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Garvey, Scott, Wynter speak a new language

Published:Sunday | April 1, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer

The second event to mark International Theatre Day was held on Wednesday. During a symposium titled 'The Theatre of Jamaica 50, 'Righting' Our History - The Conscience of Post-colonial Playwrights', Honor Ford-Smith deconstructed the works of Marcus Garvey, Dennis Scott and Sylvia Wynter.

The deconstruction was done to illustrate that through performance people are motivated into action.

The lecture began with an intriguing introduction.

Against the background of images of a protest, organised by the coalition of human-rights group Jamaicans for Justice and civil society, Ford-Smith revisited a news item through narration that vividly described the occurrences at the protest site.

"My reason for mentioning this event is to demonstrate that staged action such as these are forms of theatre and performance. They are everywhere, and they produce the scenarios of possibilities that shape human subject. They are there to show what can be accomplished and they can command real social effects," she explained.

"We find performance in the form of theatre; we also find it in religion and family celebration, graduation and the rituals of parliament, from electoral campaign to the dancehall, from the spectacle of sports to the agonising display of war. Through performance all cultures celebrate, aspire and enjoys themselves," Ford-Smith continued.

And outlining the direction of her discourse, she also explained that it is no longer enough to study theatre through western classical or eastern classical traditions. Theatre has taken its place in the broad spectrum of performance, as it relates to rituals, spectacle and revolt.

The former Jamaica School of Drama lecturer also noted that "performance and literature are a form of negotiation to arouse feelings - feeling empathy among them".

"In a society where literature was the language of the elite, performance became a practical way to tap into knowledge that is unauthorised," Ford-Smith explained

teaching with public performance

The master of using public performance as a means of teaching was Marcus Garvey.

According to Ford-Smith, Garvey's language and a number of other acting methods were used to mobilise people.

"This is how Garveyism entered the popular consciousness where it still lives, and is by far the single most popularly remembered instance of quintessential Jamaican pride."

Garvey saw performance as essential to his work. His performance taught nationhood, black masculinity, and community. His spectacular parades reached thousands of people. And Garvey, wearing the uniform worn by the governor general, was teaching through symbolism.

Using Scott's play titled Echo in the Bone as reference, Ford-Smith stated, "Like Garvey, Scott's ideas were based on the assertion that decolonisation must give birth to a new kind of subject. … to challenge a conformed colonisation."

Ford-Smith further elaborated that Scott engages, precisely, the western philosophy.

However, she also noted that whereas Scott and Garvey attempted to use performance as a space for language production Wynter, in her play, was more questioning.

Two of those questions are: What are the rules that govern our human perception? and; What are the perceptions of the rules?