believes the success is because of Oliver's developed relationship with the Caribbean diaspora.
"He chose the diaspora because this show is about people coming into a new environment, and Jamaicans in the diaspora can connect to it. It's about meeting nationalities and new personalities."
56 East Avenue details life in a 1970s 'tenement yaad' and the happenings surrounding delinquent tenants and a disgruntled landlord. The Labor Day weekend premiere and subsequent run consisted of three shows - one in Miramar and two in Coral Springs.
"Florida has been good to him. There are small markets, like Jacksonville or Palm Bay. When we do those small areas, it's like giving back. But it builds. We have grown stagings from one performance in Florida to about eight. To sell out was good for us. For any artist in any genre, that is unprecedented," Dawson told The Gleaner.
Regardless of the perceived increase in diasporic receptiveness, Whirlwind Entertainment admits that premiering out of the country was risky.
"We were challenged by the weather. Some events across the state had been cancelled, because they were up against storms," Dawson reported.
Nevertheless, the sales figures reflect that had the weather been pleasant, it would have been a full-house premiere, because all three were sold out, and the troupe is looking forward to similar reception for the next shows later this month as they move on to Tampa and Orlando.
"We know Jamaicans are last-minute, but the early-bird tickets for Tampa sold out three weeks ago," he said.
Additionally, the Samuels-Johnson duo is still on the road with Frenemy, having recently returned from performances in St Thomas, St Croix and Grenada. For the first time, the production is set to sail with Beres Hammond's Love and Harmony Cruise. "Oliver is still breaking new ground. He is Jamaica's best-kept secret," Dawson said.