Brian Heap talks theatre
It was in 2014 that producer, Dr Brian Heap, staged a three-day production called the 8x10 Festival, which he says is a concept that worked well then, and would still be practical today. An enthusiastic Heap told The Gleaner that it involved the showing of eight, 10-minute plays each night, over the three-day period.
“So, we managed to get together 24 directors and each had to come up with a play lasting no more than 10 minutes and it would be given exposure during the festival. The people loved it,” he recalled. “The thing is that, if you didn’t like a certain play, that wouldn’t be a big deal, since it was only 10 minutes in length. And you got to see eight plays each night.”
Heap, who came to Jamaica 46 years ago, for a two-year stint, and never left, is passionate about theatre and, like many others who share his ideals, lament the lack of space available for the arts. “In the last 10 years, the Barn, Pantry and Phoenix have all closed down. There was a venture to do something on Knutsford Boulevard, but that didn’t come to anything, and there are hardly any new spaces,” he said, echoing the lament of thespians. “Barracks Theatre on Molynes Road is the perhaps the only ‘new’ space.”
He also made a point of emphasising the inadequacy of what is available. “The Little Theatre is there, but it hosts the pantomime for a few months, the JCDC uses it a lot, and then there are the annual dance troupes which book it each year, so there’s hardly any available dates for plays,” he said, adding that the Philip Sherlock Centre at The University of the West Indies has enough traffic from the campus to keep it busy year round.
English-born Heap, who is proudly Jamaican by assimilation, has directed at least 100 plays and makes a case for financial support for investment in the arts. “In other countries, most theatres don’t make an actual profit. But, the National Theatre in London, for example, would have an endowment. Here in Jamaica, the producers depend on the box office to cover all expenses, and that can be challenging,” Heap noted.
He theorised that that may be the reason for a lot of persons who were previously in theatre stepping over into television. “But as a bit of a purist myself, I enjoy live theatre,” he said, leading into a conversation about ticket costs.
“If you go to a Broadway play, Hamilton, for example, be prepared to pay anywhere between US$300 - US$500 for a ticket. And this is from the secondary sellers online, who have become somewhat of legalised scalpers,” he explained.
By contrast, he told the story of his students who have been encouraged to attend the Carib cinema on a Sunday when they are showing the Met Opera Live In HD, at a cost of J$2,400, but they deem it too expensive. “But they easily spend that on pizza,” he said.
With the theatre space contracting, he sees the need to get more creative, hence his reference to the 8x10 Festival. But Heap also believes that the theatre is required to adjust. “We haven’t kept pace with the times. Like a lot of other things, technology means that people can watch movies on their phones, so why should they make the effort to see live theatre, when on other platforms it is either free or attracts a minimal cost to access an Amazon Prime, for example?”