Profile: Dion Johnson


Caliban's monologue

Caliban (Kennedy Storr centre) quells the fears of Trinculo (D. Johnson, right) and Stephano (A. Roberts, left) in SiP's 2009, The Tempest. (photo by Peter Ramsay)

How long have you been involved in Theatre?
I’ve been involved in theatre for over thirteen years, but just like most, my acting skills were sharpened in church and school productions from a young age.

What inspired you to become involved?
From my early childhood years I enjoyed entertaining the people around me.  My father and uncle were a part of the original members of the National Youth Choir and were considered the entertainers of their time within the group. So like many children, I aspired to be like them. In addition to that, being a descendant of Cat Island, my grandmother always told me that Sir Sidney Poitier, and Tony Mackay were my cousins, I laughed, but still felt connected to the arts through them, it’s in the blood.

In what capacity (ies) do you participate in Theatre?
Primarily I participated  in the arts as a actor, but I’ve also done many works as a classical singer in different choirs. I’ve written and directed small productions for my school, and co-directed /co-produced an improv show Thoughtkatcher Presents “Da Spot”.

Can you list the productions that you have participated in over the years?
Here’s a listing of both choral and theatrical productions

Choral

Theatrical

  • Rev.- Island Fling -Rupert Missick 1998
  • LukeLife’s Choices- Gawaine Ward 2000
  • JeffThe Children’s Teeth– Dr. Nicolette Bethel, Ringplay Productions 2008
  • The WolfPeter vs. the Wolf-Mr. Justin Locke and the Bahamas National Orchestra 2008
  • SalvadorGuanahani– James Catalyn and Andrew Curry I, James Catalyn and Friends 2009
  • Summer Madness– James Catalyn and Friends 2009-2010
  • SmirnovThe Bear– written by Anton Chekov, adapted by Track Road Theatre 2009
  • TrinculoThe Tempest- William Shakespeare, Shakespeare In Paradise 2009
  • PuckA Midsummer’s Night Dream-William Shakespeare, Shakespeare In Paradise 2010
  • Assistant Producer- Da Spot– Thoughtkatcher Productions 2005-present
  • Paps/Grease Lightning/DominicanWest St Radio Soap Opera– Thoughtkatcher Productions 2010-present

What are some of your most memorable moments in Theatre?
I never had moments that I would consider a bad moment, rather learning experiences that ultimately turns into a good moment because you can laugh about it in the future. But the most memorable moments to me must be working with iconic members of the artisan community such as Claudette “Cookie” Allens, Anthony “Skeebo” Roberts, and James Catalyn to name a few and to be treated as a peer in the arts.

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?
Theatre in the Bahamas has been making bigger strides as I remember watching my first production in the Dundas as a little boy and returning as a freshman in college. Its strength lies within the people that have that passion to pursue excellence and present a message to the masses through the art form of theatre.

The weak point in theatre lies within the ability of society to accept all forms of the arts, be it comedy, drama, thriller, horror and the likes. If it’s not funny, most Bahamians will not go to see it, and until we can embrace all genres of the industry many shows will not see the number of patrons given to a comedy show.

Through theatre groups like Ringplay, Track Road, James Catalyn and Friends, and Thoughtkatcher, and solo ventures of Dynamite Daisy, and Michael Pintard, the arts are definitely having a positive impact on the rise of patrons for theatre, and its impact on societal responses to issues in general.

What do you do to prepare for a part?
The easiest thing for me to do in preparation for a part is to read through the script and mark my sections. However, the interaction with the other cast members is what really meshes the different sections together and that allows me to memorize both my lines and the other actors’ lines, to a point where a prompter is not necessary when I’m on stage during practice; not tooting my horn, but I like to know production from all angles and perspectives.

Any advice for those who want to get involved in Theatre in any capacity?
The easiest thing to do to get involved is to come out to various shows happening, and get to know, and introduce yourself to the directors, writers, and actors. Showing initiative is always the first step in achieving any goal no matter the age; babies learn to walk by falling down first.

