Profile: Nicolette Bethel

A scene from the 1990 production of "Powercut." left to right, Lynn Lowe as Darlene and N. Bethel as Tanya. (photo by Peter Ramsay)

How long have you been involved in Theatre?
Since 1975 when I got a bit part (a supporting acting role with at least one line of dialogue) in the Queen’s College production of “Oklahoma!”

What inspired you to become involved?
The QC musical of the year before was “Oliver!” and I wanted to be the Artful Dodger.  Since I couldn’t be the Artful Dodger, any part in “Oklahoma!” would do. 


In what capacity do you participate in Theatre?
Throughout high school I acted in the annual musicals, mostly playing bit parts and singing in the chorus.  In university, I discovered stage management, having been drafted into the St Michael’s French theatre by a zealous professor.  Back in Nassau, I worked as an actress, stage crew, lighting design and operation, sound operation, and as a writer.  In Britain, I returned to stage management, and in Canada I directed and produced.  Most recently, I’ve been working as producer, playwright, director, and, when necessary, I still operate lights.


Can you list the productions that you have participated in over the years?
High School:
Oklahoma!,
Guys and Dolls,
Fiddler on the Roof.

University of Toronto:
Les Préciuses Ridicules,
Le Malade Imaginaire.

Grace Gospel Chapel:
The Green Country,
Once Upon a Star.

Dundas:
The Rimers of Eldritch,
Brighton Beach Memoirs,
Everything in the Garden,
Buried Child,
You Can Lead a Horse to Water,
Powercut,
I, Nehemiah Remember When,
Driving Miss Daisy,
Blues for Mr Charlie,
Olemi’s Passage,
Fatal Passage,
Four Billion Circles,
The Runner Stumbles,
Dis We Tings I,
Tales of the Chickcharney,
Music of The Bahamas.

Cambridge:
Kit/Doctor Faustus.

Pearson College:
The Good Doctor,
The Crucible,
One World.

Ringplay Productions:
Macbeth,
The Landlord,
The Children’s Teeth,
Driving Miss Daisy.

Shakespeare in Paradise:
The Tempest,
A Midsummer Night’s Dream,
Dis We Tings 2011
. 


What are some of your most memorable moments in Theatre?
Good: having my plays produced – “Powercut” in 1990, the first time something serious of mine made it onto a stage, and “The Children’s Teeth”, especially with our taking it to Guyana and performing it up-country before a rural audience who talked all their way through it right up to the high-tension scenes, when they reacted exactly the right way.

How do you feel about Theatre in The Bahamas? What are its weak and strong points? How active is it? How can we make it better?
Weaknesses: insularity. We keep reinventing the wheel and it’s always rough in the beginning.  It’s the same rough wheel.  We don’t believe in building on strengths; rather we seem to prefer making our own mistakes, so we make the same ones again and again.  We also seem to underestimate our audiences, and feed the lowest common denominator, going for easy laughter rather than hitting at more complex emotions, or making serious points.  Very few young companies are strong in the directing or the technical sides of theatre, which makes their work seem amateurish and wastes time and money.  Scene changes are clumsy and take far too long.  Lighting is usually pretty badly done and it’s rare to find a young company that knows how to use sound effectively.  Actors in plays shouldn’t need to be miked!  Finally, technology is gimmicky.  We’re spinning in place.  It frustrates the life out of me.

Strengths: young Bahamian actors are really good.  The best parts I’ve seen of local productions over the past several years is really talented acting.  There are some bright sparks in directing – one of the best things I’ve seen recently was the Track Road adaptation of Chekhov and Sutro – intimate, subtle, and solid.  Lots of raw talent out there!

It’s very active, sometimes a little too much so.  It’s also pretty fragmented.  Shakespeare in Paradise was founded to try and bring things together – at least to spark new work and inspire people to stretch themselves, trust their audiences, get some training and respect the theatre enough to aim high.  We can make it better by trying to be the best we can.  By searching out the best and paying attention to it.  By looking for constructive criticism rather than protecting our egos and avoiding it.  By learning every single chance we get.


