“… probably the most reassuring thing about the best among [intuitive] artists is that [their art] is achieved with freedom from demagoguery and without the crassness of social realism. Yet they are no less ‘revolutionary’ for it. Rather, they are the embodiment of that creative tension between tradition and revolution, between an ancestral past and a groping but hopefully self-assured future. They are, as well, the embodiment of passion and contemplation of culture and instinct.”
Rex Nettleford, 1979
Jamaica lost one of its most revered cultural figures last night when Professor Rex Nettleford, vice-chancellor emeritus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and founder of the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC), died, just hours before he would have celebrated his 77th birthday.
Nettleford passed away at George Washington Hospital in Washington, DC, one week after suffering a heart attack at a hotel in the United States capital.
Rex Nettleford: artist, choreographer, academic, labour activist, dancer, author, perpetual student of Caribbean identity, strength and place. Jamaica’s icon; the Caribbean’s heart.
We will not be the same.
Walk good, Rex.
Shakespeare in Paradise is pleased to announce the first three productions for its second annual Theatre Festival, opening October 1st and running through October 11th, 2010.
Our signature Shakespeare production this year is the comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It portrays the adventures of four young lovers and a group of amateur actors, their interactions with the local ruler, Theseus, the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta, and with the fairies who inhabit a moonlit forest. All of this of course will be imagined with a Bahamian touch. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of William Shakespeare’s most popular works for the stage and is widely performed across the world.
Our signature Bahamian production is Telcine Turner Rolle’s award winning play, Woman Take Two. Love and greed are two elemental passions Telcine deals with in this exciting three-act play. It tells the tale of a few people forging alliances for themselves – for love and/or money. Rolle writes with sensitivity and insights into her characters. Suspenseful and intriguing, Woman Take Two provides a glimpse into the darker side of the human character and is even more poignant with the recent events in Haiti. This is a work that thousands of Bahamian students, present and former, are familiar with and would have had their first introduction to in High School.
The third work we are announcing is a production of James Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones, which is also sometimes known by its full title, God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse. This production, written in 1927, is based on a book of poems by Johnson patterned after traditional African-American religious oratory. This work has delighted audiences in theaters, churches and other venues for over 80 years and never grows old. Our production will not only feature the junior choir from St. Francis Church, under the direction of Francis Richardson, but we will have a very talented group of actors preaching the sermons. We are presently working on having one or more of the sermons delivered, at each performance, by some very special guests. More on that will be announced later.
This is our first announcement concerning this year’s festival. You can expect to hear a lot more from us in the months to come. We expect to be announcing at least one more local work, a work from the Caribbean and a work from North America to round out the productions for this year’s festival. We will also be announcing audition dates for all of the shows being directed by Shakespeare In Paradise directors and we will let you know how you can become involved in the festival, either as a performer, a backstage worker, front of house or many of the other areas where volunteers would be needed throughout the festival.
You can find out more information, get in touch with us or keep up to date with what’s going on with the festival online here and at these various sites:
Sixty years of forgotten treasures
Britain is to get a Black Theatre Archive. Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah relives his role in its creation
In Britain, my work is almost exclusively compared to that of Roy Williams. This has always enraged me. Roy is a fine, prolific writer; but even if we were to be compared on the most obvious grounds – race – we still write out of two very different black traditions. I am terribly influenced by the African-American canon and stand on the shoulders of playwrights such as Edgar White, whereas Roy’s work has echoes of Caryl Phillips. And Roy, I would argue, takes inspiration from sources closer to home. What amazed me was that US critics seemed to get that. Although they weren’t always complimentary, to me that was secondary: what was important was that here was intelligent, detailed analysis and context.
Over the past eight days, dream became reality.
Shakespeare in Paradise, an international theatre festival, opened on October 5th, and closed on the holiday Monday. As far as we can tell, it’s the first festival of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean, featuring seven productions over the eight-day period, taking place in seven separate venues, and providing a mix of productions and a mix of nationalities.
For our first festival, it was a success. The idea was a hit with the Bahamian public, who came out in numbers, giving us sold-out houses for much of the weekend and near-capacity houses during the week. It was even attractive to our visitors and second-home residents, as individuals from the cruise ships, Atlantis, and Lyford Cay made their way to the shows.
