Theatre Guild reprieves 60s role of nurturing dramatic talent

The Theatre Guild of Guyana has a history of functioning as a nursery for the production of new theatre talent. It functioned in this way through the 1960s when it was the training ground for several of the country’s leading actors, dramatists and playwrights.

Such dramatists as Frank Pilgrim, Sheik Sadeek and Francis Farrier emerged to set in train the rise of local plays and the explosion of local theatre that was to materialise 20 years later. That training ground at the Playhouse in Kingston also produced and exported talent that served and is still serving the wider Caribbean, so this history of nurturing dramatic talent is substantial and significant.

In more recent times, following long periods of decline, the rejuvenated Theatre Guild has reactivated that developmental role. The past two years in particular have been especially prolific for the Playhouse as a place where formal training takes place in different elements of theatre. Weekly workshops continue, and at least two structured programmes of instruction have been located there. There is now an annual Festival of One-Act Plays, and earlier, there was another similar event – the Merundoi One-Act Festival.

The Merundoi Festival was the end-product of a comprehensive training course conducted by that organisation in several different technical areas of theatre – a virtual school of drama lasting some nine months. This project was a youth development programme for training in communication and the performing arts. Put together, the Merundoi youth project and the Theatre Guild One-Act Festival produced several new short Guyanese plays. They have also resulted in the emergence of new directors and new playwrights, a virtual re-enactment of what took place in the 1960s during the Guild’s past Golden Age.

Although Guyanese plays had been created before and Norman E Cameron had put an emphasis on their existence from since the 1930s, it was the activities at the Guild that pushed the eventual rise of Guyanese drama. These developments at the Playhouse over the last two years meant the addition of short plays to the national corpus. What has taken this further is the National Drama Festival (NDF), since two things have happened as a result of it. Firstly, the plays from Merundoi and the Theatre Guild were featured in the National Festival, ensuring wider public exposure. Secondly, the NDF itself has been another stimulus. Many other new plays were written and produced in 2012 for the specific purpose of competing for the prizes in the NDF. Of further significance is the fact that many of those new writers and directors are the very newly trained practitioners who recently emerged from the programmes at the Playhouse.

The interior of the refurbished Theatre Guild Playhouse (Stabroek News file photo)

However, of much significance is yet another programme recently conducted on stage at the Theatre Guild, appropriately titled “Emerged”. It was a project that has enforced the reputation of the Guild as a nursery for dramatic talent. In the summer of 2012, Purple Heart Productions Company led by Simone Dowding conducted a workshop for school children which concluded with a production on stage at the Playhouse. This extended workshop in drama introduced students from different schools to the theatre for the first time and brought them to the point where they actually created plays and poems and performed them.

Simone Dowding is an experienced award-winning actress, an executive member of The Theatre Guild of Guyana Ltd and coordinator of its Awards Committee. She grew in stature as an actress when she played a character borrowed from the Mediaeval Morality Plays in Paloma Mohamed’s Testament in 2008. She then confirmed her status as a major actress when she won the Theatre Guild’s Best Actress Award 2010 for her role in Trevor Rhone’s Old Story Time directed by Ron Robinson. Outside of those she has done much comic acting in various productions including The Link Show. She also served as stage manager for Guyana’s signal dramatic production, Legend of the Silk Cotton Tree in Carifesta X, 2008, a festival in which she played other productive roles.

Dowding then put her experience and talents to work in conducting this children’s drama workshop. It kept the students occupied during their summer vacation while teaching them a few theatrical skills. It was a great leap forward for them to actually end the training by staging a public production. The programme’s title, “Emerged”, suggests the appearance of new talent recently tutored, another virtual re-enactment of the history of nurturing for which the Guild is reputed.

“Emerged” presented three short plays, poems and ‘spoken word’, which were performed by the students. The plays were created by members of the workshop and then edited and turned into scripts by Dowding. What is worth highlighting about them is that all the performances spoke to social and human issues confronting the society and its people, all of them dramatised with useful resolutions.

Power of Love by Yohance Koama, Lenese Bobb-Semple, Amirah Quamina-Cummings, Shashana Fowler and Allyah Lawrence was scripted by Dowding and directed by Sahyra Lewis. It tackled the problem of drug abuse, peer pressure and neglect in the manner of a near tragedy in a drama that was a credit to the writers and performers. Major roles were played by Leanna Bobbsemple, Jamal Babb, O’Neilka Bacchus, Cherese Vandyke, Lilia Mohamed and Abeena Gomes.

The second play, Peace in the Georges’ Home, took the audience into the dramatic conflicts within a family at war with itself saved by the intervention of positive influences. This one was written by students of Lodge Secondary School, scripted by Dowding and directed by her and Angelique Rites.  The main actors were Lilia Mohamed, Lionel Lobert, and Kemba Brown.

Warrior of Dignity, the third play, was written by Brenna Blair, scripted by Dowding and directed by Delon Cadogan. It told a tragic tale of parents who pushes their daughter, played by Abeena Gomes, to forsake her poor boyfriend and marry a rich husband who turns out to be an unsavoury character and a wife-beater.  Other roles were played by Venesa Bobb-Semple, Tahirih Adams and Jamal Bobb. All the poems and spoken words addressed similar thorny issues.

The programme’s patron was Guyana’s First Lady, Deolatchmee Ramotar, while the plays were introduced by Andrea Edwards and the programme technically supported by senior members of the Theatre Guild. It strongly suggested that there is some continuity in the production of new talent and the promotion of theatre among students of junior schools in Guyana.

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