What do you do to prepare for a part?
I try not to have to do that, ever.  But when I have to, I do a lot of stuff.  I prepare according to the book.  The last time I did that it was a disaster.  Every other time I’ve played the same character and I just play pretend.  And try not to laugh.

How do you prepare to direct a show? Are there any special challenges that you must overcome when directing in The Bahamas?
I read the play.  I look for the moments.  I try and open up the conversation between the audience and the actors.  I try and find the core of the production, get to the point of it, be true to what the production is all about.  If it’s a feel-good teaching-moment production (which is what, say, “Dis We Tings” is) then it’s got to be the best feel-good teaching-moment production it can.

I pray and I rely really heavily on partners – on my stage and production managers, on my husband.  I think hard about blocking.  I have to draw stuff and move people in my head, which frustrates me because Philip just sits there and feels it and that makes me jealous.

Special challenges to overcome – today’s actors seem to have the attitude that getting on stage is a social occasion rather than a job.  Commitment is hard to come by, especially among young people with some acting under their belt.  People are not great with time and reliability, unfortunately, and this is a real problem because theatre is an ensemble affair.  If a single actor is missing from a rehearsal, there’s a change in the energy and there’s a change in the result.  People underestimate their place and overestimate their importance.  A director’s dream is someone who does what they say they will do.  It’s a dream, and one that’s hard to find; when you find it, you never want to let it go.


What does it take to write a play? Describe the process from idea on a page to the stage.
It depends. Usually my plays come from an emotional impulse.  So I have to explore the impulse and find the way to express it.  Sometimes other writers meet characters or have a great dramatic idea.  I generally have to work for that.  With “Powercut” I wanted to show women in situations they couldn’t control, and the play grew from that.  “The Children’s Teeth” started life as a short story in the beginning and grew from there.  Other pieces under way start with a feeling that grows into an idea and then that has to be hammered into a play – I have to find the characters that will carry the idea, that will ground the conflict, and then have to give them a setting and a story.  I write and write and write and my plays generally take years from start to finish.


Any advice for those who want to get involved in Theatre in any capacity?
Work hard.  Take knocks.  Be open to criticism.  Be critical.  It’s not all fun and games.  Good theatre is hard work.  But good theatre is worth it.


Who were your mentors in Theatre?
Philip Cash, director in Queen’s College
Professor Paulette Collet, director in St Michael’s French Theatre
Winston Saunders
Philip Burrows 


How do you see your future in Bahamian Theatre?
I hope I will write some more plays.  I hope even more that Shakespeare in Paradise, of which I’m the producer (Festival Director is the official term) is around for twenty or thirty years and is a staple of the Bahamian year.  I hope I live long enough to see that.  But not too long.  I don’t want to be a decrepit, gibbering old fool.
 

What is your favourite Bahamian play?
“You Can Lead a Horse to Water” by Winston Saunders is one. “Fatal Passage” by Ian Strachan is another, even though it was waaayyy out of the box. “Father’s Day” by Jeanne Thompson is a third.

In your years as an actor, director and writer have you seen the government support the arts in a tangible way?
Yes, sort of, but not really.  In 1983 the government paid for “Sammie Swain” to run for an entire summer in honour of the tenth anniversary of independence.  It produced the show and the ticket revenues helped to pay for it.  Every now and then it invests in CARIFESTA and then spends several years grumbling that it wasted money.  And every year it pumps over $2 million into Junkanoo.  But our governments always invest in events, but almost never in development.  The result: stagnation, with moments of glory because we are really very talented.

What role, if any, should the government play in not just theatre but the arts as a whole?
Government should invest, facilitate, create critical mass.  It should invest in training and support – start-up funding (as with any business), freeing up capital for start-up, and be a supporter of Bahamian art – believing in our culture and investing in it.  That isn’t to say that governments should be patronizing and invest in mediocrity (which is what they tend to do); governments should seek out the best of contemporary Bahamian culture and promote it.  Governments who are proud of their nations do that.  The fact that we have yet to elect a government that does, suggests that we really aren’t all that proud.

Prove me wrong.

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One response to “Profile: Nicolette Bethel

  1. Pingback: Bahamas: Bethel on Theatre · Global Voices

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