The re-emergence of drama training
Arts on Sunday
June 20, 2004
Just as we began to lament the decline and threatened fall of the Theatre Guild, there came a reminder that other things were being done in amateur theatre to provide some degree of training in the absence of a national school of drama. This reminder surfaced in the form of a two- part production at the Cultural Centre showcasing the work coming out of a drama class run by the Ministry of Culture Youth and Sport.
It was not the first of its type, since there were others in recent years, such as efforts made by the Unit of Allied Arts and a UNESCO supported workshop conducted by dramatist Paloma Mohamed. Miss Mohamed happens to be a 'graduate' of the Theatre Guild and of the University of Guyana, two institutions that have been engaged in drama training. The problem is that neither of them is doing it now, and the Guild is an endangered species. Some time ago, in its better days, the Guild used to have workshop productions in which the fledglings tried out their wings after a period of learning. This seems to be the idea behind the ministry's drama class for youths followed by the productions last week in which the apprentices performed. An Evening of Theatre really ran for two evenings: Sunday featured a combination of dramatic pieces directed by Jennifer Davis, and on Monday the second part directed by Sonya Yarde was on stage. Miss Davis, who is the Ministry of Culture's drama officer, was responsible for the class, which has been working and preparing for these performances since October 2003. Miss Yarde, one of the leading local actresses, has been assisting her and was responsible for the Level 1 students in the class.
The outcome of that venture was the virtual festival of theatre seen in those two evenings, in which the students had the opportunity to test whatever skills they might have acquired on stage before a public audience. It was timely and encouraging because there has been great concern about the state of theatre and the absence of formal training; there have been questions about where the next set of competent actors and directors would come from and serious doubts that they would ever emerge. These doubts persisted because drama was not being taught anywhere, while plays were being written and produced without the benefit of knowledge of the art or even of dramaturgy.
To some extent, An Evening of Theatre provided cause for one to dare to hope that the next set of competent practitioners may be emerging from somewhere. The cast and stage crew were youths who were students in the class and even Sonya Yarde, a very fine actress who directed the second evening, is herself an apprentice as a director and drama tutor being initiated by Miss Davis.
The hope is fuelled by a number of important factors. The first is the large numbers of teenagers who took part, giving the impression that there is a lively interest in theatre within their generation. This also carried over to the audience, since many of that generation turned up to see the performances, were receptive and certainly not passive. Then, there is something to be said for their willingness to undergo a sustained period of instruction.
Perhaps the idea is to continue these sessions. Surely, the achievement of completing a public production is persuasive inspiration for them to want to go on and do more; this alone will help to create a team of potential practitioners who have had at least the exposure and basic training.
The Level 1 class performed a wide range of material drawn from several different pieces, including skits, one-act plays, monologues, poems, dance and other performance pieces. The production was obviously the result of a great deal of work put in by all involved, and could not have been an easy task for Miss Yarde. The pieces were varied, mixed and not all good material. There were good selections, some that were truly dramatic, some that only came alive because of the energy put into them by the performers, those that were not well performed or staged, and others which were just not worth the effort. But even the bad ones would win the support of any audience because of an extremely important and powerful factor: the overflow of enthusiasm among interested performers who obviously enjoyed what they were doing.
While not all the items could be called polished pieces, there was a very high level of discipline in evidence. The actors and dancers stuck to their task, but most of the order and discipline was exhibited by the stage hands and back-stage crew who supported the presentations with alacrity, efficiency and a good deal of precision, sometimes allowing fast and effective scene changes and placement of set. It was encouraging to assume that the students took this aspect of staging seriously and that training in these areas is given as much emphasis as acting and dancing.
The most successful piece was the short comedy Good Morning Miss Millie by Dominican playwright Alwyn Bully. It was funny, fluent, effectively adapted and quite well performed, displaying a few examples of serious talent. Worthy of note were Kenny Greene, Bibi Wembo, Nikita Reid, Shauntel Marshall and Waynewright Telford. While it is difficult and probably even unfair to pick out these few in a production with such a large, earnest cast that was a truly collective effort, these may be singled out as worthy performers. There were others from some of the remaining items, such as Nicola Reid, Oceana Hoppie and Royce Beveney in We Guyanese Folk by Juliet Hinds; Kenny Greene and Lashaun Boston in M K Khan's Devil Finds A Friend.
Also of note for an entirely different reason, was the dramatization of An Honest Thief. Although presented as an original short play, it was actually the adaptation of a short story by Timothy Callender of Barbados. While the named author may take credit for having adapted it for the stage, in this climate of rampant plagiarism and breaches of intellectual property rights, one has to be careful in the way credits are presented and ensure that authors are properly acknowledged.
Yet, the entire collective effort should not go unlauded. No one pretended that this was theatre that had arrived.
It was part of a process of instruction, it is developmental and of vital importance to the future well-being of Guyanese theatre and it is hoped that more of this will be done. However, among the achievements of An Evening of Theatre was its connectivity with an audience who could appreciate the fun and the hard work and did not care that there were understandable flaws.
And while this is another route towards the provision of informal training for dramatists, it also serves to emphasize the need for the rescue and revival of the Theatre Guild Playhouse.
Even before the building began to fall apart, the Guild workshops had declined. They were largely without expert tutors and devoid of any theoretical content. It is good for actors, directors, playwrights, stage managers, lighting and sound technicians, designers and other personnel to have some knowledge of the stage beyond the fact that they have worked on it.
Definitely there have been those who do not owe their phenomenal success to any formal schooling, but they are the ones with the rare gift of genius.
Guyana cannot wait for a genius to appear every few decades, it has to focus on education and training for those who want to be artists and the proper honing of the abundant talent that exists.