A production titled Performance 4: The Resurrection was presented by the National School of Theatre Arts and Drama at the Cultural Centre the week before last. It immediately succeeded Link Show 32 – the unprecedented midsummer edition of this annual satirical revue, a popular show with quite different audience appeal, and it certainly did not relate to the same sort of audience. But it was an important production, for reasons quite different from the significance of the Link Show and other forms of popular theatre.
Comments have already been made about the audience for theatre in Guyana. A production like Link Show 32 will draw from a cross section of that audience, while there are other popular shows which especially appeal to the popular crowd. Other types of productions might attract the attention of the middle class elite, whose point of view is that local theatre is of a deplorable standard and not worth their patronage.
One point worth repeating is that while there is very much to be deplored about local theatre, the Guyanese stage is far from bereft of talent and artistic merit. The problem is that if the critically discerning sector of the population refuses to visit the auditorium except when there is a visiting foreign performance, they will certainly not know about what takes place on the local stage. They will not be in any position to comment on the poor quality of the theatre if they have not seen a local show in 20 years. Granted, there is quite a bit of witless treading of the boards; but whenever something of real value is performed the critics would never know because they do not go to see it.
That is the kind of position in which an event such as the annual National Drama Festival (NDF) finds itself. Despite the fact that entry to the auditorium is free of charge, it does not seem to interest large crowds of people. One of the reasons is that the NDF is not appealing to the popular mass audience because it might not offer the laughs and farce that pull the crowds. Another reason, however, is that there are those who believe that anything free could not be good. But a big and worrying reason is that many still feel anything local could not be good. Yet it is at an event like the NDF that one is likely to see some output of the real talent and meritorious effort that yet exist.
The National School of Theatre Arts and Drama (NSTAD) runs the NDF as an annual competition to attract, showcase and reward the best of theatre in Guyana. Its vision is also developmental. The acknowledgement is that one cannot prepare an arena in which to reward excellence if one does not also prepare a threshold for the development and nurturing of efforts at excellence. The NDF, therefore, also attempts to mentor and improve. That is why the Drama School is responsible for the festival, because the latter is seen as an outreach of the school and the training and development that it offers to national theatre.
The situation regarding the audience is therefore similar where the work of the Drama School is concerned. The NSTAD shows off the work of its students in at least two major productions each year. It offers opportunities for the public to see what the students have been studying, and have realised in practical performances on the national stage. On those occasions the members of the audience who are discerning and critical have the chance to see for themselves, to evaluate, to criticise, perchance to learn.
Like the NDF, the NSTAD productions promise to show more than the usual run of plays for the popular audience. There is more likelihood that the performance pieces will show some study of theatre and might just be interesting beyond the ordinary. All these possibilities, however, go a-begging because the critical audience that should come out to see for themselves, to educate themselves a bit about local theatre, or to put themselves in a true position to declare that local theatre is indeed no good, do not come out to see the work.
Performance 4: The Resurrection was the work of the NSTAD students who are about to graduate in 2015. It was virtually their final practical exam. They performed three main plays: the first was Ramlila, the second Queh Queh and the third The Emotions. These were drawn from the culmination of their work in many academic and technical courses, viz Acting, Performance Theory, Research, Production, Dance, Directing, Design (including costuming, masks, make-up, properties) and Music. These courses were done in Semester Two of the 2014-15 academic year which was geared towards Performance.
What they performed was partly developed in class in some of the courses and in some cases was the result of research that they did. This research was in different types of theatre, including forms from past ages and different countries as well as different styles. They also put into practice what they would have learned about producing and managing a play, including business management and promotion. Such disciplines as stage management and directing were drawn upon as the students directed and managed the drama themselves. During the semester they would have done courses in dance which helped them to choreograph for some of the plays, music which sensitised them in the use of music in drama and design which they applied to the costumes. The students made many of the different costumes, masks and props that they used.
Ramlila was first of all the result of the study of The History of Drama and Theatre – a course done in Semester One out of which they performed a play in March, 2015. This was based on the work of Indian playwright and scholar Tulsidas, to whom they were introduced in the History course. However, in the second semester, they studied Performance Theory and researched Caribbean performance including traditional and folk theatre. Ramlila was redone as Caribbean performance based on the folk performances practised in Trinidad today.
The NSTAD version of Ramlila was, however, original work by the students. It was first based on Tulsidas, but used an original script written by student Subraj Singh and directed by students Nickolas Singh, Adrian Benjamin and Onix Duncan. This production was a mixture of the more classical type of drama taken from the Ramayana and the kind of traditional folk performances which included dance and music. The tassa drums were provided by traditional drummer Teacher Raghu. A major part of the work for this also came out of the course in Research which was led by NSTAD lecturer Dr Seeta Shah Roath who guided the students in the production of the play.
The play Queh Queh was also based on Caribbean performance, but this time came out of the study of Guyanese cultural forms. This performance originated in the Music course whose lecturer was musician, instructor and conductor Andrea Mentore. A play was then written by Subraj Singh and directed by student Lorraine Baptiste. It was based on the Guyanese musical folk tradition known as kwe kwe, kwe ke, Kakalé or mayan in different parts of Guyana. There was the element of dance choreographed by Abigail Brower, Nathaya Whaul and Baptiste.
Then there was a composite play called The Emotions which was developed in the courses Performance Theory and Acting. The overall piece was directed by Abigail Brower and Subraj Singh with narration by Angelisa Alexander, who played Circe the temptress and sorceress of Greek mythology, with choreography and dance by Brower and Nathaya Whaul.
The Emotions pulled together three Acts; the first was Genesis written and directed by Ja’asriel Bishop. The second was In Cold Blood written by Nicholas Singh and directed by Nathaya Whaul. Chaos, written by Subraj Singh and directed by Akeem Joseph and Runasi Perry was the third.
These three pieces explored a range of theatrical types, forms and styles including Theatre of the Absurd, Psychoanalysis, Existentialism, Post-Modernism and Social Realism. Almost all pieces were highly influenced by the avant-garde and post-modernism.
The cast of all the pieces was drawn from the students of both the certificate and the diploma classes. They included all those already named in different capacities as well as the following:
Lisa Douglas, LeTisha Da Silva, Kemo Cort, Akeem Fraser, Jewan Saywack, Onix Duncan, Johann David, Noreema Azaad-Ledra. Other NSTAD lecturers who worked with the students in the production included Andrew Kendall, with further assistance from NCC Manager Megan Hazel, Chief Usher Mrs John and the Administrator of NSTAD Margaret Lawrence.