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: 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.