Productions from Morant Bay to Montego Bay
Theatrically, it feels like Christmas.
Four or five productions usually open in December but, if all goes as planned, between last weekend and mid-November five shows will have opened.
Michael Holgate's musical Riot Act played last weekend at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona. Today three more shows open (or reopen, having had short runs earlier in the year) and a reliable source tells me that actress/writer/producer Dahlia Harris is preparing for a mid-November opening.
Riot Act, a University Players production, is an energetic one-act musical which is more a dramatised discussion than realistic theatre. The multitalented Holgate, who not only wrote the book, the music and the lyrics but also directed and choreographed the show, wanted to talk about "uncomfortable topics like reparation" (his phrase), as well as freedom, revolution, justice, national identity and self-respect.
So in Riot Act, he locks a group of young Jamaicans in a museum one night with an interesting catalyst, the duppy of the freedom fighter Dutty Boukman, who left Jamaica to do wonderful work during the Haiti Revolution. The characters are largely stereotypes - like Boukman himself (played by Hanif Lawrence); the fiery Rastaman (dBURNZ, real name Melbourne Douglas); Madda B, a "seer" (SK Burns); the intellectual filmmaker Willard Jenkins (Royane Green), who wants to make a film on Marcus Garvey; and the conservative museum curator, Danny Dusell (Faybian Grizzle). However, they are portrayed with engaging passion.
Considering the amorphous nature of the issues, it is not surprising that there are no definitive statements on them and the musical ends with the group chanting, to no one in particular, "I want my people to be free." And this is despite the fact that just minutes before one character had a better conclusion when she stated "we need to free our minds."
Opening today are The Black That I Am (Fairfield Theatre, Montego Bay) and Ratoon (the School of Drama, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts). Next weekend Black Bodies plays at Vibes Theatre, Ashe Centre, Cargill Avenue.
First staged in August, Black Bodies has as its first half a theatrical production telling the stories of four Jamaicans, Vanessa Kirkland, Jhaneel Goulbourne, Michael Gayle and Mario Deane, killed by the police or while in custody, combined with a tribute to several African-Americans who have died under similar circumstances in the USA. The show's second half is a staged interpretation of an excerpt from Nobel laureate Toni Morrison's novel Beloved.
Director fabian thomas told me that a narrator guides the audience through the first piece, which features dance, poetry and dialogue. Thomas created the production for Tribe Sankofa, a performing arts collective which he founded.
By phone from Montego Bay Nadean Rawlins told me that The Black That I Am, by Karl O'Brian Williams, is the first production of her newly-formed company Raw Talent Management. Rawlins directs the show, which will run at Fairfield Theatre until November 8. It got an award-winning production by the University Players in 2005.
She said it is about breaking stereotypes of blackness and encouraging the audience to identify with blackness not as skin colour but as "consciousness". She is using quite a bit of technology and image projection to deliver the message. On stage will be several well-known Kingston and Montego Bay actors, including Philip Clarke, Julene Robinson, Shanique Brown and Marlon Brown.
Ratoon's director Carolyn Allen said the production is a mix of drama, comedy and music. It was written by Erna Brodber, who takes many of its situations and characters from her novel Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home.
"Lots of things she had in mind when she was writing Jane and Louisa that didn't make it into the book are now in this," Allen told me. "Her dedication identifies a group of young people from the 1970s who had a vision for a new Jamaica and she singles out people who were members of Twelve Tribes (a Rastafarian group) and there is at least one scene in the play that is concerned with students at UWI, Mona, some of whom were going Rasta and some who were 'red' (in colour)."
Allen said the play is about Nellie, a country girl whose father got an education and has a vision for community work. When her mother dies, Nellie goes to live with her aunt Beca.
"She is all about upward social mobility and Nellie gets caught between the young man that Beca approves of and the young man she grew up with," Allen said. The vision the latter has for a new Jamaica is an important theme.
The most unusual of this month's productions is undoubtedly The Trial of Governor Eyre, an imagining by attorney-at-law Bert Samuels of a trial that never actually took place, though many powerful people wanted it to. It would have been for the then Governor of Jamaica who was responsible for the death of some 400 Jamaicans following the 1865 Morant Bay War.
Samuels told me he wrote the first draft in three hours, portraying eight different characters - including the defence lawyer and the prosecutor - while a court reporter recorded his dialogue.
"It was inspired by the bravery and sacrifice of Bogle and the others," Samuels said, adding that the script was greatly helped by the polishing of UWI lecturers Dr Clinton Hutton and Professor Verene Shepherd, publisher Ian Randle and director Michael Holgate. The production will be staged in the Morant Bay Courthouse on October 25 and broadcast live on IRIE FM.
After playing in Child Month May I Speak returns in November, which is both Youth Month and Parent Month. It reopens at Hotel Versalles in Clarendon on November 3 and will have performances at the Institute of Jamaica on November 4 and 16, as well as at other venues for various schools.. Randy McLaren, artistic director of the producing group, Articulet, told me on Monday that those other shows are now being co-ordinated.
May I Speak uses drama and dub poetry to deal with issues about and important to young people including their relationships with parents and teachers, child abuse, bullying and the "barrel pickney" dilemma.