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.

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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.

Profile: Deon Simms


Deon at the "From This Day Forward" premiere. From left to right are, Minister of Culture, Charles Maynard, Deon Simms and head of Track Road Theatre, Matthew Kelly. (Photo courtesy of TRT)

How long have you been involved in Theatre?
I have been involved in theatre for 13 years.

What inspired you to become involved?
I was inspired after seeing a friend in a James Catalyn production.

In what capacity (ies) do you participate in Theatre?
I participate in any area that I’m needed.

Can you list the productions that you have participated in over the years?

I have participated in:

Black Crab‘s Tragedy– Actor

A Diary of Souls – Actor

Slaps – Actor/Writer (One Man Show)

The Holdup – Actor

Playtime – Actor/Writer (one of them)

The Devil on the Cross – Actor

Island Sex – Backstage, Sound

Da Market Fire – Director/Actor

Da Webshop Horror – Actor

Da Rally – Actor

Love in Two Acts – Lights & Sound

Light – Writer/Director/Sound

Woman Take TwoAssistant Director

What are some of your most memorable moments in Theatre?
Performing in Freeport to three people.

Performing in New Orleans and signing autographs afterwards.

Watching my cast give a performance that made the head of Plays and Films Control Board Cry.

Trying to keep a straight face watching Matthew Kelly, Emile Hunt and Ward Minnis do their thing in a scene that I was in with them.

Losing my voice in the middle of a play in a scene where I had to shout.

Going to the police station in my Baron Smiley costume to ask directions and get some weird looks because it wasn’t Halloween.

Writing and Directing the first play I had ever written and have such a favorable response from the people who saw it.

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?
I feel theatre is a gold mine!

The weak point is that there is no constant objective critical voice that says the truth about the productions that are staged. A lot of people veterans and novices alike could benefit greatly from this and since it is not there, they get this false sense of achievement for some horribly written and/or directed productions. Compounding the problem is the ego of the some of the persons that put out theatre who see honest commentary as personal attacks on them and their work and prefer to listen to the voices of the persons paying to see them who applaud them regardless of the quality of their work.

As for strong points, this country has been blessed not only with lots of people who yearn to be involved in theatre but an audience that is yearning for it. Bahamians are starving for homegrown entertainment! Theatre I feel is poised to become the foundation for a great entertainment industry.

Theatre is not as active as it can be because most thespians are on a paper chase because it is expensive to produce for little or no return. A lot of productions are paltry in quality and reflect unjustly on other productions better ilk. Therefore, it becomes a chore to get funding. If more people would support behind the scenes with discount venues, equipment rental, and marketing packages theatre could be more active.

We can make it better by work shopping our productions more- lose the egos! When you’re finished writing a draft read it, rip it apart until it’s perfect and flawless. Require and get more from actors and directors! There should be a lot more craft being honed in rehearsals instead of the mere running of lines and blocking. Include more types of art. In my TRT’s production of LIGHT we had an original soundtrack that featured the music of local hip hop artists. As a result many people who would not have usually come out to theatre came and a lot of people who heard the music were interested in purchasing the soundtrack. If we diversify our offerings we can broaden our audience.

What do you do to prepare for a part?
Learn my lines. Think about what the character would look like, what he would sound like. Take either the thing i love/hate most about the character and build him around that.

How do you prepare to direct a show? Are there any special challenges that you must overcome when directing in The Bahamas?
I prepare to direct a show by tearing apart the script and finding the dialog that will require the actors to bring their ability to the forefront during auditions. A proper looking and sounding cast is key. With that you can make any script work. The only special challenge I see that director’s have to overcome is actors that think they do not need directing. They become a poison pill and if not taken care of they can take turn your whole cast against you. Best thing is to ferret them out at the beginning and deal with them then.

What does it take to write a play?
To write a play takes a story with characters that you know and believe in that are in a situation of which you have equal knowledge and/or belief. Once you’ve written the first draft read it and make revisions. When you are done with revisions you may want to act it out. This helps you to see the dialog in action and helps you to match it to the situation. Once you have a draft that you are comfortable with then find a cast. I find it’s better to find people who look like the characters and to mold them than it is to find someone that has the mannerisms but does not resemble the character. Then rehearse the cast until they own the characters (make time) or else they will just look like people delivering lines. However, if they look the part you may be able to get away with it. Always be fair and allow your cast to have input in their performance. If they feel ownership then you can’t lose.

