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: 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: Philip Burrows


After a show

A photo of Philip in 2009 after his production of "Music of The Bahamas" at The Marley Resort. (photo by T.Cartwright-Carroll)

How long have you been involved in Theatre?
I began my involvement as a child in church productions and also performed in High School productions. I got involved in the local amateur theatre scene in 1974.

What inspired you to become involved?
I loved the stuff I was doing at church and school and wanted to do the same on the bigger stage so it was just the desire to get up there and do what I had seen others doing.

In what capacity do you participate in Theatre?
Directing, lighting, sound, a little writing, set design and construction, make-up, some acting and anything else that needs to be done.

Can you list the productions that you have been involved in over the years?
Having directed approximately 100 productions:

DIRECTING
Lester B. Pearson College – Victoria, B.C., Canada
Sweeney Todd
The Rimers of Eldritch 
True West
Once On This Island
Agnes Of God
House Of Blue
Leaves Night
Mother
Six Degrees Of Separation
Twelve Angry Women
Glengarry Glen Ross
The Runner Stumbles
The Odd Couple (Female Version)
Burn This Arsenic And Old Lace

Philip at work. (courtesy of N.Bethel)

Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts – Nassau, Bahamas

And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little
The Good Doctor
Zoo Story
You Can Lead A Horse To Water
Wait Until Dark
Sammie Swain (Co-Directed with Winston Saunders)
The Odd Couple
Dark of the Moon
Mr. Speaker
Thesolanicus
The Gingerbread Lady
A Case of Libel
Bedroom Farce
The Foreigner
Crimes of the Heart
The Rimers of Eldritch
I, Nehemiah, Remember When…
Our Boys (Co-directed with Winston Saunders)
I’m Not Rappaport
Brighton Beach Memoirs
Buried Child (Co-directed with David Burrows)
The Prodigal’s Brother
I, Nehemiah, Remember When…(Chapter II)
True West
Pa and the Preacher
The Mysterious Mr. Maphusa
Powercut
Of Mice and Men
Driving Miss Daisy
Blues for Mr. Charlie
No Seeds in Babylon
Agnes of God
Music of the Bahamas
Olemi’s Passage
I, Nehemiah, Remember When…(Chapter III)
Fatal Passage
A Pack of Lies
Father’s Day
The Runner Stumbles
The Amen Corner
Twelve Angry Men
Smile Orange
Other People’s Money
God’s Trombones
The Children’s Teeth

Edinburgh Festival FringeEdinburgh, Scotland

No Seeds in Babylon
You Can Lead A Horse To Water
Music of the Bahamas

Julian Theatre – San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

You Can Lead A Horse To Water (Co-Directed with Richard Seyd)

Buena Vista Restaurant – Nassau, Bahamas

Dedicated To The End

Casuarinas Hotel – Nassau, Bahamas

Roots, Rhyme and Rhythm

Caribbean Festival of the Arts (Carifesta) – Barbados

Them
Single Seven

Regency Theatre – Freeport, Bahamas

You Can Lead A Horse To Water
I, Nehemiah, Remember When…
I, Nehemiah, Remember When…(Chapter II)

Le Cabaret Theater – Paradise Island, Bahamas

Sammie Swain (Co-Directed, with Winston Saunders)

Ardastra Gardens – Nassau, Bahamas

Father’s Day

Rainforest Theatre (Formally The Bahama Rhythm Theatre) – Nassau, Bahamas

Sammie Swain (Co-Directed, with Winston Saunders, a command performance for Queen Elizabeth II at CHOGM (Nassau) 1985)
Women Talk

Acting Roles:
 The Odd Couple (as Felix)                                  
 Orphans (as Treat)
 The Gingerbread Lady (as Lou)
 The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (as Alton Scales)
 Blues for Mr.Charlie (as Pete)
 The Sea Gull (as Dr.Dorn)
 Journey to the Day (as Dr. Gutera)
 Wedding Band (as Nelson Green)
 The Music Man (Harold Hill)
 Hello Dolly (as Barnaby)
 Finian’s Rainbow (as Woody)
 Lovers and Other Strangers (as Johnny)
 Zoo Story (as Jerry)
 The Odd Couple (as Speed)
 Of Mice and Men (as Boss)
 Poison Tree (as Smiling Man)
 The Hollow Crown (Various)
 Shakespeare and the Indians (as Brack)
 Dinner At Eight (as Fitch)
 Major Barbara (as Bilton)

"The Children's Teeth" was featured at Carifesta in Guyana. Here Philip is building the set. (courtesy of N.Bethel)

What are some of your most memorable moments in Theatre?
A moment that stands out for me was a rehearsal of Cleophas Adderley’s opera “Our Boys”. I was co-writer, with Winston Saunders, of the Libretto and co-director of the production. The Orchestra, from Julliard, had arrived and it was during our first full rehearsal that I realized what we were in fact doing, not only in The Bahamas but also in the wider Caribbean.

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 has had its up and downs. I feel it was at an up period in the late sixties and early seventies when all of the Dundas member groups were active. In the late seventies came a down period as the ability to constantly have something going on became more and more difficult. The eighties ushered in the Repertory Season and theatre thrived for almost twenty years. The biggest down point, in my opinion, was the late nineties when the theatre was pretty much on life support. We are in the midst of an upturn and our challenge it to make sure that we never go back to being on life support again.

How do you prepare to direct a show? Are there any special challenges that you must overcome when directing in The Bahamas?
Read the play. Read the play. Read the play. Oh, and read the play. I feel we have pretty much the same challenges here as people have everywhere.

Any advice for those who want to get involved in Theatre in any capacity?
If you are serious about being involved you have to commit. If you have doubts about committing then be an audience member because we need those as well but people depend on you if you are in a production and it’s most frustrating to be missing someone from rehearsal or arriving late for a performance when you are trying to pull a work together and it’s not fair to the other cast and crew members.

Philip giving advice to the 2009 cast of "Music of The Bahamas" (courtesy of N.Bethel)

Who were your mentors in Theatre?
My mentors were my teachers from acting school. My understanding of the crafts of both acting and directing began with them. I admire the work of a number of actors and directors but I’m not sure I would say they were actual mentors. When I think of a mentor I think of someone who helps and guides another individual’s development, the example set by the original Mentor in Homer’s “The Odyssey”.

How do you see your future in Bahamian Theatre?
As I mentioned earlier, we are now on an upswing and it seems as if more people are becoming interested in many aspects of the theatre so I think the future is bright for Bahamian Theatre as long as we can maintain a high standard of quality and not settle for just anything being acceptable.

What is your favorite Bahamian play?
You Can Lead a Horse To Water is not just my favorite Bahamian plays it’s one of my favorite plays period.

In your years as a director, have you seen the government support the arts in a tangible way?
No.

Philip and the late Winston Saunders in a production of "Zoo Story" (courtesy of P. Burrows)

What role, if any, should the government play in not just theatre but the arts as a whole?
I think that all an artist can ask for is support. I don’t believe that artists would want any Government involved in their actual work. The facilitation of rehearsal spaces, reasonable venue rentals, duty free supplies, grants etc. would all be greatly appreciated and some form of respect and the understand that what an artist does is their job and it’s no less important than the work of lawyer or any other professional.