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Stabroek News

Laughter before the storm
published: Tuesday | August 29, 2006

Tanya Batson-Savage, Freelance Writer

Left: Storyteller Joan Andrea Hutchinson performing during the Mona Academic Conference, Performance Night, held at The Undercroft, University of the West Indies, Mona, on Saturday.   Right: The Mighty Chalkdust delivers satirical pieces during his performance at the Mona Academic Conference, Performance Night. - photos by Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer

While 'Ernesto' huffed and puffed its windy threats, satire and social commentary in the form of story, poetry and calypso blazed, crackled and popped at the Undercroft at the University of the West Indies, Mona on Saturday evening.

It was the first performance night for the 2006 Mona Academic Conference, dubbed 'Writing Life: Reflections by West Indian Writers'. The evening's performances were heavy with comedy as Joan Andrea Hutchinson, Mighty Chalkdust and Paul Keens Douglas took to the stage.

Hutchinson was the first to take the stage and her early set included repertoire perfectly suited to the evening. Despite the crisp, clear sky and seemingly-calm weather which cradled the university, the threat of hurricane loomed. So it was quite fitting that Hutchinson performed both Ivan Lef Mi Inna Grief and Water Short.

Traumatic experience

The first details a woman's traumatic experience as she camps out before Courts in the hop of getting hurricane gifts (via looting) but was thwarted by "some rahtid shutter" only to return home to find that thieves had absconded with her possessions. Water Short deals with the trials of water shortage in the summer months, which the persona argues is created by shortsightedness and lack of preparation.

Hutchinson's hilarious set also included Workaholic, Miss Edith and Di Daawg, The Naked Truth and Street Wise. Based on requests she ended her performance with the short story Dat White Witch Name Henny, the tale of a tour guide at the Rose Hall Great House who off loads a carnival of malapropisms and mispronunciations as she approximates a twang.

Hutchinson was followed by multi-Calypso Crown winner Mighty Chalkdust. With a tuft of beard as white as the chalkdust for which he is named, the calypsonian delivered pieces interspersed with satirical jokes that showed that his repertoire was about teaching and so his naming was no accident. Later in his performance he would state that each of his Calypsos is a paper.

On race and identity

Mighty Chalkdust delivered treatises on race and identity, Black inventors, the need for Caribbean unity and the dangers of inter-Caribbean divisiveness, acculturation, and the creation of social deviants. At the end of the performance, the evening's host, Karl Williams, noted, "That chalkdust residue you definitely want to inhale."

Keens Douglas closed the show with the familiar but riotous as he regaled the audience with exploits in carnival, stupid people, and the state of medicine in the Caribbean, among others. The gifted poet and storyteller crafted his repertoire to reflect on the conference's theme and so interspersed his pieces with talk about writing.

Keens Douglas noted that one of the chief problems which the Caribbean has to grapple with is communication and he delivered a hilarious bit about the confusion wrought by accidents and then about the paradoxical nature of Caribbean language which creates gems like 'a whole half', 'reverse back', and 'well sick'.

"It really not easy to be writing life," he said, giving a twist to the conference's name. Keens Douglas noted that the communication issue was a part of that, as writers could find themselves attempting to communicate when "people don't understand a damn thing we writing."

As such, the night's performances provided a fitting occasion to laugh in the face of the impending storm.

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