Any advice for those who want to get involved in Theatre in any capacity?
Find someone who is doing a show, go see it and then tell them your intentions. Be prepared to work at it and maybe even long periods of inaction and doing other things before you see the stage. Stick with it and you will get your turn. Remember though theatre needs all sort of people to make it work.

Deon Simms in an interview with Giovanni Stuart. (Photo courtesy of TRT)

Who were your mentors in Theatre?
Dr. Ian Strachan.

How do you see your future in Bahamian Theatre?
I see me as mainly a writer.

What is your favorite Bahamian play?
Da Webshop Horror.

In your years as an actor, director and writer have you seen the government support the arts in a tangible way?
Not as tangible as I would have liked. They treat theatre like a disabled stepchild. They could impact the both the youth and social climate of The Bahamas by providing more tangible support for the arts. They are more interested in things such as marches, choirs and Junkanoo than anything else.

What role, if any, should the government play in not just theatre but the arts as a whole?
The government should provide resources for the arts. They should assist with finding funding, providing venues, and equipment (sound, light, chairs etc.).
They should also approve a calendar for different forms of the arts to visit the schools so that a certain time throughout the year a few productions from
different groups would be beneficial. Have parents pay for the productions as a part of the registration for the school year. This way when that circuit is
finished and the productions have runs outside of the school they would be attended having been marketed in the schools. Further they could give incentives to people who allow their buildings to be used by artists.

Profile: Ian Strachan


IS

Ian Strachan in Track Road's 2001 play "The Hold Up" (photo by Derek Smith)

How long have you been involved in Theatre?
For about 20 years.  But before I was involved in “theatre” I was involved in “drama,” through church and school.  I adapted and directed and starred in a Tolstoy play when I was a teenager and performed it for church at C. W. Sawyer Primary.

What inspired you to become involved?
My mother was a playwright (though not a nationally recognized one) and I was inspired by her I believe. So I was writing short plays since Junior High.  I remember dramatizing scenes of the Bible for my Religious Knowledge Class at CH Reeves.  Scenes like “Joseph and his Coat of Many Colors.”

In what capacity(ies) do you participate in Theatre?
I have done it all.  Directing is by far the hardest.  I can write a play much more easily than direct one.  In writing I have only myself to coax, to discipline and to engage.  Once a story takes hold of me the scenes just come.  Directing is an entirely different animal.  Particularly directing in The Bahamas when you have no money to spend.

Can you list the productions that you have participated in over the years? 
I have written seven plays.
Pa and the Preacher (1990),
The Mysterious Mister Maphusa
(1990),
No Seeds in Babylon
(1991),
Fatal Passage (1992),
Black Crab’s Tragedy  (1998),
Diary of Souls (1999),
The Devil and Jacinta (2009)  (also called The Devil on the Cross).

I have directed nine plays for national audiences.  My own work:
No Seeds in Babylon.
1997,
Black Crab’s Tragedy. 1998,
Diary of Souls.
 1999,
The Devil and Jacinta, 2009
Pa and the Preacher 2010.

And the original work of other Bahamian playwrights:
Deon Simms’ Slaps (2000),
Charles Huggins’ The Hold Up (2001),
Nickeva Eve’s Island Sex (2002),
Ward Minnis’ The Cabinet (2011)
I produced Da Market Fire by Emille Hunt (2003).

What are some of your most memorable moments in Theatre? Good and bad.
Performing to three people in an auditorium in Freeport.  Definitely the low point of my theatre career.  Either that or the catastrophic opening ceremony of the CAC Games when the athletes stole my set before we actually put on our show. (The bad comes to mind more easily.)  High points: performing No Seeds in Edinburgh in 1991.  The staging of Fatal Passage (which coincided with the 1992 election and a hurricane).  Taking Diary of Souls to New Orleans and Barbados.  And restaging my first play, Pa and the Preacher in 2010.

