The mastery and magic of Ronald Hollingsworth

A single interview is hardly enough to really impart the mastery of Ronald Hollingsworth. But for fans starved of the magic he weaves through his work, the popular playwright and director will be home soon to stage one of his most melodramatic plays, Watch De Ride II – Justice.

This is a play that has stirred raw emotions in the past as the audiences witness a very dark side of Guyanese culture that has developed over the decades. As Ronald celebrates his 21st year as a playwright, he selected to stage the play that has thrilled his audiences to the point of hysteria as the events unfold. The play has relevance to every sector of Guyanese society and that is the reason many people have been interested in its message.

Because he now resides in the US, which obviously makes it difficult to stage his plays here, Ronald had approached Sheron Cadogan-Taylor, who also has significant plaudits to her name, and who he had mentored as a young actress to assist him with keeping his work alive before.

Ronald Hollingsworth
Ronald Hollingsworth

Last year with her help, his play 83 Million Gees was able to win the top prize at the National Drama Festival. Gees has since evolved into a movie, produced by Mahadeo Shivraj, and will be premiered on November 1 at the National Cultural Centre (NCC). Mahadeo Shivraj plays the lead role in Watch De Ride II, which will be staged at the NCC from June 28 to 30.

It is no secret that during the 90s Ronald Hollingsworth was considered a household name. He appeared to dominate the theatrical scene with critically acclaimed blockbusters such as, Till I Find a Place; Marriage After Death; My Second Wife; My Brother, My Wife and I; Ordained To Die; Watch De Ride; Viagra-Granddad Day Out and Stampin’.

Ronald had also been associated with Awe Society, which was extremely popular with the Guyanese public. It was originally created by Ronald and Professor Ken Danns, a former sociology lecturer at the University of Guyana.

Ronald was a student at the university and Danns’ his lecturer, but eyes were already on him for his keen interest in theatre and his already memorable works. Danns had approached Ronald after attending a Theatre Guild production of Noel Coward’s Blythe Spirit, directed by Ronald. He asked the playwright to collaborate with him to do a stage show using the sociological themes studied during the course; hence the birth of Awe Society in which Hollingsworth wore many hats as director, co-writer and editor, actor and co-producer alongside Danns. This partnership lasted only 4 years.

Four for four
A rift in 1994 resulted in Ken Danns having the sole rights to produce Awe Society. Ronald felt the conditions were unfair to him but was ready to move on to the next level and that is what he did over the next 4 years winning the prestigious prize for Best Guyanese Play each of those 4 years.

Beginning in 1995, he staged Watch De Ride in which he used a very young and inexperienced cast. Two matinees at the NCC were sold out and saw hundreds of schoolchildren locked out. This play was then taken on tour to Linden, Berbice, Bartica, and Anna Regina, before it was shown on the former GTV (now NCN).

He wrote his second award winning play Stampin’ in 1996 for a cast of 30 actors. The theme centred on the colourful lives of porkknockers, whose life experiences are flawed but compelling. In 1997 83 Million Gees was also awarded the prize for Best Guyanese Play and so was Viagra- Granddad’s Day Out in 1998, making Ronald the first Guyanese playwright to win Best Guyanese Play and Best Set Design for four consecutive years.

In 1999, as he was about to depart with his family to the US, he staged Ronald Millar’s Waiting for Gillian at the Theatre Guild. This would be the last play to be staged in the old building.

Ronald told The Scene that he prides himself for the contribution he made to the Guild. Waiting for Gillian was awarded for being the best production staged in the country in 1999. He was already living in the US by then, but later received his prize on returning to Guyana to stage one of his many plays.
He said that of all his productions, the apples of his eye are 83 Million Gees and My Brother, My Wife and I. He mentioned that Till I find a Place is his most popular and has been staged the most and Watch de Ride is the most exhilarating and interesting play series.

Ronald attributes his rise to fame in theatre to being at the right place at the right time. But, as he said, one has to always be prepared when opportunities become available. He started out observing his teacher, the late Bertram Charles as he directed school plays. This motivated him to join his school’s theatre group and later the Theatre Guild.

