Dr Heap pays it forward
The entertainment industry has been brought to a standstill by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and resulting restrictions, putting a strain on theatre practitioners and other creative artistes in Jamaica.
Cinemas, theatres, dance companies, concerts and performance festivals have all been affected, and artistes have been scrambling to find alternative creative outlets since the outbreak of the pandemic.
However, students who are currently registered at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus have been provided with a unique opportunity to express their creativity, as well as win cash prizes for their work, courtesy of academic, theatre director and writer Dr Brian Heap.
In June 2020, Dr Heap was named as the Caribbean regional winner of the prestigious Commonwealth Short Story Competition. Since then, in partnership with the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, he has decided to ‘pay it forward’ and has allocated part of his prize money to the establishment of two contests, a playwriting and short story competition for students of the UWI.
“The prize money from the regional award in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize competition meant that I was in a better position to pass on some of my good fortune to others, and what better way than by encouraging more new writers to come forward?” says Heap.
“My own involvement in Jamaican theatre means that I am always interested in finding new works for the stage, which is why we ended up with two competitions, one for short stories and one for short plays.”
Each competition will have cash prizes for the first, second and third awardees in each category.
Once the prize money for each of these competitions was identified, it was further suggested that the winning submissions from each contest should be recorded and uploaded to the Internet as podcasts. So, now Dr Heap is actively seeking further funding to make this a reality. If successful, then the three prize-winners along with three highly commended runners-up from each competition will be recorded and uploaded onto a widely accessible platform such as YouTube.
The retired head of the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts pointed out that the facility is home to a total of 10 creative student clubs and societies and that new strategies are urgently needed to safeguard their integrity at a time when they cannot meet, rehearse or perform face-to-face.
“I am really indebted to Deby-Ann Stern, who is the administrative officer at the centre,” says Heap. “She has the responsibility for scheduling the student activities and managing the spaces for the clubs to meet at the centre and her assistance has been invaluable in putting these competitions together, publicising them and finding adjudicators. I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise.”
Dr Heap has high hopes that eventually the podcasts will provide much-needed work for theatre technicians who are also facing challenges at this time, and that in this way, too, the new writers will reach a potentially much larger international, online audience, including members of the Jamaican diaspora. He also hopes that this might encourage more Jamaicans, young and old, to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the literary competitions of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, as well as other writing competitions.
Registered students of The UWI, Mon,a have until November 13 to express their interest in entering the competitions. The closing date for short story and short play submissions is December 20. Interested UWI students may obtain further details by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.