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.

Advertisements

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.

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.