Who were your mentors in Theatre?
I consider Anthony “Skeebo” Roberts to be my theatrical father, because he would have been integral in my movements both on and off the stage. Also Mr. Philip Burrows, Matthew Kelly, and James Catalyn who have been an important part of my development within the industry.

How do you see your future in Bahamian Theatre?
There is a very bright future for me in Bahamian Theatre simply because I don’t intend on sitting back and accepting the status quo. 

What is your favorite Bahamian play?
Woman Take Two is an excellent staged show that deals with how society looks at race, beliefs and social status. I also liked “You Can Lead a Horse to Water” the drama was intense.

All smiles

Matthew Wildgoose (left) and Dion Johnson (right) after a show at The Hub

In your years as an actor, have you seen the government support the arts in a tangible way?
I can plead guilty with an explanation. In 2008, I had the opportunity to travel as a representative of the theatrical community to Guyana for Carifesta. Is that venture sufficient to sustain the growth of our cultural heritage, no, but it shows initiative on their behalf.

What role, if any, should the government play in not just theatre but the arts as a whole?
I believe that the governments’ role in the arts should be one as a voice to both the private sector and the world at large. In the case of our largest industry being tourism, I believe the government should and can make it mandatory to have a Bahamian Brand show within each major hotel and resort. This can be very possible seeing that every investor has terms of agreement when entering a contract with our government.

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.

Profile: Matthew Kelly


Matthew Kelly at Express Yourself. (Courtesy of M.Kelly)

How long have you been involved in Theatre?
Somewhere around 18 years: if you’re counting high school. 

What inspired you to become involved?
Wanting to understand and be a part of performance and story, and then there was that whole teenage love thing.  After that first production if it’s in your blood you’re addicted.

In what capacity do you participate in Theatre?
Primarily I’m a director, but I’m a jack of all trades and believe in having a broad background.  It’s also pretty impractical for us in The Bahamas to paint little lines on the stage and say “I’m an actor!”, “I’m a director!” when what they really mean is “I don’ wanna do that over there, so I’ll give myself this job description right here, thank you very much.”  Even writers should be forced to be involved far more.  To mangle a maxim, if a playwright should write what he knows then he’d better know theatre.

Can you list the productions that you have been involved in over the years?

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Scrooge / A Christmas Carol.

Snow White and the Seven Dudes.

Cinderella.

Black Crab‘s Tragedy.

Slaps.

The Hold Up.

Island Sex (’02).

Play Time.

Devil on the Cross.

Diary of Souls.

Da Market Fire.

Island Sex (’06).

Da Rally.

Love in Two Acts (The Bear and The Open Door).

Light.

What are some of your most memorable moments in Theatre?
So many!  A random selection: 

Screaming “A fart has no nose!” in the Chalk Circle. I was pretty bad, but it freed me of stage fright.  

Performing Black Crab’s Tragedy (30 member cast) to and audience of two in Freeport

Selling out the National Center for the Performing Arts.

Having my eyes opened during Da Market Fire.

How do you feel about Theatre in The Bahamas? What are its weak and strong points? How active is it?
Thankfully theatre is on the rebound.  

Theatre in The Bahamas is in a fledgling state, a bit weird considering its decades and decades of history.  In a sense it’s really being reborn.  Not all of it or all of the people are new, not by far, but part of our legacy was a disconnect from the previous generation to the current one in theatre.  That’s no-one’s fault per se, but one consequence has been a lot of new groups pushing forward, making their own way (which is excellent) but not having the benefit of the previous generation’s experience and wisdom to pick, choose and refuse from.  It’s also meant that the public’s perception has been one of spotty theatre instead of a steady continuum which helps make it harder to build audiences

An up side is that there are all these great, energetic, passionate, and dedicated people on the scene now doing what they have to to tell their stories and express their creativity.

How do we make it better?
We all know what needs to be done, but these things are just addressing symptoms.  I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of what really plagues theatre, other arts, and even broader social issues in The Bahamas comes down to us not committing the time to building functional community.  If the mechanisms and social constructs and social capital of functional community are in place then dealing with issues becomes an automatic and second nature response because it’s in the interest of the community.  A lot of the fracturing of the ‘community’ that was present is showing signs of subsiding and this is a great time be building stronger bonds.