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?
To make theatre stronger in this country we need: an endowed national theatre company; an equipped national theatre space; an endowed Dundas Centre; a Bachelors degree in Theatre or Performance at COB; a transparent national grant system for theatre projects; cash prizes for new plays.  These will go a long way.  Shakespeare in Paradise is a great thing.  I think also, the state should commit to funding quality recordings of theatrical productions (ones that they have helped fund through grants, for instance, or any production where the producers are willing to allow the public station broadcasting rights).  This will ensure that all Bahamians are exposed to this important form of cultural expression.  Theatre is the most socially relevant Bahamian art form; it should be experienced by as many Bahamians as possible.

Strachan as Pol in TRT's "Diary of Souls" (photo by Peter Ramsay)

What do you do to prepare for a part? 
It would take a while for me to reconstruct my process for you here. But I would say I try to guided by The Method.  The actor must believe in and be loyal to the character.  The actor must join the world of the character.  The actor must summon real lived emotions and experiences and manifest them.  Pay attention to detail.  If it feels like you’re “acting” then you are. Your actions and utterances, should feel real and authentic to you.  If they do, they will be real and authentic for your audience.   Be what you know.  If you intend to imitate, go beyond mastering the simple speech of a well known person.  Yes. you can talk or laugh like a certain public figure.  Good.  Can you cry like him?  Really cry?  Really feel scared like he would?  That takes a level of commitment and surrender of self that most are incapable of or unwilling to attempt.  I am not a great actor.  I hope  I am competent.  Perhaps one day I will take on a role that I feel is important enough to strive to be great in.  Probably not.

How do you prepare to direct a show? Are there any special challenges that you must overcome when directing in The Bahamas? 
Many who want to act do not want to study, prepare and be instructed.  They lack discipline.  I hate the fact that actors won’t take notes during practice.  You have to give them the same direction day after day. Acting is a craft and a discipline.  There is natural talent, or a natural disposition which makes it easier for you to be successful but you still need to listen to instruction, advice or critique.  Some people lack humility and are selfish.  Such people are harder to direct.  I confess I have also been my own worst enemy because I cast some people sometimes who don’t have any facility for acting the part; I do it because I want a warm body.  But truly, they cause me such grief that I’d be better off hunting for the right person.  

 The director’s job is also harder if he doesn’t have the right support; if he must be his own stage manager, his own set builder, his own producer, his own marketing man, if he must be one of the actors.    Each of these takes you one more step away from being optimally effective at directing. 

What does it take to write a play?
Your questions are unreasonable!  I’d be here for days answering this.  The dramatist must ask the question: why do I want to tell this story?  Is this the story for this time, or a story for all time?  As for that last question, both have their place. Most of all, though, what is the conflict?  Who are the contestants in the struggle?  Why should someone care who wins this particular struggle?  Are you always complicating, deepening, tightening the conflict? If not, then cut, cut, cut.  Always remember, the degree to which things are getting more and more effed up is the degree to which your audience is interested in your play.

Any advice for those who want to get involved in Theatre in any capacity?
Try out for a part.  If you don’t get a part, volunteer to work on a show in any capacity where help is needed.  Be positive, friendly, generous, and remain focused on the job at hand.  People underestimate how important concentration and focus are in theatre, whether you are on stage or off. 

Who were your mentors in Theatre?
Shakepeare. Senorita Strachan.  James Catalyn.  Winston Saunders. Philip Burrows.  Nicolette Bethel.  Wole Soyinka. Derek Walcott. Amiri Baraka.  Stanislavksi. Harold Clurman. Brecht. Artaud. Beckett.  August Wilson.

How do you see your future in Bahamian Theatre?
Every time I direct I swear it’s my last time.  So this is not a good question for a man like me.  Right now I feel like theatre is either an irresistible whore or a syphilitic prince charming.  Take your pick.

What is your favorite Bahamian play?
Horse and Father’s Day: Bahamian. Caribbean: Dream on Monkey Mountain.  African: Death and the King’s Horseman or Lion and the Jewel.  Euro-American: Chalk Circle and Threepenny Opera. Shakespeare: Tempest, Merchant, Othello.

In your years as an actor, director and writer have you seen the government support the arts in a tangible way?
I have received government support. Yes.  The government helped fund my documentary.   The government has granted me lower rates on rental facilities.  The government has supported a children’s summer drama workshop I was involved with.  They can and have helped.  They can do more also.

What role, if any, should the government play in not just theatre but the arts as a whole?
See above.

