Tanya Batson-Savage, Freelance Writer
WHEN THE Gleaner approaches the landing of the Centerstage theatre, New Kingston, Deon Silvera is comfortably seated on a stool enjoying lunch. She is dressed in a black and red power suit, which would have been comfortable in any boardroom. She soon explains that the suit is a remnant of her stint in the traffic court earlier in the day. At '40-odd going up', she is doing more than defying the ageing process.
With her unmistakably husky voice, Silvera is one of Jamaica's rarest creatures. She has been a full-time professional actress for over two decades. Jamaica's theatre landscape has necessitated that theatre professionals, even very good ones, find a nine to five to complement their income. Silvera is one of the few who has managed to avoid the nine to five grind.
Originally, Silvera was on the path to teaching or nursing. "Yuh know dem time deh, dem job deh a di job a di year," she said. Silvera was derailed from this course in 1979, when after entering a cultural expo she earned a scholarship to the School of Drama at the Edna Manley College of the Performing Arts. From there her voice and speech teacher, Keith Noel, offered her a role in the play The Good Doctor, which he was directing. As in the time-honoured practice of one thing leading to another, one role led to another.
Silvera rests this series of events that has led to her professional life on God's doorsteps. "A jus' God," she says, "cause I'm a firm believer." Silvera explains that though she is not baptised, she believes in allowing God to have a firm hand in her affairs. "Anything mi want and mi just pray bout it God always deliver, so mi no do nutten widdout pray bout it," she says.
Silvera's most recent role was that of Bubbles in the Patrick Brown's The Last Stand. With that production, Silvera has immortalised the line 'Dutty Woody' unto the minds of the Jamaican theatre going populous. She injected such venomous scorn in the two words and used the 'Dutty' as though it was the man in question's first name, that it was simply hilarious. She explains that getting the line just right took about two weeks and she was inspired by her knowledge of "how man stay".
Of course, those are not the first lines that Silvera made famous. Those who spent hours (in half hour segments) laughing at Oliver at Large will remember the lines "go jine di line" and, better yet, "go ask you granny cow". Silvera has performed in Single Entry, Dem Good Ole Days, Front Room and Jamaica Pepperpot.
With The Last Stand having closed, Silvera is now looking toward taking a short break. With the GSAT exams approaching she intends to give her youngest son, Jahveon, some "quality time". Silvera is mother to three sons and a stepdaughter.
When she returns from this hiatus, Silvera hopes she will engage in a wider variety of roles. She has played the "dancehall" ghetto fabulous role with such great acumen, despite being a "country girl from St. Mary", that she has been getting more and more of those roles in this stage of her career. Silvera admits that a part of the reason she is offered many of these roles is that her husky voice is quite suited to it.
Explaining that she remains interested in doing comedy, she asserts "I want to do more drama". When she says it, her voice deepens on the word 'drama', to highlight her passion.
"I've done just about every role, but mi prefer suppen weh a go go eena mi soul and tek out everything," she says. For that reason she is quite attached to the play Ecstasy and director Trevor Nairne. Silvera points out that with Ecstasy, written by David Heron, her character, Jewel, demanded a range that saw her moving from playing a go-go dancer to a business professional. "The kind of range I got I never knew I had in me," she says. "Trevor (Nairne) brought out the best in me."
Silvera says that to her Nairne is the best director she has worked with and believes that especially if she is working with him, no role is impossible. Interestingly, though not surprisingly, Silvera says that she enjoyed theatre more in her younger days. Then, not only was she buoyed by youthful enthusiasm, but she had the joy of working with theatre icons she had grown up admiring. Her grasp of comic timing came from working with one of these icons-turned-peers. She explained that it was Oliver Samuels who taught her timing and has allowed her to maximise every line she delivers. Those who have seen her rinse the humour from a line and allow the audience to explode with glee, may well feel indebted to Samuels.
Now, Deon Silvera works with her peers.