The future of the Theatre Guild
By Frank Thomasson
February 25, 2007
As a founder member of the Theatre Guild (TG) in 1959 and a signatory to its Memorandum and Articles of Association of 1961, I welcome the messages that indicate that a rebirth of Theatre Guild is planned. There is no doubt about its failure to perform for many years and no doubt about the sad condition of The Playhouse, so this project is a challenging one which I hope will be supported by former members and Guyanese at home and abroad.
Early in 1984, Rashid Osman issued the first public warning when he wrote "The Guild is now a mere shadow of its former self. Theatre Guild is at a crossroads. One would think that many of those who were made what they are by the Guild would now make a positive move to halt its slide into mediocrity, and perhaps, oblivion."
Al Creighton in his Sunday Stabroek column has provided erudite warning articles since the issue of June 18, 1988 followed by June 25, 1988 and April 2004. He made it very clear that there is a huge amount to do to resuscitate The Playhouse but there must also be concerns about management, membership, training and productions. Finally on June 13, 2004 he issued a 'distress signal,' in which he described in detail the ruins of the once great Theatre Guild Playhouse.
In these articles he also questioned the failure of dramatists who came up through TG "to feel a moral commitment to keep TG afloat."
None of that means that this project should not be attempted, and the wonderful news reaching me is that a fundraising/trustees committee has sprung into action and will be assisted by the interim executive committee (IEC) which came into being in 2003 from a meeting of thespians interested in a TG resuscitation initiated by Gail Teixeira, Minister of Culture at the time.
The justification for rebirth is that the absence of a TG type organisation and its potential affiliates denies a major opportunity for young and old to participate in an interest/leisure activity, if you wish, which is both challenging and develops personal and team skills, and provides the community in which it operates with opportunities to enjoy, be stimulated by and even challenged by theatre performances.
A key issue, in my view, is that the trustees and the IEC should reaffirm that the underlying ethos of TG will remain that of a voluntary organisation - a national focal point and venue for individuals, drama groups and institutions who support this ethos and whose practices lie in the voluntary sector which for TG are set out in their Memorandum and Articles of Association registered on September 9, 1961. That opinion does not mean that commercial dramatists should be excluded from hiring the Playhouse.
Given that the fundraising is successful and the rebuilding completed, there are some problems which may emerge:
a) Education - the cradle
In Guyana, as elsewhere, the original spark of interest in theatre for many children and young people takes place at their school, college or university almost accidentally, because unless Theatre Arts is on the syllabus along with the provision of an appropriate staff member, it is usually only if there is a staff member who is personally interested and/or sees the value of dramatic activity either in or out of school time that pupils will be exposed to this field.
Historic examples of this are Mrs Allen and Mrs Robinson at BHS, Messrs Pilgrim and Sanger-Davies at QC and staff members at East La Penitence as well as Abram Zuil Secondary. The Guyana and the Caribbean Secondary Schools Festival sparked excellent activity, and it was good to know that the ministry was able to arrange a 5th Secondary Schools Festival at The Playhouse in October 2006. Of the six entries, however, only one entry came from Georgetown, namely, the Sophia Special School. All of the other five were from the regions.
One strong spark, if used, is the introduction in 2003 of Theatre Arts as a CXC subject, but I do not know whether any schools have been able to introduce this into their curriculum.
Historically, the TG's Children's Workshop was a great success between 1963 and 1971, as were programmes for adults and for the Guild's dance group of which Malcolm Hall was a most successful captain and trainer in the 1970s. He is now President of the Guyana Cultural Association, New York.
Of course there will be some basic decisions to make in due course such as membership subscriptions, hiring rates, remaining a registered charity and how best to fill what seems likely to be a gap in the provision of stimuli/training by TG. One possible route would be to seek support from overseas organisations known to assist in this way.
Meanwhile, I take this opportunity to urge all former TG members and friends, at home and abroad, as well as other members of the community in Guyana and of the diaspora abroad, to support the rebirth by contributing, perhaps by a collection, to the recently formed fundraisers when the arrangements to contribute are published.