Home after 26 years…
Took a ‘Trini’ to do it by Linda Rutherford
Guyana Chronicle
March 3, 2002

Related Links: Articles on People
Letters Menu Archival Menu

>“… Guyana is the land of my birth; I’m a Guyanese at heart. Whatever production I do, or have done in the US since 1972, my bio says: Ron Bobb-Semple, born in Guyana.”
- Actor Ron Bobb-Semple

RON Bobb-Semple had not been home in 26 long years.

And the only reason he came over the ‘Mash’ holidays was because of long-time friend, the acclaimed Trinidadian actor, Sullivan Walker, who’s always wanted to bring his one-man show, ‘Boy Days’, here.

“Why?” we asked him. “What has Guyana done you, mek it had to tek a ‘Trini’ to bring you home?”

To which he good-naturedly replied: “Guyana has done me absolutely nothing.” He went on to explain: “It’s not that I did not want to come back here; it’s just that I’ve had the good opportunity to do some travelling throughout the US and to other parts of the world.”

Speaking with the Chronicle before leaving for home last Monday, Bobb-Semple, whom Walker introduced to the media as his stage manager and “an excellent actor himself,” said though this was a trip that was indeed “very long overdue”, in all that time he’s been away, living in the Unites States, he’s never really forgotten or given up on Guyana.

“… Guyana is the land of my birth; I’m a Guyanese at heart. Whatever production I do, or have done in the US since 1972, my bio says: Ron Bobb-Semple, born in Guyana.”

And this, he said, holds true whether the character he is playing “sounds like a Guyanese; Chinese; African; or American.”

Asked what he thought of Guyana from the little he has seen of it, Bobb-Semple, who grew up in Newburg before migrating to the US with the rest of his family in 1972, summed it up in just two words: “I’m impressed.”

Noting that he is in the habit of keeping abreast with what is happening not only here, but also in the Caribbean, he said: “Guyana is not like you hear it is in the US.”

Though the changes may not all be positive, he said, as can happen with any society, “I have felt good coming back here and being able to have everything fall back into place.”

What he is, however, disappointed about, is the level of theatre here; “that theatre in Guyana is not thriving.” He recalled that it was the Theatre Guild that spawned the likes of Marc Matthews, Ken Corsbie, Clairmonte Taitt, Francis Farrier, Carl Nyguen, Alexander Neptune, all of whom he had the pleasure of working with before leaving for the States.

Touching briefly on what he has been up to since leaving these shores, Bobb-Semple, who was into data-processing for 15 years before giving it up in 1988 to go full-time into theatre, said that besides radio, film and television, he also has this one-man show, through which he attempts to portray the lifetime and philosophies of Jamaican Civil Rights activist, Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

Describing the show as his “signature piece for the last three years,” Bobb-Semple said he’s also had the opportunity that Garvey never had, much as he longed to, which was to go to Africa. Research has shown that besides Belize and, Costa Rica, he once came here to what was then British Guiana.

Through the show, Bobb-Semple said: “I have taken his spirit; his name and his words to Senegal.” He’s also been to Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and the infamous Goree Island, just off the coast of Senegal, which is said to be the last the slaves ever saw of their beloved Africa before making the perilous Atlantic crossing.

He was to have gone to Togo and Benin last November, but had to postpone the trip because of the infamous September 11 tragedy. He, however, plans taking it later this year, around November, to South Africa, and “hopefully” here in July.

But, why this preoccupation with Garvey?

It all started close to 20 years ago, when someone made the chance remark that he bore a striking resemblance to Garvey. This led to his reading and researching Garvey, whom he admits he’d never known or heard about before leaving Guyana.

“I told myself that I owed it to myself as an artist and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) [which Garvey founded] to keep the name and the spirit of Garvey alive because it wasn’t being done,” he said.

He added: “Garvey’s words and his ideologies are so applicable today, it’s as if nothing has moved. When I do speeches that Garvey made in 1925; talking about the profanity of young people, which is something that is so prevalent today in any society, I realise how critical his existence was, and how much it has been kept out of the schools.”

This realisation, he said, was to dawn on him while making a presentation in Jamaica back in 1987. During a meet with some grassroots people there, he said, he learnt that even there in Jamaica, Garvey was kept out of the schools; that they didn’t know much about him.

And, even though he is recognised at home as one of Jamaica’s first national heroes, only the parish of St Ann’s where he was born, recognises his birthday on August 17.

By contrast, he is well received in Africa, even if it is only in spirit.

“It was extremely moving; extremely emotional,” said Bobb-Semple about the reception he got when he first took his show there. In Africa, he said, they know of Garvey and the late Bob Marley, who is an idol there.

Noting that he does his show “in full regalia,” referring to the quasi-military get-up Garvey and his followers seemed partial to, Bobb-Semple said: “I have to be authentic; I do not do it in civilian clothes because it’s a transformation; I’ve got to feel the spirit of the man.”

He, too, was extremely moved that first time; “because I realised what I was doing was bringing his name; his spirit; his words; his life; to the Motherland.” After that presentation, he said, he shut himself in a room and cried like a baby.

Through ‘ClaudRon Productions’, a company he co-founded back in ’92 with fellow Guyanese Claude Leandro, Bobb-Semple says he produces “as many plays and readings as possible.” Among these is a play called ‘Interactions’ which was set in Guyana, and which he tried unsuccessfully to bring here back in 1994.

He first met Walker while looking for work shortly after arriving in the States. As Walker himself tells it: “He walked in off the streets and auditioned for a play I was doing; a sort of Caribbean interpretation of [Shakespeare’s] Macbeth in modern dress.”

From that day on, close to 30 years ago, Walker said, the two have been fast friends.

What is perhaps the most striking thing he remembers about that particular play, Bobb-Semple said, was his having to do two other roles besides his on opening night, because the lead actor had taken ill. “There I was backstage trying to cram lines into my head.”

He later had a similar experience during the production of Derek Walcott’s ‘Steel’, a musical based on the origins of the steel pan. “That was very successful, but on opening night, there again, the lead actor took ill.”

“How do you do it?” we ask. “How can one person possibly remember so many lines?”

To which he replied: “It’s all about repetition; repeating what you hear during rehearsals.” But this is something that he’s trained himself to do, ever since he joined the theatre. “I’ve never just learned my own lines, because you have to be prepared. Anything can happen; you may not learn them as diligently as your own, but you need to know everything that is going on around you.”

Asked what it was like adjusting to a society that vastly differed from the one he came from, Bobb-Semple said: “I got work because of my talent. I was fresh…I came with a different energy.”

He has never gone to acting school.

“I’m a graduate of the university of the stage,” he quips.

Lucky in many respects, he says he’s had the opportunity of working “with some very notable actors,” among them Ossie Davis, who directed a musical he did called ‘Bingo Long’, and Avery Brooks from Sci-fi’s ‘A Man Called Hawke’.

Though he has done some television, his thing is ‘off-Broadway’. “I really don’t have the drive to go to Broadway,” he says. “It’s too much glitter; too much glamour; too much fantasy. I prefer to know that you come and pay $7 - 8 and go to a little hole and see live theatre; something intimate; something cultural.”

Besides, Broadway can be pretty expensive to produce.