In January 2011 The Theatre Guild of Guyana presented awards to the best performances that were staged at the Guild Playhouse during the year 2010. This was the revival of an old tradition that had faded into disuse but has now been recalled to life. It has so far continued in this new re-establishment, and the corresponding awards for the year 2011 were presented to the winners at the Playhouse last week.
As already said, this is a revival of old practices, and it is the most recent of many attempts to revive the custom of presenting annual awards to the best achievements in the performing arts. The Theatre Guild Awards are somewhat restricted since they are based on dramatic performances that took place at the Guild. Anyone and any group can win them, but only if the performance took place at the Playhouse in Kingston. Productions at the National Cultural Centre, for example, are not included. Significantly, therefore, 2011 also saw the revival of similar awards at the national level, when the Department of Culture staged the National Drama Festival on the Cultural Centre stage. That too, was another revival, since it was the latest in many other attempts to do this.
Awards of this type, then, seem to be very important to the arts and the first reason for this is tradition.
The theatre worldwide and throughout the history of its existence is known for its great traditions. Because of the nature, practice and qualities of this remarkable profession, it is built on tradition. It has developed several traditions over the centuries of its existence, some of which have even given rise to legend, myth and rituals. Annual awards is one of these customs and across the Caribbean the theatre community has made repeated attempts to keep them going, and just as in Guyana, these attempts have been sporadic. The closest thing to consistency may be the Jamaica Festival and more recently the Actor Boy Awards in Jamaica.
Another reason for the persistence in trying to preserve this practice is the interest that it generates. There is no doubt that this interest is alive in the enthusiastic response among members of the local theatre community, and among those who make up the audience for theatre. If these awards become a part of the annual timetable they will help to sustain public interest in the performing arts.
In addition to that, they contribute to an overall sense of achievement. The taxing work involved in production can go unrewarded and unrecognized, and although many believe that a successful performance is its own reward, awards give purpose to the effort. One may include rivalry and the achievement of winning. But an interesting dimension is that this sense of worth is there for the groups and individuals even when they do not win a nomination or a prize. There is a feeling that the productions and performances matter because the awards give recognition, which go deep, involving the whole practice, not just those who are nominated or who win.
Then again, the history of persistence in offering awards is always linked to the hope that they will lead to improvement in quality. This history goes back to the establishment of the Theatre Guild at the end of the 1950s, through the sixties and on and off in the seventies. The record is sporadic, but the Guild has enhanced the art form with awards to performances at the Playhouse at different periods since its founding. It also mounted national competitions some time in the sixties.
The Theatre Guild as an institution has made the single most important contribution to the development of Guyanese theatre, and a part of this great input has been the competitions and awards. These include the Playwriting Prizes initiated in the sixties out of which Frank Pilgrim, Sheik Sadiek, Francis Quamina Farrier and modern local Guyanese drama as a whole emerged.
There were many other efforts to sustain the awards tradition. There was the Guysuco Sugar Estates Drama competitions followed by Chairman Harold Davis’ effort at a revival when it ceased. The resulting Guysuco Head Office Drama Awards lasted for a number of years in the 1980s. Then the NAPA Awards were founded by Desmond Clarke, director of the National Academy of the Performing Arts (NAPA) in 1987. The TAA (Theatre Arts Awards) came into being a few years after that. The TAA was an independent panel, but it was formed as an initiative of The Theatre Company and operated for many years. None of those have survived.
Today, the awards tradition has come full circle as the Guild is again at the centre of the revival. The only other similar event, as mentioned above, is the Department of Culture’s National Drama Festival that started giving open national prizes in 2011. In 2010 there were very strong productions in the heat of the competition for full-length plays at the Theatre Guild. Godfrey Naughton’s Fences and Ron Robinson’s Old Story Time dominated with the best actresses Sonia Yarde, who has been at the top of the game for a few years, and Simeon Dowding coming from those plays. But Shoes Blues directed by Jennifer Thomas and Sheron Cadogan won awards including Abigail Brower as Best Supporting Actress.
For 2011 there was less competition among plays staged at the Playhouse since there were only a few. This time Harold Bascom’s Guyana Prize Winning drama Makantali directed by Malcolm Defrietas was the dominant production. It was the first production of a Guyana Prize Best Drama produced by the Theatre Guild in collaboration with the Guyana Prize.
For Full-length Drama the Awards were: Best Production: Makantali; Best Guyanese Play: Makantali; Best Director: Malcolm Defrietas; Best Actress: Nathaya Whaul (Makantali); Best Actor: Gerard Gilkes (Makantali); Best Supporting Actress: Nirmala Naraine (A New Beginning); Best Supporting Actor: Randolph Crichlow (Makantali); Best Set: A New Beginning; Best Costume: Makantali.
Of note among the nominations was the significant talent among the actresses in supporting roles as indicated by the length of the list of nominations. The panel pointed out that any of them could have been deserving award winners and named Shellon Madray (Makantali), Colleen Humphrey (Makantali), Timolyn Barclay (A New Beginning), and Nirmala Naraine for Makantali in addition to her winning performance in A New Beginning.
There was also the second year of the revived Festival of One-Act Plays at the Guild, and these the awards were dominated by Mosa Telford’s new play Shadows directed by Tivia Collins. The Awards were: Best Production: Shadows; Best Director: Tivia Collins; Best Actress: Leslyn Fraser (Ms Edwards); Best Actor: Kijana Lewis (Shadows); Best Supporting Actress: Lisa Punch (Shadows); Best Supporting Actor: Lynyus Adams (Shadows); Best Set: Swingers on the Playground; Best Costume: Swingers on the Playground.
Here again, the list of nominees showed the strength of performances among the actresses in lead roles in Sonia Yarde (Swingers on the Playground), Tashandra Innis (Shadows), Leslyn Fraser (Ms Edwards) and Patricia Marks (Pious). The other nominees for Best Supporting Actor were Marlon Velloza (The Storms), Johann David and Nelon Benjamin (Swingers on the Playground) and Travis Fredericks (Dance Philosophy).