Another positive feature in the recent Guyana National Drama Festival was the clear sign that some amount of theatre is taking place among schools and youth groups. There seems to be encouraging energy, interest and vibrant activity in some quarters, in certain instances as a result of the Schools Drama Festival, and in a few cases arising out of organised workshops. What is more, the evidence shows that these groups and schools are not afraid to create original dramatic material as most of the plays presented were written or developed by members of the groups, their leaders or tutors.
It is to be particularly celebrated that most of the creative productivity in schools seems to be taking place in junior secondary schools which are not very well known and not among the more prominent institutions in the country. For theatre to be produced in these quarters is a victory for the arts and an important note for cultural development in what may be regarded as less privileged areas.
While this is so, however, the reverse of it is the glaring absence of the senior secondary schools which do not appear to be emerging with good work out of the Schools Drama Festivals or anywhere else. There was an entry from Queen’s College, but it was a group of second formers. There was an entry from New Amsterdam Multilateral School, but while this institution leads the way as the only Guyanese school studying Theatre Arts for CXC, their play was performed predominantly by third formers. Additionally, the fact that half the entries in the National Festival were plays in the Junior (schools and youth) category is a positive factor for theatre, but the absence of more of the senior and more prominent companies raises a few questions.
New Amsterdam Multilateral School produced Odale’s Choice directed by Shaundel Phillips who is responsible for the Theatre Arts programme there.
This production was not led by the senior students of the school, but the very large cast of more than 70 involved in this intense performance suggests that the Theatre Arts programme in New Amsterdam is generating some interest in drama among the students.
Odale’s Choice is an adaptation of the Greek tragedy Antigone by Sophocles, created in an African setting by Caribbean poet Kamau Brathwaite inspired by his work in Ghana. It showed the compatibility between the Greek and the West African and this was well represented in the style of the production. It made very effective use of drums and dance in a presentation that seemed fairly thoroughly choreographed throughout. Apart from the chorus of dancers, there was also the Greek-type Chorus with designed choral performance and movement.
This strength in dance was not surprising given the specialisation in dance by Rena Burnett, Zhane McKen and Nicketta Nicholson in the CXC Theatre Arts programme.
There were also worthy acting performances from the leads Annessa Munroe as Odale and, especially, Vinay Punwa as Creon the King, very well supported by Tinesha Carter as Leicho and Prakash Shiwprashad as the Sergeant. While the set was a bit wayward, costuming was thoroughly done and appropriate to the setting.
The youth group Young Leaders of Buxton performed an original play by Uso Telford titled Spirit of Defeat directed by Zola Telford. It presented a case of inexplicable cruelty by a mother (Chrisandrea Limburgh) towards her daughter (Zara Jackson) who had a physical disability leading to a tragic ending. But en route to that were a few important dramatic parallels and contrasts which worked very well theatrically.
The mother’s mental/psychological persecution of her daughter directly reflected the abuse she received from her husband, while on the other side of the stage the household of her friend (Zola Telford) portrayed the opposite.
There the audience saw family unity, care and understanding. There were workable dramatic reversals when it turned out that the embattled mother was defeated by spirits of the past that led to the consequences faced in her present life.
While Miss Telford was convincing in her supporting role as a loyal friend, the production almost fell apart because of what seemed obvious under-rehearsal. Lines were dropped which threatened to defeat the flow of the acting and there was some degree of repetition. But the play was performed on a very useful and effective set.
As mentioned earlier, drama festivals involving schools in Guyana at the present time do not involve the most prominent secondary schools with sixth forms and high reputations. The Bishops’ High, St Stanislaus, St Rose’s, President’s College and St Joseph’s are hardly ever heard of, if at all in any major theatrical activity. While Queen’s College did come forward in the National Festival with an original play, it was not an entry representative of the whole school, but work by a courageous group of second and first formers calling themselves 2C All Starz.
The play, directed by Violet Holder, warned against the dangers of the new fashionable and sought-after technological device called an i-phone. It started with a frame of story-telling featuring a narrator and a chorus of listeners. This was not always neatly maintained, however. One performer, Abeena Gomes, performed Wordsworth McAndrew’s Ol Higue quite well, but it did not fit the rest of the plot. The whole cast approached the stage with energy and obvious enjoyment, but it was a play and a performance limited to the level of the very youthful actors, understandably without too much depth of experience. But they had a good sense of the statement they wanted to make.
A secondary school traditionally placed in quite a different bracket is Ascension Secondary from West Ruimveldt, who performed Ah Who In Charge O We written and directed by Jean Kingston. This was also a tragic drama confronting social issues which plague contemporary society. In asking “who is in charge?” it dramatises what can happen when a family breaks down; this one becomes dysfunctional and opens the door for laissez-faire developments and a drug pusher to take charge.
A loving, caring father (Peter Thomas) is driven to suicide by an uncaring wife (Natali Boyce) negatively afflicted by past wrongs, leaving her with the children whom she soon neglects and leaves to fend for themselves. The eldest daughter (Candacy Anderson) takes on the responsibility of providing for her younger sister (Imani Anthony) and brother (Jamal Younge), but with no wise guidance in charge, events take a tragic turn.
It was very effective theatre. There was no acting performance less than good, and a few, especially Imani Anthony, Candacy Anderson and Jamal Younge, that stood out.
The plot worked except for one action which was unconvincing, in which a drug dealer commits a cold-blooded murder and then goes out to commit an unlikely suicide.
There were impressive techniques in light and sound, including an imaginatively designed device to highlight suicides lighting themselves afire.
There is some good work among the youth, while at the same time there is obvious need for guidance and further training. What is impressive is the way they have the ability to develop dramatic scripts for themselves and deal with social issues theatrically. Above all it is most encouraging that there is considerable interest in theatre in what some would look at as unlikely quarters.