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My Kingston... Pierre Lemaire

Sunday, May 06, 2018

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PIERRE LEMAIRE Dean, School of Drama, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA)

What are your fondest memories of Kingston?

My first impression of Kingston... it was in June 1976. Of course, I had been told in France about the state of emergency, the political violence, and the curfews. It was very big then in the international press and with the expatriates. This made me a bit apprehensive, until the evening of my arrival. Around 10:00 pm, coming out of a New York flight I was taken straight from the airport to Devon House for a welcome drink. There, sitting at what is now called the Mahogony Tree Bar, under the big trees, the moon and the stars, listening to Pluto Shervington music, and drinking my first glass of Appleton rum, I realised it couldn't be that bad! I thought it was quite pleasant. People were friendly and welcoming. The place was beautiful and that first impression never changed. Uptown or downtown, I've always felt welcome. That's why after 42 years and several (who's counting?) glasses of Appleton, I still feel at home in Kingston, with a soft spot for Devon House.

What is the most enjoyable meal you have had in Kingston?

I've had a lot of great meals in Kingston, but a special one was slightly outside of Kingston, at sea, in Maiden Cay with my wife, my sons and friends. Adrien, my elder son, had made arrangements for fishermen to bring us fish and bammy from Gloria's in Port Royal. It was a simple meal, but having it arrive by boat to this little patch of land in the middle of the sea was very special and extremely nice.

What would you do if you were mayor of Kingston?

If I were the mayor of Kingston I would fix and recondition the cultural jewel of Jamaica... the Ward Theatre. The good thing is, the actual mayor of Kingston is doing just that. Thank you, Sir, for making my wish come true!

What advice would you give to a first time visitor to Kingston?

Don't be scared of Kingston. It is a great, vibrant and friendly city. Just be yourself, but still be careful as you would be in your own town. Use your common sense, but do not become paranoid as a result of what has been published in the foreign press.

What can you recall from your first encounter with theatre?

My first encounter with theatre took place when I was in the French equivalent of sixth form. Our history teacher took us to see a play about the French Revolution, called 1789. The theatre company, Theatre du Soleil, used the audience as part of the play by having us react as the people of Paris doing the revolution. It was a great experience when audience and actors were interacting together in one space and one action. When I came out of the theatre I decided this was what I wanted to do.

How different are the theatrical approaches in Europe from those practised here in the Caribbean?

The theatre style I was trained in was a very physical and militant theatre, quite similar to the style which was being used at the School of Drama in 1976, when I came to Kingston. Of course, the physical forms here were based on traditional Jamaican forms. But the process was similar, which meant it was easy for me to adapt. Now, things are a bit different since a lot of the theatre happening in Kingston is commercial theatre, where actors are being trained through apprenticeship rather than formal training. This results in limiting them to the style of who they work with, rather than having a wider technique as is the case for formally trained actors.

How long have you been a mime artist?

I started studying mime in my theatre training in university in 1973 and started performing it in 1974.

How challenging is it to teach mime?

To be able to learn mime you need a flexible body, a strong imagination and a good sense of focus. Your body has to be able to do precisely what you want it to do. You need total control of your body. The challenge in teaching mime is the fact you can teach only the technique. But the body and mind ability need to be there first. That's why we introduce it in classes taking place in year three, so the actor's approach is already ready for it. Our students at School of Drama will do Movements classes from the start, allowing them to control their bodies, as well as improvisation which allow them to express their imagination.

How does the access to mime techniques translate in the work of your students when they utilise other theatrical mediums?

The mime techniques are part of an actor's training techniques. Focus, physical characterisation, improvisation, creative use of props, pace, tableaux — all of this is part of our training. Therefore, our students are accustomed to using these techniques in their regular acting. That's why when they act they fully act. They do not rely only on their lines, their voice or their facial expressions. When you see Michael “String Bean” Nicholson on stage, he acts with his entire body. His head, his neck, his shoulders, everything contributes to the expression. The physical acting techniques used in mime make the actor more expressive.

How has the EMCVPA helped to reshape the theatrical landscape of Kingston?

The School of Drama, from its inception, has helped shape Jamaica's theatre through the training of actors like Oliver Samuels, Fae Ellington, Bello, Blakka, Michael Nicholson and closer to us Akeem Mignott and Ackeem Poyser. In addition, directors like Eugene Williams, Trevor Nairne, Keith Noel, as well as stage managers, lighting technicians, drama teachers, drama specialists at the Ministry of Education and JCDC received training at the School of Drama. We can really say that from the days of Dennis Scott and Tom Cross to now, the School of Drama has fulfilled its mandate by providing Jamaica with a large scope of theatre professionals.

If you could produce any EMCVPA production on Broadway, which would it be and why?

Of course, I would like to produce any of our productions on Broadway. But I would really like the opportunity to carry a Jamaican story which includes folk forms as well as Jamaican music, like some of the productions we create with Ibo Cooper for the EMCVPA graduation shows.

As the newly appointed dean of the institution, what will your approach be to addressing the challenges unique to the EMCVPA School of Drama?

One of the main challenges we have is a space challenge. The School of Drama and EMCVPA are in need of physical expansion. It would be great timing for the Government to give us the land at the back of the campus which has been promised to us for several years. This will assist us in fulfilling our Caribbean mission, since the EMCVPA is still the only college of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean.

Which personal undertaking in theatre has brought you the most gratification?

The work I do with my students and also my work with disabled young people. The theatre has helped them reclaim their self-esteem and the recognition from the audience allows them to see their real talent.

You're in an audience seat in Broadway, which show are you watching?

Cats!

If you could convert any one place in Kingston to a thriving theatrical hub, where would it be and why?

I think a 'Culture Strip' should be from Tom Redcam Avenue to Arthur Wint Drive, with the library, the Little Theatre and an expanded Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.

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