Ingrid Griffith leaves Guyana today after a successful run of her one-woman show Demerara Gold, but hopes to return soon in a different capacity.
In an exclusive interview with The Scene, Ingrid speaks of Demerara Gold’s interesting journey to becoming a one-woman play. She also reveals her eagerness to share her craft with young people in Guyana. There is much she can impart: including solo-show writing; naturalistic acting techniques; speech/voice and relaxation techniques and public speaking. Ingrid is trained in these areas and in fact teaches Public Speaking and Civic Engagement and Introduction to Theatre at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Ingrid is also a certified fitness professional, who believes “A healthy and fit body is important for the actor to maintain.” It’s easy to understand how she combines all she does when she reveals that her mantra is: “Be one on whom nothing is lost.” And she urges, especially young people to embrace it. “Every experience is valuable,” she says.
This comes across in an almost tangible way in Ingrid’s story Demerara Gold, which she says is one she had to write. “… Silence and invisibility were burdens I could no longer bear,” she says. She also believes that the protagonist’s “irrepressible spirit will inspire others to stand up to whatever or whomever tries to diminish their light.”
Demerara Gold “began as a memoir, then evolved into creative non-fiction,” she reveals. It was, in fact, Ingrid’s Master’s Thesis for her degree in Creative Writing.
“After it was finished, I thought long and hard and realized that I wanted to share this story, but that if I were to get it published, it may not get much attention as a first book,” she tells The Scene. And she concluded, correctly, it turns out, that more people would be likely see it as a staged performance. That was her ultimate goal, for people to hear her story.
She reasoned that telling her story as a solo-show would not only make it more accessible, but it would show her range as an actor. “I’d like to do more film, television and stage work,” she says. “Acting is my first love. It’s what I studied and trained for many years to do.”
And so she went about bringing her thesis to life and sharing her story with as many people as she could. She’s been pleased with the response to what she has set out to do.
“In the US, the expats were happy to see their story portrayed on the stage. They kept saying, the story was ‘for true’. I’m told it brought back a lot of early memories, that is was the ‘real Guyanese style’ — the masquerade, the dialect, the food, the phrasings, the characters, the visa situation, their dreams, trying to fit into the new culture, missing home, the family dynamics… they recognized all of it,” Ingrid shares.
And the non-Guyanese US audience? “They too appreciated it. Some said even though they had never been to Guyana or know much of Guyana, that they felt transported,” she says. “They saw the Guyanese people. They got a good idea of how my family lived, the houses, the streets, the land/topography, and understood more clearly what immigrants go through when they arrive in America. They were with me every step of the way even though some of the Guyanese words and phrasings were unfamiliar to them. They left knowing some new words. They now know how to pronounce Demerara. I am thrilled!”
Ingrid is clearly passionate about the universality of her message. “Guyanese are all over the globe and other groups must know about us/our story just like we know theirs.”
How does she decipher the local response to Demerara Gold? She finds that “…In intensity, in embracing the message, in the recreation…, the audience here was a bit more taken by the experience… [by] the idea of a one woman show on a bare stage…. They were all very enthusiastic and definitely took the ride with me.”
Demerara Gold is not just Ingrid’s story, as she mentions many Guyanese in the Diaspora identified with it. But more than that, it’s also her family’s story. Audiences are invited into all of the homes in which she grew up, where they become intimate with the peculiarities therein and identify with the customs practiced.
So what has the response from relatives been like? “I’m here to say that my family has been supportive. When I was working on my Master’s thesis, in passing, I mentioned that I was writing about growing up in Guyana and no one really asked more about it. When I decided to change it to a solo-play after college and began the process of writing the script, I didn’t say a whole lot about it to family members. It was my personal experience but it had to include family. And since it was my perspective, I’d be making a comment about some of my family members that they may or may not agree with. I didn’t want to be influenced. I couldn’t afford to censor my work. You know what they say about the artist… truth over harmony,” Ingrid says.
After she had completed it, she then told family members that she was thinking of performing it and that she had “elaborated on specific things that happened when I arrived in the US.” She notes that the manuscript of the book is much longer.
“I also warned them that they may be uncomfortable with some things and that I hope they would understand that it is my point of view and that it is something I needed to say plain and straight. My sister and a cousin were the first to see a performance. Then my mother, aunt, uncles and more cousins attended others. I know they were surprised at some things I revealed… you know our culture is not about airing our dirty laundry. Everything stays bottled up. I was both relieved and delighted that they were supportive and proud of me.”
This is due to the fact that her family understands that as an artist, “this is what I do…,” she says, even though it meant that they too had to be exposed in some way.
“I wasn’t looking for family strife. And, thankfully, there has been none. But truthfully, my family couldn’t do anything about it. What I’m sharing is what happened from my perspective. More importantly though, the show delivers an important message that staying silent and remaining invisible should not be options, that you should be true to yourself; we should strive for healthy and empowering lives and make positive change. I had to tell my story like it was… the bright and dark sides as well as the nuisances.”
Ingrid says the clear message of empowerment in Demerara Gold is intentional. It speaks to not allowing circumstances to make you lose sight of your goals; it urges you to take control of your situation because it is within your power to bring about change.
After she left Guyana, Ingrid had not returned for quite a long time. She was thrilled when she visited in 2008 and saw Kaieteur Falls for the first time.
Ingrid hopes now to find some time to return periodically to teach, inform and help others reach their full potential. There are many possibilities, she says.