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Cost, risk affect plays’ ‘country’ runs

Published:Tuesday | July 31, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke/Gleaner Writer
Playwright and producer Basil Dawkins.
Ralph Holness

Last weekend, the current Jambiz production Right Girl, Wrong Address was advertised for Kingston and Ocho Rios. In 'town', as Jamaica's capital and urban St Andrew are commonly called, it was scheduled for Jambiz's Centrestage Theatre base in New Kingston. In 'country' - a sometimes dismissive term for everywhere else in Jamaica - it was set for the Turtle River Park in Ocho Rios. Those out-of-town runs were once standard for theatrical productions in Jamaica, after making a strong showing in Kingston, but have fallen off dramatically. Right Girl, Wrong Address is bucking the trend with stagings across the island.

Playwright and producer Basil Dawkins attributes the decline largely to the escalating costs and risks that plays face when staged in spaces outside of structured theatres, saying, "I have stopped doing that kind of show for years now. Quite a few of us had to give it up because of the risk."

Dawkins gave a list of costly infrastructure which has to be put in place for a play to be held in a space which was not designed for that purpose. "Most of them have no light. You have to bring in lighting equipment and an operator. Then you have to bring the set and have people to build it," he said. Added to that are seats for the audience members, sound and "all kinds of expenses," Dawkins said. Plus, there are the ever-present security concerns.

"All that was well and good one time. You could have a good chance at the Americana Hotel in Ocho Rios, and there was the Cecil Charlton Hall in Mandeville," Dawkins said. However, with those and other venues out of the mix, he said staging plays in the respective towns, as well as other rural towns, became "almost unviable".

It does not help that persons attending the plays do not buy pre-sold tickets, keeping their money secure until they are sure the actors are actually in the area. Then, Dawkins said, "when you go and set up and everything right and 3 o'clock rain fall, a dead you dead".


Roots theatre


However, there are productions which have made extensive use of makeshift spaces in 'town' and 'country', Dawkins saying "when the phenomenon of roots theatre emerged and Ralph Holness (playwright/producer) would go around the island himself, there was a kind of pulling away from theatre as we knew it before then". So there were many actors and actresses who would not do roots theatre productions, Dawkins said, but "at the same time, roots plays - which focused heavily on current events and sometimes bawdy tales with exaggerated acting - brought a whole new audience who would not come out previously."

Still, roots theatre affected what was being staged otherwise, Dawkins saying "as a producer, you had to make sure that the play was humour-driven They came to laugh, not for commentary or something issues-driven. As long as people up there giving them joke, they were okay".