“When I joined the Theatre Guild I was challenged to make a paradigm shift from acting in locally written plays which were produced to small audiences to larger audiences and foreign written plays…,” he said. “At the Guild I saw many openings to take advantage of opportunities to develop as an actor and more significantly as a director. I felt I did it all by acting alongside some of Guyana’s best actors and actresses as well directing newcomers….”

During the 80s he was the main director of the Guild because of his persistence and success in staging the most productions.

The beginning
But where did he get this persistence? Ronald was born in Sussex Street, Albouystown and for most of his childhood his parents moved around a lot, looking for low rentals as times were tough. Before he was 12, he had lived in Wortmanville, Pouderoyen, Queenstown and Campbellville.

He was the eleventh of twelve children and his father was the sole provider, no easy task given the economic situation back then. In addition, his family always opened their home to relatives who were experiencing tougher times and at one time the household had as many as 19. “Could you imagine feeding that many people three times daily? None in the family could deny that some days we had to skip meals and those were painful days… My father was an extremely generous man who helped everyone even though he had little.”

His father, a cement block maker, died when Ronald was just 14. At the time he was at the St Sidwell’s All Age School (now a primary school). His mother always wanted her children to have the best possible education and so when he passed his preliminary examinations he was sent to Chatham High School, a private school that some of his elder siblings attended in the past. But she could not afford the fees and he missed weeks of instruction during the school year. What saved him was that his dad had taught all of his sons his trade, and so when his mother was short on cash, they all went to work making blocks and assisting with his tuition. By his senior years, the older siblings started working to contribute financially.
Things became better at the time when he was attending Alleyne’s High School where education was free. Before his mother died she had seen him graduate from the Cyril Potter College of Education as a teacher. He later went to UG. Since that time he has earned two Master’s Degrees in Education.

“I credit my mother for being patient and having faith in my abilities. She often took her prized possession, her gold bracelets which she pawned frequently to pay lessons fees, exams fees and whatever I needed to arrive at the next level. Today, I am sorry she is not around to benefit from her investment in me. Without my mother’s love I would not have made it this far,” he said.

Ronald believes his talent for theatre came from his parents. He said they were both dramatic. His father was a great storyteller and was exceptionally funny at times. “I loved my father. He was the most inspiring man I have ever known.” He further described him as a true Christian man who loved his family and worked hard to take care of them. “When I go through stress and strain I remember how my dad confronted his struggles and won out in the end.”

Proud father
Ronald was 23 when he married Debra Larzeia, his high school sweetheart. He said she is a wonderful wife and great mother. She is expected to be in Guyana to conduct family business during the staging of the play, which Ronald described to be a rare occurrence.

Ronald has three children: Ronvis who exited the United States Army as a veteran sergeant and is now in his senior year at the University of North Texas pursuing logistics; Ronessa, a first-year middle school teacher at the Thomas Edison Learning Centre in Dallas Texas; and Derron who will attend the University of Texas, Arlington in the fall on a scholarship to study Music Education/Performance. Derron is considered the seventh best high school Bari saxophone player in Texas for 2013. Ronald is very proud of his children and considers himself lucky to have such talented children.

Meanwhile, Ronald who graduated from the Dallas Independent School District as a Principal Fellow in May, is now awaiting placement as Principal or Assistant Principal, which signifies a new journey for him. “I guess I am blessed to do the job that I am most passionate about, especially when students are learning and experiencing success,” he said.

A great lover of music, he enjoys all genres and would listen to various types based on his mood or to forge the mood he wants to be in. “Sometimes I think that music is an obsession, rather than my hobby,” he said. “I have music devices in all forms and in all places including under my bed.” He is also into American football which has become one of his favourite sports.

And final, Ronald was asked the burning question – what he thought about the lack of proper copyright enforcement in Guyana. He said, “The idea that my plays end up being sold all over Guyana and I don’t reap any rewards from it is a violation of my intellectual property rights. If we are to improve the quality of the arts, copyright legislation has to be drafted and enforced in Guyana. Then and only then we will see the real positive effect of such laws.”

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