Bellywoman Bangarang, the latest dramatic production from the School of Drama at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, promises to provide an excellent start to a new academic year of theatrical performances.
This drama is a revival of Sistren Theatre Collective's original production of the same name, which was first performed in 1978 and written and directed by Honor Ford-Smith of the then Jamaica School of Drama, now Edna Manley College's School of Drama. It is expected to run for six shows from October 19-21 and 26-28 at the Dennis Scott Studio Theatre on the college's campus.
Set in colonial Jamaica, Bellywoman Bangarang details the individual stories of four teenage girls: Didi, 16, Gloria, 18, Yvonne, 14, and Marie, 16, who all suffer the problems associated with becoming pregnant as a teenager.
Director Carolyn Allen says "The silence and ignorance of the girls is no longer a given, and yet teenage pregnancy and abuse are still issues left to be addressed. This production allows us to introduce another generation of theatre goers and trainees to the revolutionary work of Sistren, which has survived 30+ years".
Each individual story captures the essence of the reality it seeks to portray in a bold and unapologetic manner.
Yvonne, ignorant of her sexual and physical development, falls pregnant and is shamefully thrown out of her guardian's house midterm.
Didi, abused by her mother and neglected by her father, falls prey to the wiles of the sweet-talking Dennis.
Marie, whose pregnancy is the result of a rape at the hands of her best friend's brother, is thrust head first into early motherhood.
Finally, Gloria, who finds false security in the wealth of Paul, is eventually abandoned and made to fend for herself and her unborn child.
According to Lana Finikin, executive director of the Sistren Theatre Collective, Bellywoman Bangarang was developed from the personal life experiences of the original founding members. The women used material from their life stories to develop a play which would treat the concerns of young women from working-class backgrounds in an unabashed manner.
As a result, issues such as teenage pregnancy, an inadequate medical care system, sexual development, child abandonment and rape, which would have been viewed as controversial at the time of the original production, form prominent themes within the play.
In commenting on the play's controversy, Finikin notes that, "All of Sistren's 13 productions were controversial and Bellywoman Bangarang is no exception. It dealt with situations which would have been viewed as taboo, however, it was necessary to shake the social and political structure and to open discussion on gender-based issues and the concerns of young women at the time."
In 1977, during its embryonic stages, the Sistren Theatre Collective aimed "to analyse and comment on the role of women in Jamaican society through theatre, to organise into a self-reliant cooperative enterprise and to take drama to working-class communities".
Formed from the collaboration of 12 women from the working class, alongside Honor Ford-Smith, tutor at the Jamaica School of Drama, the company's first full-length play, Bellywoman Bangarang achieved its aim and more.
At the time of the first production, the play was met with much commercial support, as well as wide acclaim from critics on its use of a minimalist approach to dramatic production and barefaced approach to the themes it addressed.
The Organisation of American States called the play, the best project to encourage the role of women in development in the Americas. The play also received a medal from the Jamaica Festival Commission for Best Experimental Production of the Year.
The current production of Bellywoman Bangarang, by a talented ensemble cast of students from the Edna Manley College under the guidance of Allen, is expected to do Sistren justice in its representation of the themes which made the original play a success, as well as provoke the audience into reassessing the current state of women's affairs.