Artistes In Direct Support
Street theatre message delivered with panache, received with applause
by Raschid Osman
Guyana Chronicle
January 12, 2003

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STREET theatre is much more demanding than traditional theatre in the confines of a building, with players ensconced on-stage, with dialogue suitably amplified by built-in acoustics.

Just ask the members of Artistes In Direct Support and they will tell you.

In market places, on playing fields and at street corners, they perform in the round, at the mercy of capricious weather and at times unreliable lighting systems, not to mention high spirited audiences who chatter during the action and giggle and even walk on to the set with a studied nonchalance.

Desiree Edghill and her players are all familiar with these carryings-on.

Ms. Edghill tells of one performance in Region One when a man walked across the set. When he was told that he was trespassing on the set, he asked, "What set, this is the roadside and I can walk here."

Then he picked up an orange from a basket of fruits serving as a prop.

"We had to handle this one very carefully", Ms. Edghill recalls.

She began complimenting the young man. She told him of his nice shirt and how handsome he was, and that many girls must be chasing after him. Soon the invader was laughing and the audience was laughing with him, and it all ended well.

Such goings-on are unheard of in the traditional theatre where the players are embayed behind the proscenium arch in a relatively cosy cocoon, exposed to the audience at just one end.

Artistes in Direct Support is dedicated to education through the performing arts, including drama, music and dance.

It all began in 1992 as a group bent on AIDS education, this at a time when the syndrome was not talked about and when the stigma against victims raged. Soon, others realised how effective street theatre was, and soon the artistes were engaged in education for GECOM, playing in regions around the country. Later, the artistes caravan was again moving across Guyana engaged in a literacy education programme sponsored by the Organisation of American States.

Ms. Edghill breathes theatre and lends to the group with its 50-odd players and singer and dancers an unswerving commitment that ensures its success.

In her work with Artistes In Direct Support, Ms. Edghill draws on considerable theatre experience gained when she herself was involved in amateur theatre at the Theatre Guild Playhouse and later, in professional theatre at the National Cultural Centre. She has a considerable talent. Her work in Paul Stewart's Juno and the Paycock and in Ian Valz's House of Pressure was memorable and she was loved by the critics.

Now, she is rising quite ably to the challenges of street theatre.

She speaks of minimal and collapsible props, of costumes so distinctive that audiences recognise characters at once without the assistance of elaborate scenery.

"The costume of a market woman must be so real that she is recognised at once for what she is, all by herself, and not with a market scene around her," Ms. Edghill explains.

When the artistes' caravan rolls into a community, agents identified in the area would have gone around the night before, with a hailer, telling residents about the happening next day. The set is arranged, the play begins, and then the audience begins converging on the "stage".

They listen to the message in drama, recognise the situations conjured by the players, and relate similar incidents to others in the audience, nudging each other, occasionally breaking into raucous guffaws.

This is all quite satisfying, Ms. Edghill says, as in the midst of all this unconventional behaviour, the message is received.

After each session, there is a time of mingling with the audience, and they ask questions about the message, and about why the players came to their community. And then there are trained peer counsellors among the players who work with young people in need of counselling. The members of the audience offer fruits and snacks and the whole exercise ends on a high note for both players and those played to.

Desiree Edghill speaks of needs. Artistes In Direct Support needs its own lighting plant. They rent plants for each performance, and this is quite expensive. They need a vehicle as well to take their props and themselves from one community to another. They rent buses for this, and this, too, is expensive.

But never mind. They love what they do. And they would rather do nothing else.

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