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Little Theatre Movement examines the 'techy-theatre' era

Published:Thursday | December 20, 2018 | 12:00 AMStephanie Lyew
Barbara Gloudon.
Louise Bennett Coverley (left) and Ranny Williams in 1969's LTM National Pantomime 'Moonshine Anancy'. The Little Theatre Movement (LTM) credits 'Miss Lou' and 'Maas Ran' on their role in localising Jamaican theatre.
A scene from the last Pantomime 'Dapper Dan the Anansi Man'.
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With the hassle of mapping out traffic and last-minute holiday shopping comes the Christmas entertainment a niche that no other season shares. Office soirees, stage shows, and midnight parties that promise music blaring from speakers at every corner litter the holiday events calendar. But one has remained consistent with local tradition: holiday​ theatre or as many are familiar with calling it The Pantomime.

But what does it take to earn the attention of entertainment-seekers during the busy period? The answer, according to popular playwright and the Little Theatre Movement's chair, Barbara Gloudon, it is an experience that is appropriate for the family and encourages that type of atmosphere. Her modest goal, as the dedicated pantomime writer tells it, is "to recreate stories that are authentic to our journey", using folk stories and songs that reflected the ways of the people.

"When Greta and Henry Fowler, founders of the Little Theatre Movement (LTM), started on their journey with The Pantomime back in 1941, it was seen as a way of bringing a little theatre to their expatriate friends," Gloudon said.

Although it took 60 years for local culture to make its debut in the British theatre tradition with Jack and the Macca Tree, instead of the usual fairy-tale model of pantomimes, Gloudon said, "The pantomime has an accepted format that works for us. We weave music and folk knowledge into the stories that make sure we give our audiences a chance to remember or learn about our culture."

She adds that being in a space with others laughing, singing along with the action, and most significantly, the interaction with the cast, are the elements that make lifelong memories for the audience.

"After the show, they can meet the cast, talk with the musicians, and in many ways, this encourages them to come back year after year. On the Saturday matinees in particular, we will have several buses coming in from all across the island to see the show. It is an outing for them, and the experience continues on their way back as they rehash what they have seen," she said, "At the end of the night, everyone wishes them well on their journey home, talk with the drivers, and ask that they take special care with their passengers. All of this is just part of the family-atmosphere that we aim to give persons who come to The Pantomime."

 

The Digital Age

 

As theatre entertainment makes moves to fit into the 21st century, where stage shows are being streamed and plays can be downloaded from digital platforms directly to mobile devices, the LTM members have examined the potential of exposing the holiday staple to the technology-savvy generation.

"There have been discussions about the possibilities of online streaming, and we are looking into how that could be done, though we feel that the on-ground experience is a part of what makes theatre special," the playwright said.

Gloudon notes that what the pantomime does will always be organic, and digitising it would mainly act as a way of transmitting what is done. "It is already costly to have a live band and to use hand painted props and backdrops, and to employ a tailor and seamstress to make costumes." She notes that times are hard and money for entertainment is generally the first thing that gets shaved off in the budget, which is the main reason the team works even harder to make the production, "worth every penny."

"A lot of time and effort is spent on the set and costumes, adding to, the hours spent rehearsing and preparing to bring the show to the stage. Our mentor, the late Professor Rex Nettleford always told us, 'we are only as good as our last performance' so it is ensured, that the cast and crew does it best from opening night," she explains.

The issue of pirating has made it problematic as well. "Money has been spent to have the show properly filmed, edited, and produced on CD-DVD and we find that pirated copies are on the road before you sell enough to make a profit.

We realise this is why streaming would be an option, but as we've said, that's something for us to consider."

Modernising and digitising the holiday theatre institution will take a while, so for now, the LTM is resolute about posting clips of the show online through YouTube and other social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram and making this information available on the LTM's website.

The newest edition of The Pantomime, All Aboard Fi Di Windy Rush, opens on Boxing Day and closes on Mother's Day in May 2019.