Coming soon... Wycliffe Bennett's final creation
Published: Sunday | October 11, 2009
Wycliffe Bennett (left) with then Prime Minister Michael Manley in 1975.
Although Wycliffe Bennett produced countless theatre and national events in a six-decade career, no project was more important to him than a book he co-wrote on the history of the Jamaican arts.
That book, The Jamaican Theatre: Highlights of The Performing Arts In The 20th Century, was completed last year and is scheduled to be released by the University Press of the West Indies in early 2010.
Bennett died last Monday at age 87, but Dr Hazel Bennett, his wife of 52 years and the book's co-author, is determined to see justice done to her husband's most cherished production.
"It was his life's mission, even when he was in the hospital he would tell the nurses that he's ready to go but he'd like to see the book published," Dr Bennett told The Gleaner. "It's really a permanent record of his life."
Dr Bennett said the 600-page book covers the Jamaican arts scene up to 2008. It is the second instalment of a project Wycliffe Bennett and Errol Hill, a professor in creative arts at the University of the West Indies, started in the 1970s.
Hill, a Trinidadian, traced the history of Jamaican theatre from the 17th to the 20th century in his 1992 book, The Jamaican Stage: 1655-1900.
Dr Bennett said her husband began indirectly compiling information for the book more than 70 years ago when he was a teenager. The early data includes newspaper articles, features and reviews of major shows in pre-independence Jamaica.
transform local arts
The Bennetts also compiled dossiers of persons who helped transform the local arts from its British patronage to one reflecting Jamaican and West Indian identity. Among these pioneers are creative dancers Ivy Baxter and Rex Nettleford, playwright Enid Chevannes, folklorist Louise Bennett, actor Charles Hyatt and St Lucian poet Derek Walcott.
"Theatre was a special place for Wycliffe but the book is not just about theatre. It recognises the interaction of all forms," Dr Bennett said.
Wycliffe Bennett was eminently qualified to write a book on the arts. He helped start the National Arts Festival Movement in 1943, and served as chairman of the Jamaica School of Drama and Jamaica School of Music. Bennett was a senior producer of the event marking Jamaica's independence from Great Britain at the National Stadium in August 1962. He was also chief organiser of the 10-day CARIFESTA show at the same venue in 1976. One month before his death, Bennett was awarded a Gold Musgrave Medal for his contribution to the development of the arts in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
Wycliffe and Dr Hazel Bennett in 2005.- Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer
Dr Hopeton Dunn (left) presents Wycliffe Bennett with his 21st anniversary award at the CPTC Awards Ceremony and Inaugural Public Lecture, held at the Hilton Kingston hotel, Knutsford Boulevard, New Kingston, on Wednesday, April 13, 2005. - Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer