Jahzan McLaughlin performs on dramatic, academic stages
Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
Yesterday, Jahzan McLaughlin, probably the best all-round child performer in Jamaica, turned 12 years old.
Over the last eight years, she has excelled as a dancer, singer and actress. Thousands of people have seen her perform in Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) competitions, in plays, on television and onYouTube.
Next week marks another important phase in her young life. She starts high school at Immaculate Conception High School for Girls. It will be interesting to see how well this multitalented girl, who also draws well and writes excellent poetry, does in a regular school, for her education, so far, has been quite unusual.
Her mother, Zandriann Maye, a well-known actress/educator, likes to say that Jahzan started school at the tertiary level. This is in reference to Jahzan's being taken as a little girl into many drama and dance classes at the Edna Manley College by her mother, then a School of Drama student.
"I didn't have anybody to leave her with," Maye told me recently. We were at a rehearsal for a musical which Maye had created and was producing. The musical, Children's National Party, which had a successful staging the following day at the Salvation Army School on Manning's Hill Road, St Andrew, suggests that children might do a better job of running the country than adults.
Just outside the door of the rehearsal space - the transformed bedroom of Maye's apartment - is evidence of Jahzan's achievements. There are three shelves of medals and trophies she has garnered over the last several years, mainly from JCDC competitions.
She began earning them when she was only five years old. However, the way her mother (who is an educator, dancer and actress) tells it, Jahzan had begun 'dancing' years before. When Maye was six months' pregnant and in dancing class with the well-known performing group Ashe, the baby would move inside her mother whenever the drum was playing. And, Maye told me earnestly, she would stop when the drumming did.
born to perform
Maye added that she was actually on stage in a production when contractions heralding Jahzan's coming started. By the next day, she was born to the then 23-year-old Maye.
Jahzan was homeschooled by her mother until she was six years old. She then went to a preparatory school, but was asked to leave "because she has locks," Maye said, adding that the reason "didn't make sense".
Maye withdrew her daughter, who was, then, not reading. "Within one week of homeschooling," Maye said, "she was reading fluently. It made me recognise that a lot of our children were being labelled wrongly, and all they needed was for someone to place them in the right environment."
Maye again started homeschooling Jahzan last September, after losing her job as a performing arts teacher at a primary school. Without the money to keep Jahzan in school, Maye was forced to withdraw her. It was a crucial time. Jahzan was just months away from taking her GSAT exams.
Using daily affirmations with Jahzan "to speak into being" what they wanted, Maye read the syllabuses for the GSAT subjects and, through drama and role-play, taught them all to her daughter. Jahzan's results were excellent (around 95 per cent), enough to get her into Immaculate.
"Jahzan," says Maye, "is developing into a fine writer. And she dances, she acts, she runs, she swims, and she draws as well."
But despite her strengths in the arts, Jahzan wants to become a scientist, perhaps a veterinarian, says her mother. "That's fine by me. I'm allowing her to be what she wants to be," said Maye.
She went on to list Jahzan's performances to date. When she was five years old, she debuted in the play Vagina Monologues, which Maye was also acting in. Jahzan also appeared in Maye's own biographical production, When One Door Closes, the story of a single mother; a season of stories on video produced by CPTC with Amina Blackwood-Meeks; the Ity & Fancy Cat Show on television; the television drama Me & Mi Kru; and various TV commercials.
In a JCDC competition, Jahzan won the Louise Bennett Award for Best Jamaican Dialect Performance with Nuh Likkle Twang. She performed a Standard English piece at Prime Minister Andrew Holness' inauguration and, last year, put on a prize-winning performance in a JCDC speech competition which,
along with other performances by her, can be seen on YouTube.
I saw her talent for myself as I watched her sing, dance and act in the Children's National Party rehearsal. The musical has numerous child-centred themes, including self-esteem, leadership, politics, the GSAT, child abuse and child labour. Guided by Maye, Jahzan, and the seven or eight other cast members, performed with great passion. That passion was again evident when, later, Jahzan recited one of her poems for me. It begins:
Inside is my destiny.
A place where I'm me
A place where I'm free
A place where I can walk barefooted
A place I don't have to be neat and modest
A place where my imagination becomes true
Someplace out there
Where I can bark like a bird and fly like a dog.
A place I live in a fantasy dreamland
Without a care in life
It is a poem by a dynamic and insightful girl, the same sort of person that Jahzan plays in Children's National Party. She is a young Prime Minister of Jamaica.
A sign of things to come?