J'can theatre alive and well

Observer senior reporter

Sunday, April 21, 2019

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A call has come for a revival of the Jamaica Association of the Dramatic Arts (JADA), the umbrella organisation which represents players in the local theatre community.

This has come from chief judge of the Actor Boy Awards, Cecile Clayton, who implored her fellow thespians while delivering the report at the Actor Boy Awards ceremony held at the Knutsford Court Hotel in St Andrew last Monday.

For Clayton, a unified theatre community is the only way to truly survive in these times and ensure the continued growth and strengthening of live theatre in Jamaica.

“We really should make some effort to revive JADA. We really need to come together as a community and not only share experiences and ideas, but also share expenses sometimes, it's the only way we are truly going to get ahead... While there is room for improvement in our practice, the fact is Jamaica is looked upon as model in the English-speaking Caribbean for the professionalism and vibrancy of our theatre. There is no doubt that the existence of a strong training academy in the Edna Manley College and a credible quality assurance mechanism in the Actor Boy Awards adjudication process has combined to ensure the growth and sustainability of theatre in Jamaica,”she noted.

Meanwhile, 2018 saw a continuation of the downward trend in the numbers of plays submitted for Actor Boy Awards' adjudication. In 2017, there were 21 productions and that number remained the same in 2018. By comparison 32 productions were reviewed in 2016, which Clayton admitted was a particularly prolific year.

Among the 21 plays in the 2018 cycle, there were 10 dramas, five comedies, five ensemble pieces, three submitted as musicals, three productions aimed at children, two described as tragedies and one revue. Some productions crossed genres.

“There were several emerging trends worthy of mention. Four plays were either directed or co-directed by females, two of whom have been nominated for Best Director. Twelve of the 21 productions were new Jamaican plays. Significantly, the playwrights are venturing into new areas, taking risks and growing their art. While the comedies still predominate as the perceived preferred type of entertainment, it is noticeable that audiences have been embracing the new areas, whether the more explicitly sexual material, or the exploration of sensitive topics such elderly dementia. There is little doubt that live theatre productions at least in the Corporate Area have become, to the general public, accepted and competitive forms of entertainment,” said Clayton.

She noted that it was encouraging to see the number of new producers, writers, directors and actors entering the arena and the effort being made by the technical crew to improve their craft. She encouraged the community to draw on Jamaica's rich cultural heritage as source for material.

“We are pleased that the School of Drama took on the challenge of mounting pieces based on indigenous Caribbean rituals. It has been a delight to experience these attempts to use the rich heritage of the region to craft messages for contemporary times. I encourage playwrights to delve deeper into this rich store for material. It would certainly resonate with old-timers among us and would also serve as a means of preserving our cultural heritage for the young,” Clayton observed.

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