Mon | Sep 23, 2019

Edith Dalton James High becoming a performing arts powerhouse

Published:Tuesday | July 2, 2019 | 12:26 AMKimberley Small/Staff Reporter
Members of Edith Dalton James High School’s performing arts group.
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Under the leadership of a pair of Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts graduates, Edith Dalton James High School is poised to become one of the island’s performing arts powerhouses.

Boasting more than 50 awards and medals in speech and drama from the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC), the institution’s drama club wrote, produced and performed the emotionally jarring stories of 16-year-old characters David and Shericka in A Child’s Cry.

For the month of June, A Child’s Cry was staged in the institution’s own theatre space – opened just two months ago.

“We are still in the stage of making it perfect for the next set of shows we will do. We’ve done several beautiful productions. We have a lot of things to offer the public for viewing,” principal Orlando Worges told The Gleaner.

Punctuated by precise spotlights, disembodied voices railing loudly from the wings as the protagonist’s harrowing consciousness, heart-wrenching poetry and impassioned singing, A Child’s Cry perfectly situates the all-too-common circumstances of paedophilia and the consequences of its victims.

“The stories are from them. We devised it together. They even helped me write some of the script. We tell the stories we see happening in our society, and so it was very easy for us to find the lighting and the props to put it together. We used poetry and ring games to help concretise the story,” drama teacher and Edna Manley graduate Lemar Archer said.

CUSP OF GREATNESS

They also used realism. A Child’s Cry follows David as he was preyed upon by a teacher and abandoned by his father; and Shericka, whose grandmother sold her young body for financial security. Real hard slaps to the face, bodies collapsing and tumbling noisily on to the hardwood stage – interspersed with poignant poetry and bold, sad singing demonstrated fully that these children are on the cusp of greatness.

Noting the student’s talent, Worges gave the go-ahead to put on their own production, in their own playhouse, “to show Jamaica what our students are capable of”.

But how did principal Worges and drama teacher Lemar Archer wrangle a group of teens to write and produce their own play? Worges believes the students are pulled in to participate because of people’s innate attraction to excellence.

“Once they see that something is going somewhere, they’ll want to be a part of it.

“They love it, so they commit themselves to it,” Archer said. He collaborated with the students to develop the production – a task that was easily done because of the youngsters’ willingness and insight.

“Most of them were doing CXCs and had other extracurricular activities, so we created schedules. Then we spent a month on it.”

Beyond the necessary social commentary, Edith Dalton James’ performing arts programme have proven vital to the student’s personal and academic development. According to principal Worges, when the programme took a break for one term, the students’ grade took a hit.

“Their grades dropped significantly. They were doing well throughout the time they were involved with the arts. As soon as they started again, the grades went up. Because it creates a certain focus for them – a sense of purpose,” Worges told The Gleaner.

He continued: “We have seen behavioural change and academic improvement, just from being a part of the drama club. I have students who we thought would have been expelled by now, and they have made tremendous improvements.”

The cast includes head boy Brandon McFarlane, head girl Shamoy McFarlane, their deputies, the student council president, and the student council vice-president. The cast also includes an Edith Dalton graduate currently enrolled in her first year of nursing school.

“All the lead actors will be pursuing education at the Edna Manley College. They want to go to dance school, drama school and even music school. They’re very talented,” Archer said.

Worges plugged: “Edna Manley itself is a training ground for anywhere you want to go. I myself, as principal, am a graduate of Edna Manley College.”