Profile: Nickeva Eve


How long have you been involved in Theatre?
14 years, although in the last three years I haven’t been active.

What inspired you to become involved?
I got my first taste of theatre in junior high school when my English class wrote and staged a play about teen social issues.  I played a drug addict.  It was the first time I had ever stepped outside of myself.  The experience was at once scary and liberating; I loved it.

It was the memory of that wonderful experience in junior high school combined with encouragement from one of my favorite teachers that really pushed me to become involved. (I also like wearing costumes and find it difficult waiting all year for Halloween.)

In what capacity (ies) do you participate in Theatre?
I’ve been an actor, writer, and director.

Can you list the productions that you have participated in over the years?

No Seeds in Babylon – actor

Black Crab’s Tragedy – actor

Diary of Souls – actor

Play Time – actor

Island Sex – writer

The Sweethearts’ Club – writer, director, actor

What are some of your most memorable moments in Theatre? Good and bad.
Definitely playing a homosexual man in “The Sweethearts’ Club” tops the list of good moments.  That was the most fun I’ve had on stage so far, and I made people laugh.  That’s always nice.   Another memorable moment was playing Silvi in Ian Strachan’s “Diary of Souls”.  There was a scene where Silvi recounted being sexually abused that always brought me to tears on stage.  Before that moment, I had no idea that I could feel a character so deeply.

I can’t say that I’ve ever had a bad moment in theatre, not to say that there weren’t difficulties or disappointments.  For me, the personal joy of creating something or being a part of something that people enjoyed overrode any hardships.

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?
Bahamian theatre has grown in that it is practiced and is supported by a wider ranging group of individuals.  It’s not predictable.  It’s not always traditional and that makes it exciting because it touches more of us in different ways.  What’s weak about Bahamian theatre is the fact that it has not yet become a pervasive part of our lives in the way that Junkanoo has for instance.  Not enough of us are willing to commit to it.  Not enough of us take it seriously and are willing even to support it.  How many of us actually mention it when we talk about the culture of The Bahamas? And that’s what we have to work on.  As a people, we have to grow to love and be proud of and vocal about our theatre.

What do you do to prepare for a part?
I make the character real by giving him/her a history and idiosyncrasies that extend beyond what’s on paper.   I do my best to sync myself with the character.  Right before I go on stage, I think about this person and what he/she is feeling in the upcoming scene.  I block out everything else.

Describe your process as a writer. What are your goals as a writer?
As a writer, my process has changed somewhat over the years.  Before, I wrote about what I felt and about interesting scenarios that popped into my head.  Now, I find that I have to think about what I want to write, and I often have to create inspiration. When at first I start a new story or play, I never really have a clear map from beginning to end.  I create the characters and let them steer the story.

My goals as a writer are to bring my characters to life, to tell stories that are lived but not always told, and to be relevant.

Any advice for those who want to get involved in Theatre in any capacity?
Theatre is for everyone.  If you’re looking for a type of theatre group, play or experience that does not yet exist, create it.  Don’t be afraid to be different.

Who were your mentors in Theatre?
Jane Poveromo – In senior high, I was a student in one of Jane Poveromo’s drama classes.  She encouraged me to pursue theatre, and without her encouragement I doubt that I would be in Bahamian theatre today.

Ian Strachan – He was the Director of “Track Road Theatre” when I first joined the group.   His energy and enthusiasm about Bahamian theatre was very contagious.  Through Track Road, I gained a deeper appreciation and love of theatre.

How do you see your future in Bahamian Theatre?
Well, I’ve been away from Bahamian theatre for a few years.  I’m still writing, and I’m sure that I will return to theatre.  Hopefully, my future in it will be a long one.

What is your favorite Bahamian play?
This is a hard question.  You know…I grew up on James Catalyn and Friends, watching Viveka and Cookie and of course James Catalyn.  Those plays combined Bahamian culture and comedy in a way that made me laugh and think; this is a combination that I favor in my own playwriting.  Later, it was Michael Pintard’s one-man show “Still Standing” that gave me my first taste of poetic theatre and opened my mind to the possibilities within Bahamian theatre—i.e. that Bahamian theatre could be gangster, youthful, different.   Then it was “Diary of Souls” that combined reporting and history and wonderful storytelling to create a thought-provoking look at Bahamian-Haitian relations—a topic that was and is still very relevant.  They’re all my favorites.

