Theatric justice

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Theatric justice

Actor Philip Clarke rebounds from cancer with Actor Boy win

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, May 17, 2020

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A week ago Philip Clarke was a happy man.

He copped the Actor Boy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his work in Feminine Justice. This was his second such award, as 10 years ago he had won for his role in White Witch. However, this win was filled with a lot more emotion for the 46-year-old, who is also the director of arts and culture at the University of Technology (UTech), Jamaica.

During his acceptance speech at the ceremony, which was streamed via Zoom and on Facebook, Clarke shared why the role and the win meant so much to him at this time.

During the production's run on stage , Clarke was recovering from surgery having been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“When I reflected on the challenges I had been going through at that time. To win the Actor Boy Award really means a lot to me. I had deliberately kept my diagnosis private. I only shared with very close family and a few friends and colleagues. So having gone through what I went through and to have a win at the end of the day feels like having climbed a really steep mountain, now that I'm at the top I can see the expanse below, full of opportunity.”

In late 2017, Clarke was diagnosed with stage one prostate cancer. The diagnosis sent him into denial and depression.

“My father died of prostate cancer, I knew of the risk, so I started doing my tests once I got into my 40s. But when I was diagnosed I didn't deal with it very well. I sank into deep depression. 'Why Me? I am so young, I am fit and healthy... I am not ready for this, so might as well mi jus dead and done. I was depressed. I withdrew. There were times I would just go home and without even taking my clothes off, just fall into be until the next day,” Clarke told the Jamaica Observer.

He struggled with the diagnosis for two years, seeking second opinions, seeing a counsellor and talking with other prostate cancer patients about their journey. All of this prepared his to let go of his fears and get to the point of acceptance and a willingness to have the surgery done.

Luckily for Clarke his cancer was caught at an early stage and was not aggressive. So even with the two-year wait, his doctors advised him that the mass was still in the same place even though he had taken the risk of waiting for two years. He did the surgery in April 2019.

For Clarke it was up from here. He would use this experience as a turning point in his life, so he turned to one of his passions, acting.

A few months post-surgery he was recommended for the role in Basil Dawkin's Feminine Justice and accepted the challenge but was not sure he could do it. But there was something in the lines of the script that spoke to him and his situation at the time.

“The lines were feeding my spirit,” said Clarke.

“There was something there encouraging me to let go of the past and embrace the future. Without knowing my situation, Maylynne Lowe kept telling me to be myself and let go. I had not acted in about three to five years, so it had been a while since I was last on stage so my confidence level was not where it should be and fellow act Rodney Campbell, who also didn't know about my cancer diagnosis, would also encourage me every night. Sometimes after rehearsals we would sit for hours and chat. Sheryn Arker Hylton was like a big sister. Director Peter Abrikian's style was perfect for me at that time. He believed in me and allowed me to grow at a very difficult time in my life. So the win is also theirs... they allowed me to get to that place on stage.” he continued.

Today, Clarke is taking his recovery in stride. Three routine tests have all come back negative for cancer and he still has four years of testing before being declared cancer free. He encourages men to become aware of their health, let go of their fears and get tested.

In addition to his work at UTech, he also shares his expertise on stage working as a performance coach, nurturing singers, dancers, actors to be at their best in front of an audience. He admits that his experience with prostate cancer has made him a better coach as he is able to share his story on overcoming.

“I am able to tell them to own your scars, your wounds and your story. These scars, wounds and story are preparing you for your best performance. I learned that first hand and now I want to pas it on.”

Looking back at his character in Feminine Justice, Clarke said he channelled his personal struggles into the characters in order to produce the best portrayal for his audience.

“I actually played three characters in the production. I was a gardener; the husband of my employer who was a medical doctor as well as an angel. This stretched and inspired me to see possibilities and then I win the Actor Boy Award. This award is a symbol of not giving up. I will cherish it and each time I look at it I will be reminded of how I overcame. An iconic moment in my life... Philip, yuh see what's possible?”


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