National Drama Festival: A comprehensive cultural experience

A few thousand members of Guyana’s theatre audience were entertained by a variety of dramatic performances in the recently concluded 2012 National Drama Festival.  The very wide range of plays and performers on show was one of the significant features of the event, as were the several newly crafted stage creations.   While the National Drama Festival (NDF) would have been quite satisfied with those factors, its greater interest was in development as well as creation and achievement.  Although it provided evenings at the theatre, all told it was, as designed, a more comprehensive cultural experience with more long-term end products.

‘Tears in the Gayelle’, one of the entries in the National Drama Festival (Gina photo)

That is why our previous discussion placed emphasis on those significant factors that demonstrated elements of training and the promotion of drama among that wide range of performers who were on show.  Further focus will therefore be placed on the deeper meaning of the participation of fringe groups, newcomers and secondary schools.

As a prologue, this spotlight may be trained on contributing developments that took place earlier in the year.  Within the mainstream Guyanese theatre many individual dramatists and groups have been producing new plays.  Most of these emerged from focused training programmes that saw not only the writing of new scripts, but the complete process of turning them into full stage performances.  In this respect, the year 2012 set an unprecedented record of seeing the most new Guyanese plays ever written and produced during the same period.  The very thorough Merundoi training programme and Festival of Plays created nine one-act dramas.  The now annual Theatre Guild One-Act Festival in 2012 produced five new short plays and one new full-length drama.  In 2011 that same Theatre Guild festival saw the creation of five new short plays which came out of a playwriting workshop at the Guild.

Most of these were channelled into the NDF and were extremely important in the near 30 new plays that were generated by the national festival in 2012.  Many of these will go down as additions to the corpus of Guyanese drama.  One full-length play came out of the two festivals held at the Guild’s Playhouse, while it can be said that four new full-length dramas were actually written for the festival out of the total of nine new works that were entered and performed.   As may be expected in the context of so many stage performances from groups of vastly different abilities, the quality of these was mixed; there were creditable and indifferent works and only a half of them will comfortably be admitted into the national corpus.

In the normal course of activities in the local theatre there would have been two or three new plays each year on the national stage, most of them making an impact.  These would most likely be full-length presentations by the regular groups or companies in the mainstream theatre at the National Cultural Centre.  To a lesser extent they would be public performances at the Theatre Guild Playhouse.  While other new dramatizations might be produced at an amateur level, they are out of the mainstream and generally get no attention.

Among the gains of the NDF, therefore, are the following.  The main Guyanese playwrights whose work is produced on the local stage will produce most of the few new plays mentioned above in the mainstream theatre.  On the same stage, will also be a few works by new playwrights.  Clearly this was accelerated by the NDF because first, there were three full-length dramas which were created and produced outside of the NDF framework and then entered into the festival.  But it is known that three others within the mainstream were written and produced directly because of the stimulus provided by the festival.  These were Sauda by Mosa Telford, Rule Number 3, and Life? by Collette Jones Chin.

Secondly, in addition to those, were the several one-act or short plays arising from workshops, training and smaller festivals.  But most significantly, new plays were written to be performed by secondary schools for the purpose of entry into the festival.  These were Daddy’s Daughter by Taneka Caldeira at West Demerara Secondary, Adultery, Abuse and the Obeahman by the Institute of Business Education, Double Trouble at Wisburg Secondary and Nobody Has to Know produced by The Bishops’ High School.  It was also the first known production of a play by Deon Abrams, The Preacher’s Daughter at Annandale Secondary School.

Additionally, and equally important, was the large number of these new plays produced by groups on the fringe of the regular theatre community, including new groups who were doing their first dramatic production for purposes of entry into the festival.  There were community clubs, church and religious groups, and youth groups, placed in the Debutante Category.  What is significant here is the way the NDF served as a drive for these groups to enter theatre and to be creative.  They showed that more groups were turning to drama as a problem solver and to illustrate messages such as in the case of the plays Can’t Give Up, Life Is What You Make It and Let It Shine.
Related to this is what seems to be a minor trend in the local theatre.  This is not enough proof that trends are changing or that one form of theatre is waning, but it is certainly a very significant factor.  The very overwhelming force in contemporary theatre in the Caribbean today is the predominance of popular theatre and comic plays if not comedies.  That is the case in Guyana, but what is observed, is that related to the move to drama as problem solver and public message is the creation of plays that actually tackle real social issues and social problems.  The majority of the new plays in the NDF were of these types.  This was disproportionate in terms of the trend in the national public theatre where laughter and thrilling entertainment for the audience is still the norm.

The plays produced by the secondary schools treated troublesome issues and problems plaguing them to the point where many of the same issues of discipline, wayward behaviour, sexuality and abuse recurred in a number of different plays.  The new plays coming out of Merundoi and the Theatre Guild paid attention to serious social and psychological situations.  Even those that employed laughter to a good degree attempted high farce and theatre of the Absurd.  This is too early to declare a change of trend, but it certainly indicates new influences and the effect and impact of the national drama festival.

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