The Gleaner a rich time capsule of Jamaica's cultural history
THE EDITOR, Sir:
The involvement of The Gleaner in the arts, including theatre, is more than a handful of names and productions as noted in Davina Henry's article on Monday, August 18. I have taken on the task of rebuilding the LTM Pantomime's archives, and in doing so, I have drawn on Gleaner clippings time and time again.
A look through The Gleaner's archives in the 1930s, for instance, reveals advertisements of the activities at the St Andrew Division of the Universal Negro Improvement Association at the entertainment centre's Edelweiss Park. Evenings of cultural performances included plays written by Ranny Williams, e.g. Landing the Landlord, Blacks Gone Wild, Sheba and Medes and the Persians.
But The Gleaner didn't just afford space by way of advertising, as seen in the reviews and releases preserved on newsprint and now digitised, it chronicled the story of theatre in Jamaica. How many of us know that two of Jamaica's most beloved actors, Ranny Williams and Louise Bennett, both had columns in The Gleaner at different times in their careers? It was Louise Bennett's statements on the Pantomime having a distinctly pale hue which led to the increased Jamaicanisation of the Pantomime in the late '40s and early '50s.
Barbara Gloudon's on-point social commentary in the 'Stella' column in The Star brought her to the attention of Greta and Henry Fowler, who persuaded her to add playwriting to her substantive job as a journalist in the '70s. Incidentally, Gloudon came into the picture a number of years after Miss Lou, Maas Ran, Noel Vaz, and Maurice Harty.
Many theatrical productions, including the Pantomimes, have been reviewed - some more than once. Gleaner features such as Social Notes, Local Topics and Kitty's Kingston listed musical recitals, concerts and other events.
The reviews of Archie Lindo, Harry Milner and Norman Rae drew responses in the form of letters to the editor, showing that the public took note - sometimes in agreement, but most often, it seems, disagreement.
Interviews with various personalities would undoubtedly inspire others to take up the arts. There were articles giving insight into the lives of Rex Nettleford and Eddy Thomas, co-founders of the National Dance Theatre Company; Lois Kelly-Miller, another Pantomime stalwart whose 'stoosh' and 'speaky-spokey' characters was a forerunner to Ms Upton of Lime Tree Lane.
Coverage of the Schools' Drama Festival and productions like The Servant of Two Masters, directed by Wycliffe Bennett for the then Jamaica School of Speech and Drama in the '70s, brought to the public names like Fae Ellington, Trevor Nairne, and Oliver Samuels.
The explosion of the performing arts in the '80s and '90s brought out new dance troupes such as L'Acadco, The Company, Dance Theatre Xaymaca, and they were covered by The Gleaner. Theatre groups and dramatic production houses/groups such as Sistren Theatre Collective, Barn Theatre and Kidstuff Young People's Theatre and Little People were born and their growth heralded. The 'roots theatre' of that time was not a new invention as Bim and Bam had their own brand of raucous productions decades before.
As a theatre enthusiast, looking back through The Gleaner is like opening a time capsule and exploring the ins and outs, watching from the proscenium and glimpses of backstage, all the while learning a little more about Jamaica's cultural history.
Personally, as a costume designer, the fashion illustrations I saw as a child printed in The Gleaner were definitely an inspiration and motivation. As a graphic designer, looking through the ads of those days truly gave an idea of what Jamaicans wanted to see and how they wanted to be seen. I came to respect what the performing arts really mean.
P.S. I was blessed to be born in the theatre and also came to understand The Gleaner's connection, with my mother (Barbara) being involved in both. My life was filled with interesting personas like my godmothers Miss Lou (Bennett-Coverley) and Aunt Lois (Kelly Miller) and, by looking back through The Gleaner's pages, I've learnt even more about theatre or "theatah" as Uncle Wycliffe (Bennett) used to say.