How do you prepare to direct a show? Are there any special challenges that you must overcome when directing in The Bahamas?
There’s some prep work that goes on before a play is chosen, but once the script is in hand there must first be a familiarity with the text. After several readings I can begin making decisions on style, spine, technical and creative design, and rough rehearsal and production schedules. All these decisions have an impact on one another but it all comes back to understanding your role as director and the considerations of the play, the place (venue, time and atmosphere), and the audience.  My style of note taking is a mash-up of a few recommendations I’ve come across and I recommend Backwards and Forwards by David Ball and On Directing by Harold Clurman as great books to start with regarding initial preparation. 

There are many challenges when directing in The Bahamas, but I suspect they’re challenges that are common anywhere that there’s not a highly functional theatre community, and that’s most places that an industry isn’t thriving in.  Time, money, skilled people, but much more than these we face a culture that’s still pretty void of thinking about theatre as a part of their lives.  Cultivating audiences and a general atmosphere where going to plays is an integral part of life is the biggest collective challenge we must address as a community right now.

A producer/production manager takes care of a lot of challenges the play has, so for the director I would say that finding a team that commits to the work a play requires is number one.  There are many who say they’re really interested in acting but they never explore the craft at all.  What they really mean is that they want to be in front of an audience and be applauded, and they expect you to give that to them.  If there’s someone with potential I’ll try to show him everything I’ve picked up along the way, but if you’re not interested in learning I quickly stop you from wasting everyone else’s time.  I give you the conditions up front and if you don’t play by the rules I fire you.  Whether it’s a paying gig or not you’re fired because you’re not working as part of the team and it’s my job to keep things honest and fair for everyone; there’s nothing personal about it.

Any advice for those who want to get involved in Theatre in any capacity?
Read, discuss & do.  Read plays, read books on the part of the craft you’re interested in, support that with books about the other parts of the craft.  Don’t think that information from books is enough, you have to discuss and do what you learn to really grasp it and you have to discuss it with people more experienced than yourself.  So get involved with one or, better, several theatre groups.  And go expecting to work while you learn. Maybe you’ll be amazed that work can actually be fun.

Who were your mentors in Theatre?
I’d have to credit my junior high English teacher, Mrs. Hunter, for showing such passion around plays and literature and learning in general.  The main thing though, was that she cared about us and our learning.  I’ve also picked up a lot of dos and don’ts from people I’ve been around, but I haven’t really had any mentors as such.  Perhaps it’s best to count good books and mistakes and a willingness to learn from them. 

How do you see your future in Bahamian Theatre?
Um… with the all new Future 5000 Glasses Combo Kit?  By reading tea leaves?  

I’m going to direct plays, actively pass on what I’ve learned and try my hand at writing.  I’ll also be involved in the work of building community in theatre.

What is your favorite Bahamian play?
Ha!  I don’t believe in favorites. Seriously.

In your years in theatre, have you seen the government support the arts in a tangible way?
Of course, but if you’re asking if it should be better the answer is also of course!  Still, I’m a big believer in going out and getting it done then shoving it in government’s face to support.  They’re always keen to swoop in for the credit and the photo op once the work is done.

What role, if any, should the government play in not just theatre but the arts as a whole?
Government should expect us to get together and figure out what we want as a community and then to reasonably fund our needs in the same way others receive funding.  They shouldn’t just prop us up, but instead should be taking care of infrastructural needs, like improving the National Centre. They also need to help in maintaining a framework that enables the arts to flourish but otherwise stay the hell out of the way.  Until we get our collective butt together I don’t think it reasonable to expect much.  It’s obvious that a national program is needed, but again I think that’s a cart-before-horse conversation.  That said, even without looking at the arts community government should recognize the value of art, and much more importantly, creativity and have a basic system in place to support consistently both the production of artistic works and the cultivation of creativity in the broad populace.