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: Ian Strachan


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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.