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Tallawah Dramatic Arts Festival still stands after 50 years

Published:Wednesday | November 14, 2018 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small/Gleaner Writer
Jamaica Youth Theatre captured the Best production award for its production of 1888 by Hall Anthony Ellis at the 2018 staging of the Tallawah Theatre Festival at UWI, Mona. The production also walked away with eight sectional awards including: Best Director (Brianna Miller), Best Actor (Romario Ricketts) and Best Actress (Melessa Vassell).

After 50 years, the Tallawah Dramatic Arts Festival continues to serve as a springboard for young Caribbean nationals into the professional theatre world.

Hosted at Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts on the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, the festival was born out of a need for young Jamaicans to mount presentations which represented authentic Caribbean identities, and their stories.

According to festival organiser Michael Holgate, "People felt that there was not enough theatre that represented Caribbean people. Tallawah was developed to give opportunities for persons to step out and mark their national identities. Tallawah gives people platforms to showcase their craft, when they did not have a space to showcase otherwise," Holgate told The Gleaner.

He continued: "It is a space where young talent can put their intellect and imagination to work, where they can compete with others, and then have professionals in the industry give their feedback."

Tallawah Dramatic Arts Festival involves a number of activities. The festival has a general workshop, including script selection, acting, directing, storytelling as well as use of music and multimedia, followed by a review and technical workshop. Young thespians and crew then perform their productions to be scrutinised and hopefully awarded by theatre professionals. The activities culminate in a 'Best of Tallawah' awards presentation, which took place last Sunday.

This year, Tallawah's Best Production award went to the Jamaica Youth Theatre for its production of 1888 by Hall Anthony Ellis. The production also walked away with eight sectional awards, including Best Director (Brianna Miller), Best Actor (Romario Ricketts), and Best Actress (Melessa Vassell). "It was a good production. They were on point. They had strong production values, quality directing ... It was a first class piece for Tallawah - showing great potential in both the creators and producers," Holgate said.

Melessa Vassell of the JYT said of their win, "We are really excited. We put a lot of work into the whole process." The cast of 1888 rehearsed for an entire month before taking on th Tallawah stage.

While Tallawah proves there exists creative contributors, Holgate suggests that the creative community falters without a dedicated administrative body. "I don't know that we have an active creative community. We have people who know each other, but we definitely need to have a group that speaks for the creative community," said Holgate.

He mentions the currently inactive Jamaica Association for the Dramatic Arts, along with a visual and performing arts cluster which once existed within JAMPRO, saying, "In large measure, 'theatre people' have to lead a double life. For the most part, they have a day job - so we don't really get to have these types of discussions."

Nevertheless, half a century later, Tallawah carries on. "It's impressive. If anything goes on for five years in Jamaica, it's impressive," Holgate ended.