We had more crucial partnerships with local corporate entities than we ever dreamed of, and that made it possible for us to mount the festival with virtually no cash flow to speak of. Not until we opened our box office and began selling tickets did we get the kind of revenue that enabled us to start paying the bills we were running up, and there were a tense couple of weeks just before the festival, when we were seeking to finance our programmes, our tickets, and our line of t-shirts. But our partnerships — which enabled us to house our visiting artists, provide them with transportation around town, run the ads that got our audiences interested, and create the look for the festival that made us attractive — carried us through.
So we’d like to thank everyone who made the festival possible. We’ll thank them personally and often, but for now, a big big hug and thank you to them all:
Track Road Theatre
The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas
CL Concepts/You in Music
The Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture
The Ministry of Tourism
The Endowment for the Performing Arts
Cable Bahamas Cares Foundation
Coles of Nassau
Buttons Formal Wear
Cultural Experience Productions
Wild Seed Designs
… and many many others. Thanks to you all!!
Hard on the heels of Trevor Rhone’s passing comes news of the death of another Caribbean theatre giant: Surinamese director Henk Tjon.
If it weren’t for CARIFESTA, we would have never met Henk, nor would we have been exposed to his passion and his eloquence on the subject of the role of the arts in Caribbean society.
Most of the reports are in Dutch, so it’s hard to get specific information on his passing. However, he suffered a stroke in a few years ago, and when I met him again in Guyana (I first met him in Trinidad in 2004) it was clear that he was not well.
Henk was one of the architects of the New CARIFESTA Festival model (a model our country seems determined to reject). He will be remembered for its success when at last it is tested for real. He died too soon; he was only 61.
Walk good, Henk.
Yesterday we were shocked and saddened to hear that Trevor Rhone died of a heart attack, at only 69.
For those of you who don’t know who Trevor Rhone is, or don’t know you know who he is: he co-wrote the 1970 Jamaican cult classic film The Harder They Come.
In the theatre world, though, he’s remembered both here in Nassau and in his native Jamaica as one of the region’s most prominent playwrights. Bahamian companies have produced at least three of his plays both here and in Grand Bahama over time — School’s Out, Smile Orange, and of course, Old Story Time, which premiered in Nassau at the Dundas with the following Bahama Drama Circle cast: Winston Saunders, John Trainer, Pandora Gibson-Gomez, Calvin Cooper, Gwen Kelly, and Joan Vanderpool. In the 1980s, too, the Dundas Repertory hosted another of Trevor’s plays, Two Can Play by a company out of Guyana. We will miss him!
The Caribbean world has lost another great playwright. Walk good, Trevor. Walk good.
The idea for a theatre festival has been knocking around in Ringplay’s repertoire for the better part of 10 years. I’ve blogged about it here already, so no need to go into all of that. It’s become a reality, though, because it was time.
In our country, where we welcome millions of tourists annually (from the 1.2 million who stop over to the almost 4 million who come on cruises), where we have no indigenous entertainment to offer those visitors, you’d think that it might be a national priority to develop activities that would attract attention, keep that attention, and — more to the point — keep those tourists coming back for more.
Well, in theory, that’s a good idea. But in practice? Another story. We often rely on our government to take the lead in this sort of thing. In this case, though, it’s easier said than done. One of the biggest obstacles to making such projects work was the fact that government agencies cannot easily collect money. In the government structure that we have, revenue and expenditure are two different entities, and they rarely, if ever, talk to one another. All revenue, whether it be gross or net, is to be paid directly into the Consolidated Fund, and all expenditure comes out of the annual budget allotted to the government agencies at the beginning of each budget year. If that budget, as approved by Finance, does not include an item to cover the expenditure of mounting productions that could bring revenue in — and more to the point, if the revenue generated by those productions is not permitted to be equivalent to the projected expenditure — then one cannot produce shows.
At the same time, the business of putting on productions for paying audiences, even in The Bahamas where people often decry our small population as making it impossible to make theatre pay, has a track record of modest success. Most shows, if well publicized and well managed, can at the very least cover their expenses out of their ticket sales alone, and in some cases turn small profits. Given the fact that our actual target audience is far larger than the permanent population of the country — our tourists need things to do onshore — surely live theatre can have some measure of success. What’s more, when ticket sales are paired with the model of attracting sponsorship from companies and individuals to assist in the mounting of such shows, theatre in The Bahamas should be able to sustain itself over time and even, in the long term, be able to do what politicians seem to imagine is the be-all and end-all of existence — create opportunities for employment. (See Ward Minnis for a fuller exposition of this idea.)
The aim of Shakespeare in Paradise, then, is to do just that. It’s an uncommon, lofty goal, but it’s one that we believe, if managed, could succeed. Why do we believe that?