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No cultural icons after 'Miss Lou' and 'Mass Ran'?
published: Sunday | July 13, 2003

Bennett-Coverley ('Miss Lou'), and Williams ('Maas Ran')

Leighton Williams, Staff Reporter

LOUISE BENNETT-COVERLEY ('Miss Lou') and Ranny Williams ('Maas Ran') are described as icons of Jamaican culture, having made invaluable contributions to theatre.

Having loomed large on-stage and screen, there are theatre buffs who believe that their departure has left a void. However, persons involved in local theatre scoff at the notion.

"I don't think there is any gap left in the industry. There are persons such as Oliver (Samuels), who has been big for a long time. Apart from Oliver you have Leonie Forbes, Charles Hyatt and Volier Johnson as persons who are just as good," said play producer Ginger Knight.

Ginger Knight's involvement in theatre started 27 years ago and he has no intentions of quitting. He has worked on plays such as Higglers, Room For Rent, Deportee and several others.

Knight's views are shared by fellow producer Basil Dawkins, who said that part of the reason 'Maas Ran' and 'Miss Lou' are revered is their involvement in Pantomime.

"In their time the big thing was Pantomime and they also had the 'Miss Lou' and 'Maas Ran' show that really got them the recognition. But they are really great," he said.

Basil Dawkin's involvement in theatre dates back to the 1970s, when he was a student on the University of the West Indies Mona campus. He has penned plays such as No Dirty Money, What The Hell Is Happening To Us, Dear? and several others.

In the case of 'Miss Lou', it said that her genesis in theatre came through pantomime.

For 'Maas Ran', it is argued that he had a professional career in theatre for at least 10 years before the pantomime begun. It is believed his career started in the Garvey Movement and he worked at the headquarters in Jamaica, Edelweis Park, as dancer, actor, playwright, producer and drama tutor for several years.

Apart from their roles in Pantomime, the partners, on-stage and off, hosted the 'Miss Lou and 'Maas Ran' show on the then Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) in the 1960s.

Both thespians helped popularise Jamaican folklore and music, in the process, quite rightly so, achieving the status of icons.

Although no one would dare take away that status from 'Miss Lou' or 'Maas Ran', it has been suggested that because the current generation of actors is splintered into various productions they do not get as much recognition.

Whereas in years gone by pantomime attracted the cream of the thespian crop, now most of the established acts are usually involved in other productions when pantomime comes around at Christmas.

"Pantomime used to be premier but now you have other theatres. People have to eat, so you probably won't find some of the 'name brand' actors in theatre these days," said Knight.

Knight goes on to explain that in addition to persons shying away from pantomime, some actors are heading towards the silver screen as well.

"You still have good actors at the level of 'Miss Lou' or 'Maas Ran'. But you have some who are poised to enter the movies, so you won't find some of them becoming involved in pantomime on a full-time level and so they probably won't be seen as icons like 'Miss Lou' or 'Maas Ran'," he explained.

Dawkins, however, has different views from Knight. He points out that part of the reason for the failure to recognise an icon in the current crop of actors is due to the distractions that abound.

"The competition from up north is much fiercer now than then, as you have a lot of things that distract audiences. But we have not done badly for ourselves, even though we have to be out there to get the recognition that we deserve. But the competition is fierce," said Dawkins.

Oliver Samuels explains that from a new actor appears in a play he has attained star status.

However, he adds, "Humility is key and (a new actor) has to wait his turn to be recognised. But it is the responsibility of the production they are a part of to give them exposure as well."

Still, at the end of the day, there is the view that the current crop of actors do get their due respect as icons.

"We acknowledge them but indirectly. In terms of official recognition of them as icons we haven't done it yet," said Knight.

However, for now, the consensus is that more should be done to give our actors the respect they deserve, since they play an important role in preserving Jamaican culture.

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