Ministry of Culture takes centre stage in the near-death of drama
Stabroek News
October 11, 2001

Dear Editor,

The letter captioned "Producers of shows face problems at National Cultural Centre" from Fitzroy and Lianna Tyrrell (21.8.2001) deserves attention. It correctly places the Ministry of Culture and Sport centre stage in the near-death of drama at the NCC.

While Culture was part of the Ministry of Education, the attitude was one of benign neglect .. and drama flourished. The new Ministry was instantly activist. The administrative staff was replaced. Its members were persons whose experience went beyond knowing where the seats lay and that a box office could make bookings to a knowledge of the needs of producers for rehearsals and set building. They understood that dress rehearsals needed the same facilities as opening nights.

The new ones came into it without the prejudice that comes from knowledge.

Next came the requirement that scripts be submitted for scrutiny, a club rule in totalitarian sets. The Tyrrells found that this club had severe reading difficulties. It required three weeks to work its way through a 3-hour script. As everyone knows, the award of a ministry is, by political magic, accompanied by a full download into the new minister of the total knowledge of the field. So the producer is at a loss to know whether scrutiny is for dramaturgy, spelling and punctuation, moral or political correctness or other.

A production by the Ministry, called "Guyfesta" might have offered clues. In an extended preamble, the Minister gloried in the fact that the performers had come from all 10 regions of our country. The performance was not glorious.

While that may point to a commitment to universality, the financial arrangements point in the opposite direction. Here, only the well-heeled or well-sponsored should apply. The rent is $40,000 per night. The bar, the ushers and their transportation to and from the Centre, set construction and the billboard must all be paid for. If some of these can be questioned as to quantum or necessity, there are two other charges that are pure larceny. NCC grabs one quarter of the gross from ticket sales.

Evidently, the download missed out the fact that national theatre everywhere is state-subsidized and the effort at making NCC an adjunct of the Revenue Authority destroyed itself.

Time was when Theatre Guild was the hive of dramatic activity to the point where finding rehearsal space became a problem. Because of its size and modest production costs, selections of the best of the world's plays were what were produced. In parallel with the education of the audience were on-going workshops in action and play production. This was theatre for the love of it.

In the difficult years, financial rewards became not merely the topmost goal but almost the only goal. The vast seating of NCC beckoned. It called for a mass audience and that demanded plays tailored to it and with the triggers to which it would respond. The playwrights were our own. The plays, cliches embroidered into stories from the news headlines. Evolution took place and the better writers began to flesh out what had been cartoon characters and scripts became less simplistic. Now they are gone and we have left only the hardy perennials like "Link", "Nrityageet",`` Naya Zamana" and "Awe Society".

Still, all is not lost. The Ministry has had installed at NCC new systems: new sound, new lights.

Yours faithfully

Makepeace Richmond