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.

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Profile: Dana J. Ferguson


Dana

Dana J. Ferguson (courtesy of danajferguson.com)

How long have you been involved in Theatre?
For as long as I can remember!

What inspired you to become involved?
My mother was a performer and did a number of projects while she was pregnant with me – I figure something rubbed off! But I decided to seriously pursue it as a career when I saw Romeo and Juliet performed live in England while on a summer school trip.  That performance changed my life and I knew it was something I had to do.

In what capacity (ies) do you participate in Theatre?
Actor, Assistant Stage Manager, Wardrobe Mistress, Set Design – and in any other way I can help out, I do!

Dana as Lizzie in "Stamping, Shouting and Singing Home" (courtesy of danajferguson.com)

Can you list the productions that you have participated in over the years?
I’ve been involved in a number of different productions.

2010,  Her (and all other Bahamian characters), DAT BAHAMIAN T’ING, Yellowtale Theatre Company, Robin Belfield
2010,  Hermia, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, Ringplay Productions, Patti-Anne Ali
2009, Ariel, THE TEMPEST, Ringplay Productions , Patti-Anne Ali & Craig Pinder
2009, Narrator, HEAVEN’S GROCERY STORE, World Methodist Conference
2008, Lizzie Walker, STAMPING, SHOUTING AND SINGING HOME, Forest Forge Theatre & Nuffield Theatre, Russ Tunney
2008, Negro Woman, Matron, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, Nuffield Theatre, Patrick Sandford
2007, Wendy, PETER PAN, Nuffield Theatre, Patrick Sandford
2007, Woman In The Green Dress (Lead)/All Bahamian Roles, THAT BAHAMIAN T’ING, Nuffield Theatre & Yellow Tale Theatre, Robin Belfield
2007,  Ariel [The Tempest], WILL AT THE WEALD, The Company Presents, Patrick Sandford
2007,  Phoebe [As You Like It], WILL AT THE WEALD, The Company Presents, Robin Belfield
2006, Woman In The Green Dress (Lead)/All Bahamian Roles, DAT BAHAMIAN T’ING, Forest Arts/Nuffield Theatre, Robin Belfield
2006, Pimple, SHE STOOPS TO CONQUERBristol Old Vic Theatre School, Chris Harris
2006, Dorinda, THE BEAUX’ STRATAGEM, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Chris Harris
2006, Lady Hunstanton, A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Bonnie Hurren
2006, Cecily Cardew, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Bonnie Hurren
2006, Duchess Eleanor [Henvy VI], UNEASY LIES THE HEAD THAT WEARS THE CROWN, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Sonia Fraser
2005, Titania, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, David Collins
2005, Lady [The Lady and The Lion], GRIMM’S FAIRY TALES , Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Elwyn Johnson
Wendy

Peter and Wendy (courtesy of danajferguson.com)

What are some of your most memorable moments in Theatre?
A Good Memory – I once worked with a young lady who was extremely self-concious about her work, which was ludicrous because she’s really very good!  She asked me to help coach her, so I did – and when she hit the stage for opening night, she was electric.  The audience loved her and it made me feel good to know that I was able to help her make that happen.

A Bad Memory – I get really upset working with people who don’t take the job seriously.  Unless you’re a one-man show, you are part of an ensemble and are accounable to the rest of the team so you need to do your part in making the scene/show etc work.  Failure to commit to memorising lines in a timely fashion or even showing up to set on time frustrates the entire process. I once worked with a guy who sang his praises about being a committed artist and true professional – but then he came on set to shoot the scenes and was duller than dishwater!  Totally flat, lackluster performance… he couldn’t put his money where his mouth was.  Suffice it to say, he never got work with that director again.  That was a painful day on set, let me tell ya!

Hermia in love. (from left to right, Matthew Wildgoose, Dana and Nicole Fair, courtesy of danajferguson.com)

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’d love for the cultural arts in the Bahamas to be respected and revered.  To inspire the young and young at heart.  Art should never be censored – but unfortunately, the Christian Council plays a role in regulating Bahamian art, resulting in many productions losing out on the opportunity to live, breathe and exist in spite of which social or religious faction that work  may offend.  Art should spark discussion and debate. It should be taken seriously.  The Bahamas is entrenched with deep and meaningful history that is lost on today’s youth.  The development of an arts council to aid in promoting and protecting art and the artist would go a long way in preserving and promoting Bahamian cultural arts both here and abroad.  Bahamain culture is more than Junkanoo.  It’s storytelling and photography, painting and straw work, music and dance.  It’s theatre and design, cinematic creations with Bahamian directors, actors and singers who add something to their creations that no other nationality can replicate. Instead of working together to promote Bahamian talent, we have people that deliberately put stumbling blocks in the way of young directors and actors etc in an effort to frustrate their efforts to develop our culture.  Until we learn to work together, theatre will continue to be sporadic.

What do you do to prepare for a part?
The process varies depending on the project but I always start with reading the entire script a few times.  Then I start paying attention to my character and the relationships they have with other characters in the play .  But with every play, I always return to the script – sometimes you get stuck thinking a certain way but re-reading the text will help you unravel the many layers to get to the truth.  And at the end of the day, an actor should always be truthful to the script and the character.  That makes for the best performances.

Any advice for those who want to get involved in Theatre in any capacity?
There are so many aspects of theatre that one can get involved in.  For those who are shy, some of the most important work happens behind the scenes – lights, sound, costumes, stage managing, script doctor…the list is endless.  Be punctual – Bahamian time does NOT count.  And over-communicate with your director and colleagues.

Who were your mentors in Theatre?
My mother .  She’s one of the best performers I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.

How do you see your future in Bahamian Theatre?
I’m happy to be involved as much as I possibly can for as long as I can.

What is your favorite Bahamian play?
Men Talk was pretty funny – I remember seeing it years ago with some of the women in my family and we had a grand ol’ time!  Light was also very good – it was one of the first plays I watched when I returned to Nassau from Britain.  Then there is the token go-to classics, like woman Take Two.

Her

Dana as Her in "Dat Bahamian Ting" (courtesy of danajferguson.com)

In your years as an actor, have you seen the government support the arts in a tangible way?
Yes – Junkanoo.  But that was many, MANY years in the making.  Theatre has a long way to go yet to compete with Junkanoo.

What role, if any, should the government play in not just theatre but the arts as a whole?
It would be wonderful for the government to willingly assist in establishing an independent council that could aid with financing the numerous projects floating around at the moment.  I’ve had the pleasure of reading quite a few scripts that are really very good, but without the financial backing or support, those scripts will never see the light of day.  And that would be a tragedy for Bahamina artists, because there are some truly talented people in this little country.

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.