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UTech to celebrate theatre - Fifth Literary Festival and Cultural Showcase in April

Published:Friday | January 23, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech), is focusing on Jamaica's long - though not uniformly distinguished - theatre history for its 2015 Literary Festival and Cultural Showcase.

The theme for the event's seventh staging, slated for Thursday, April 9, at the university's Papine campus, is 'Stories Told and Untold: Staging the Drama of Jamaican Theatre'. Contributions made to Jamaican culture by dance and music were honoured at past festivals. This year, it is theatre's turn.

Planning began in November with a UTech team led by Dr Janice Lindsay, director of arts and culture at the institution. Theatre practitioners and administrators from outside UTech (including yours truly) have since joined in.

At the first of the two plenary meetings, newcomers learnt from Dr Lindsay that the Literary Festival and Cultural Showcase, conceptualised by former Arts and Culture Director Pat Ramsay, forms part of UTech's community outreach programme. Her aim was to promote literacy and encourage scholarly work among young people in arts and culture.

The current goal, "to highlight the entertainment and educational value in the diversity and richness of Jamaica's literary, visual and performing arts heritage", suggests an expansion on the original objective.

The all-day event has four major components. One is an art exhibition, with works by the UTech Visual Arts Group which mirror the festival's theme. The second is a literary workshop to expose mainly secondary- and tertiary-level students to the fundamentals of writing and processes involved in producing engaging literary and scholarly works. The function will celebrate the work of local scholars who have researched and documented interesting aspects of Jamaica's cultural heritage.

Then there will be a literary festival at Warner's Corner, an intimate space within the Caribbean Sculpture Park on UTech's campus, named after late Caribbean theatre director Earl Warner. According to Dr Lindsay "the segment is structured around selected themes, with informal discussions and presentations from both experts in the field and students."

Much discussion time was spent on the day's highlight, a cultural showcase in the Sculpture Park, which gives "an open-air museum" during the evening. Dr Lindsay told us that the production - a blend of music, dance and drama by the UTech Art and Theatre Ensemble - enables students to gain academic credits.

She said the showcase usually attracts about 800 people, not only from the university and surrounding communities, but also from corporate Jamaica, high schools, other universities and teachers' colleges.

Candid Retrospection

A handout provided by Dr Lindsay stated: "Two years ago, UTech, through the Centre for the Arts, spurred candid retrospection surrounding the place and space of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) in Jamaican life. The conversations opened with the recognition that safeguarding ICH involves sustaining those distinctive cultural experiences of a nation for future generations. It also means a recognition that these experiences are constantly being recreated by culture bearers, communities and groups."

On the matter of "the debate (which) swirls on the state of 21st Century Jamaican theatre", Dr Lindsay mentioned The Gleaner's Marcia Rowe who, in 2008, wrote a four-part series on the state of Jamaican theatre. Issues raised included "the lack of adequate theatre space in Jamaica, inappropriate technologies to support productions, quality of scripts, employment opportunities outside the classroom and the general state of drama in education".

The planning team agreed that, despite challenges, "the creative beings who drive theatre still manage to produce". The names of some theatre pioneers who will be officially recognised were suggested at meetings I attended.

Specific objectives for this year's festival are to recognise theatre as a vital feature of Jamaica's intangible cultural heritage and crucial subsector in Jamaica's evolving creative industries; and to re-engage Jamaicans about the relevance of theatre as a tool in the intellectual development of a nation.