Rescue was near, however, because Mr David de Caires told me via a phone call that he was working. He had taken on the assembling of a committee to raise funds and re-establish the theatre. In 2006 Mr Terry Holder called me because he thought (erroneously) I was on the Theatre Guild Committee, to say that GT&T had a project which he explained, directly concerned the Theatre Guild. I directed him to the right people saying that I hoped GT&T would make a telling contribution to the revival fund. This was quite a while since 2004, but Mr de Caires had not given up, and he led a resuscitated committee (or board of trustees) who raised funds and technical expertise to rebuild the Playhouse.
The revived auditorium started hosting performances in May 2008 even before it was quite finished, with Paloma Mohamed’s excellent piece of theatre Testament, produced by GEMS Productions, being the first. Dave Martins and others followed with Pre-Carifesta events leading up to August 2008 and the big Carifesta itself. Mr de Caires’ team and the actions they took constituted the only way the Guild could have been rebuilt. That is, it needed the involvement of people with clout, who could impress and influence the business community as well as other private individuals to realise the huge sum required. Donations came from quite a cross section; from big business and the government to small business and individuals.
However, this not being a fairy tale, it did not end there and all did not live happily ever after. The task is not quite complete and the problems are not over. The physical plant is in very good shape and handed over; now remains the business of running The Theatre Guild.
On Friday May 29 at a forum called ‘Outlook 2009’ Dr Paloma Mohamed, Vice-Chairman of the Guild’s Executive Management Committee, Major-General Joe Singh, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Pat Liverpool, Playhouse Treasurer, revealed that the problems are not yet over. Dr Mohamed explained that the Theatre Guild was in debt, that it owed the Guyana Power and Light Company more than $3M, with a monthly electricity bill of $300,000 and their continued functioning was largely due to the generosity of the GPL. While the power company seemed willing to extend credit to help the cause, the Guild is aware that they would have to settle soon. Added to that, while the executive committee members and the trustees give unpaid service, there are salaries to be paid, including a Playhouse Manager who can market the theatre.
Infrastructural works in several areas, including additional stage facilities, the rehearsal room and the office, amounting to some $2.5M were still outstanding. According to Mrs Liverpool, the Guild was not paid for its immeasurable service to Carifesta X last August. The staging of Carifesta plays, which was one of the distinct successes of the festival, was responsible for much of the arrears in electricity bills and the government still owed the Playhouse $1.5M for those productions.
Major-General Singh, who worked in the fund-raising, quoted the figure of $79M as the cost of rebuilding the theatre but it seems another large injection of funds is necessary to keep it open. The service it rendered last year alone, to both Carifesta and pre-Carifesta events suggests that it is more than worth the investment. There is a government subvention, given as half a million dollars per year, but the reported non-payment for Carifesta production costs is surprising. The Theatre Guild of Guyana is not a government agency. It is an independent organisation and given its artistic mandate, ought to remain that way. But it should also feature somewhere in the government’s plan as something to be supported and to benefit from public funding through an annual subvention amounting to more than the current half-million.
Guyana has often been criticized for not having an official cultural policy. It has one now; at least such a document has been compiled and crafted by Dr James Rose, but it is still to be finally adopted and put into effect. So far there is not the Guyanese equivalent of a grants institution like, say, the British Arts Council or the Greater London Council that gives grants to theatres, publishing, and artistic ventures, and has a public mandate to support the arts. But at least one part of the Rose document acknowledges the need for support of theatre. In that spirit, not only should the government recognise the urgent need to make payments such as the Carifesta bill to the Playhouse, but to maintain in a more timely manner, a reasonable annual subvention.
Clearly, however, the Theatre Guild is not going to depend on government subventions alone, but on its own earnings and on the support of the private sector, the corporate community and private individuals like those who contributed to the rebuilding. From Dr Mohamed’s report it will require an input of more than $600,000 per month merely to meet running costs. With an auditorium that seats just over 300 it is not likely to earn the requisite sum from gate receipts in amateur productions alone, or from amateur efforts in shows and management. It will either need to be run on a much more commercial basis, attract more business, or get finances from an interest-earning trust fund. In other words, it seems, the new Theatre Guild of Guyana now needs another campaign of fund-raising with the same power of influence, the same social and civic clout as the team that worked to gain the capital for the revival between 2006 and 2008. And the need for this kind of support might not end till the commercial earning power can create a surplus and the Guild activities can be sustainable.
There are several good reasons for keeping the Guild afloat, beginning with the fact that this is a chronically deficient society that believes it does not need a theatre. Even the good businessman who can balance his books is under a subversive social threat if he thinks and acts that way, although the real value of those reasons will not be immediately evident to him. The history of the Guild and its place in Caribbean theatre make it an institution worth preserving. The great contributions it has made to the development of contemporary Guyanese theatre cannot accurately be measured in gold and silver, but would cost a fantastic fortune to reproduce. To that may be added its potential for future contribution.
The very amateur status that has limited its earnings is one of the reasons for its value. This status makes it willing to provide training that would otherwise be too expensive for individuals and the government, were they to seek such training overseas. A commercial institution would not voluntarily provide that. Then there is the fact that it provides theatrical entertainment and cultural fulfilment for a wider cross section of the population. It is an alternative venue for a variety of different types of shows and provides the much-talked-about ‘intimate’ auditorium for plays or theatre that cannot thrive in a large, vacuous arena such as the National Cultural Centre. Then, too, it is more likely to satisfy the Guyanese middle class who have withdrawn from local theatre because they did not like or did not approve of what they saw developing at the cultural centre.
Only a grand event like Carifesta could have earned gate receipts that could give a theatre like the Playhouse a rich monthly income. But the Guyana government chose not to sell tickets or charge at the gate for entry into Carifesta shows. This choice meant no money was earned. This option has good arguments which will not be expanded here, but it had some consequences already commented upon by Dr Hilary Brown of Caricom. One of these is that gate receipts from Carifesta could have contributed to a fund that could be used to support the arts for a long time after the festival. Even now, the Theatre Guild could have been meeting its monthly bills from a grant out of that fund built from Carifesta earnings, or supporting itself from the many sold-out shows it hosted during the festival.