In your years as an actor/writer/director, have you seen the government support the arts in a tangible way?
Yes, I think so.  We’ve now got the National Centre for Performing Arts in addition to the Dundas Theatre.  We’ve got agreements between The Bahamas and other governments encouraging cultural exchanges.

Could more be done…yes.  Ultimately, however, I think that the success and continued growth of Bahamian arts depends upon the commitment and desire of the Bahamian people.   If we, as a collective unit, demand more government support of the arts, we will have it.

What role, if any, should the government play in not just theatre but the arts as a whole?
There are many individuals in government who personally support Bahamian arts.  I would love, however, for there to be a government-wide ‘policy of encouragement’ for the arts because I believe that the government has a cooperative role to play in the growth of Bahamian arts.

One form of encouragement could be to invest in a state-of-the-art theatre where Bahamian and international arts performances could be staged.  Less expensive forms of encouragement could be to arrange Bahamian performances for official visiting delegations or to include Bahamian arts (in addition to Junkanoo) in official tourism websites and overseas tourism advertisements/publications.

Speaking specifically to Bahamian theatre, it would be great for the government to invest in a performing arts compound where rehearsals could be held.  I’ve found from personal experience that a common barrier to the growth of Bahamian theatre is the difficulty in finding affordable rehearsal venues.

Profile: Ward Minnis


Ward as Cartwright in "The Cabinet" (courtesy of Ward Minnis 2011)

How long have you been involved in Theatre?
All my life. Or since 2003. Whichever came first.

What inspired you to become involved?
I believe playwrighting is the best medium to reach the Bahamian masses. I like all forms of writing, but if you want to reach people you have to become a playwright, I think that’s why I decided to become involved.

In what capacity (ies) do you participate in Theatre?
Producer, actor, writer and in marketing.

Can you list the productions that you have participated in over the years?
The Landlord, Playtime and The Cabinet. I did something in Canada but it was pretty bad – so bad I won’t include it here.

What are some of your most memorable moments in Theatre?
The Good. My first time on stage. The exhilaration  of being on stage was like nothing before.

The Bad. That show in Canada proved how bad theatre can go sometimes. It was a dress rehearsal and it was bad. The script was an abomination and the actors never took it seriously, so we ended up with a disaster of an opening night.

The Ugly. Skeebo forgot his lines and I had to feed them to him one night during The Landlord run.

The Landlord poster. (courtesy of nicobethel.net)


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?
I think it’s fine. The problem is with Art in general or how Art Intellectuals view the public. They think the public is retarded and that they must elevate them to their level. So what we end up having is popular theatre and the ‘good’ theatre. There isn’t much effort to reach the people, instead we create art and we feel the people must understand. What we need is some serious playwrights who are trying to capture the imagination of the people.

Any advice for those who want to get involved in playwrighting?
Ya gotta sit your ass down and write. Be prepared for criticism. Be prepared to destroy it and rebuild it. It takes time.

Who were your mentors in Theatre?
Ian Strachan. I’m a member of a playwrights circle in Canada but it’s hard to call them mentors.

How do you see your future in Bahamian Theatre?
Depends on how The Cabinet pans out. If it works out I have a potentially long future in Bahamian theatre.

What is your favorite Bahamian play?
The Cabinet of course!! Seriously though,  I have yet to read it. I’ve read You Can Lead A Horse To Water, but it’s not my favourite.

In your years as a writer, have you seen the government support the arts in a tangible way?
Not really. Not in any consistent way either. They do it when it’s convenient and when it helps to bring in tourists. Look at the national festival, Junkanoo – which they support – but are constantly trying to make safe for tourists and the middle class. They try to colonize Junkanoo and it resists because how can you colonize that which is meant to express resistance?

So, No. The government does not support the arts, but when they do it seems to come with unwanted and unnecessary meddling.

What role, if any, should the government play in not just theatre but the arts as a whole?
I think they should get out-of-the-way. It would be nice if they gave us money on a consistent and predictable basis, but we should not hold our breath waiting for them to get a clue. Artists should thus accept anything from the government as a gift, not a right – even though they deserve it.