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Raw Talent takes stage in MoBay - Rawlins starts productions with 'The Black That I Am'

Published:Tuesday | November 17, 2015 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord
Philip Clarke plays a drunk in The Black That I Am.
Black That I Am producer and director Nadean Rawlins thanks her audience and sponsors at Fairfield Theatre, Montego Bay, St Jmaes, after a performance of the production.
Jamaican actor and playwright Karl O'Brian Williams, who wrote The Black That I Am.

Karl O'Brian Williams' race-focused revue, The Black That I Am, was first produced at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA), University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, 10 years ago. It played to acclaim a number of times in the USA and, in part, Scotland, before being brought back to Jamaica last month.

The Black That I Am was staged at the Fairfield Theatre, Montego Bay, by Nadean Rawlins for her production company, Raw Talent Management. The production was an excellent one and, when seen early this month, enjoyed a large, enthusiastic audience.

Rawlins assembled a cast from Montego Bay (Philip Clarke, Marlon Brown, Tabia Nelson and David Clarke) and Kingston (Shanique Brown and Julene Robinson). All except David Clarke had previous theatre experience, but one would never know he was a newcomer. He was as convincing in his various roles as his cast mates, and seemed quite comfortable on stage. Clarke's training and experience in law no doubt helped.

All the actors had several roles, for such is the nature of revues. However, in content, this revue differs somewhat from those usually seen on our stages. Instead of several skits, songs and, dances on a variety of subjects, The Black That I Am has one - blackness.

Some might be put off by that topic and not want to go to the Kingston shows Rawlins hopes to mount, but they should reconsider. While the playwright tackles the issue with some seriousness, he's never solemn. In fact, even when the play got serious and people were nodding - or exclaiming - in approval of its insight and honesty, they were also laughing at its wit.

They might also have been appreciating the variety of situations from which blackness was being viewed. One black, dreadlocked character (played by Brown) can't get a job because of his colour. But it may be because of his attire, he thinks, donning a jacket and tie and going off to an interview with hope in his heart.

Philip Clarke plays an inebriated man who, back in Jamaica after living for years in New York, talks to his grandfather's photo about his failure to fit in in Manhattan because of his race. Nelson, an outlandishly dressed churchgoer, hypocritically denigrates another woman.

Robinson moves easily from an airport lounge at stage right to her room, at centrestage, lamenting that people keep finding find fault with her, a black woman, having a white boyfriend. At the airport. David Clarke speaks about the difficulty that his character, a brown man in Jamaica, has finding an identity.

Also to be admired is the variety of modes - skit, dance, song, monologue and videotaped man-in-the-street interview - in which the many stories are told. That variety, quick pace of the action and believability of the characters shows Rawlins to be an excellent director. The overall quality of the production shows her to be a good producer.

The Black That I Am is Rawlins' first theatrical production with her four month-old company. In an interview after the play, Rawlins spoke about her journey into production.

"My first love was dance," she said. This was surprising me, since for nearly 20 years, Jamaica has known her as an actress. But Rawlins' dance teacher saw her innate theatricality and advised her to take up acting. That led to Rawlins representing her school, George Headley Primary, with a poem in a Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) festival. She got a merit, the first of many acting awards Rawlins was to receive.

At Merl Grove High School, she was the only first-former in the cast of mainly sixth formers performing in a play the school had entered in the Secondary Schools Drama Festival. Rawlins did no more acting until sixth form, when she again competed in the JCDC festival and won a Best Actress award.

Despite her talent, the acting bug had not yet bitten her and, at the then College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST), Rawlins did not do theatre. In fact, she got back into acting by accident. "When I started working, I followed a friend to (Little Theatre Movement (LTM) Pantomime auditions and she asked me to audition with her. I said okay," Rawlins said.

Laughing, Rawlins continued, "I got in, she didn't. And the rest is history."

Rawlins starred in the annual Pantomimes for 10 consecutive years. In her eighth year with LTM, she also joined another group, the University Players. Rawlins followed her long-time Pantomime director, Brian Heap, to PSCCA.

"Brian's productions there were so different from the Pantomime, which is a musical," Rawlins said. "The University Players is more dramatic, and working with that new community stretched me."

Clearly enjoying the stretch, she ventured into directing when Heap started his annual Eight by Ten theatre festival at PSCCA a few years ago. She stayed with the University Players for 10 years before moving to Montego Bay and, while holding down a day job as manager for a large security company, also moved into producing.

"Raw Talent Management will do more than produce for the stage," Rawlins said. "Since July I've actually done several events - parties, an awards show and theatre. We'll also manage people, like a talent agency. So many people come to me and say I want to act, I want to dance. I want to take the talented, develop them and get work for them."

"Here in Montego Bay or in western Jamaica?" she was asked.

Rawlins laughed. "Western Jamaica. And I wouldn't' mind doing it in Kingston, too. I don't want to limit myself."

She clearly doesn't.