‘These blasted buttus!’ - Conductor rips Ward Theatre reno crew for scrapping orchestra pit
The team undertaking a multimillion-dollar overhaul of the decrepit Ward Theatre has been criticised for failing to retain the iconic building’s core character and for not having sufficient dialogue with musicians and performers.
The nub of the dispute has been the removal of the orchestra pit, a staple of vintage theatres.
“Why take out the orchestra pit? Now these blasted buttus have taken over the thing, and they’re going to turn it into bathroom tiles and formica, I suppose,” celebrated conductor, composer and arranger Peter Ashbourne told The Gleaner yesterday.
And while musician Michael Sean Harris is happy about the efforts to restore The Ward, he expressed disappointment that the rehabilitation plans were not executed in consultation with the performers who are set to benefit from the renovated space.
“We had a small orchestra in the orchestra pit. It’s gonna limit what you can put there. They just need to consult, but that doesn’t happen much here, and that is unfortunate,” he said.
Ashbourne lamented the fading glory of the iconic theatre, built in 1912, and demonstrated concern that the restoration project, which started two years ago, will potentially silenced live music performance as was once conceptualised according to the original configuration of the theatre house.
“What will happen to the piano? There is a three-metre Yamaha concert grand in that place, given to Jamaica by the Japanese Government. That is like US$75,000 worth of piano. They gave the biggest and the best piano that Yamaha makes. If them don’t want it, I’ll take it. I have no place to put it, but I will take it,” the composer said.
Ashbourne argued that The Ward’s renovation crew will reopen the famed theatre with the feel of a cinema instead of a world-class performance space. He said the abandonment of The Ward’s historical authenticity would diminish the theatre, transforming it into what he termed a dance hall with sound systems.
“There is the twin to that theatre, the duplicate – a small Victorian theatre in Nottingham, England. I went there in the 1980s. It was there then. It is the mirror image of The Ward, except it was in great shape.
“When you say these things, people like me get accused of being elitist, or you’re doing the colonial slave masters’ thing. That is rubbish! If they want a buttu palace, build one,” said Ashbourne, a long-time advocate for The Ward’s revival.
Town Clerk Robert Hill, the CEO of the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC), declined comment on the missing orchestra pit.
A tour of the venue led by Kingston Mayor Delroy Williams yesterday revealed a replenished cafeteria, retrofitted changing rooms and restrooms, and new seating and carpeting. New windows have also been installed.
Williams, who is also chairman of the KSAMC, estimates that another J$300 million is needed to complete the facelift project.
“It sounds a lot, but from where I sit, I’m pretty sure the CHASE Fund can give us anywhere between $50 million to $60 million. They have done so before,” he said.