Tuesday, September 2, 2014

ON WITH THE SHOW: Laff It Off's Oliver Mair brings crowd-pleasing instincts to modern theatre

 SPEED DIAL: "Once your family is involved in what you're doing your life becomes so much easier," Mair reflects.

Oliver Mair may be a high-powered businessman by day with his fingers in many entrepreneurial pies, but when it comes to his life in modern Jamaican theatre, he has a singular priority: putting on a solid show for the folks who shelled out their hard-earned bucks to fill the seats. With his latest effort, the hit comedy revue Laff It Off, Mair has managed to do just that, orchestrating what TALLAWAH has described as "a hugely entertaining production that fuses boldly original insight and social commentary, deeply humorous satire and unbridled energy."

Previous writing-producing efforts for the 40-odd year-old avid sports man (who declines to reveal his age) have included the debut Rhythm of Life, the Actor Boy-winning Dat Ting (star Chris 'Johnny' Daley won an acting award) and the Ting series of sequels. Now Laff It Off is one of the hottest tickets in town, and one gets the feeling that this respectable track record is only the beginning of great things to come from Mair. 

As the show extends its run at the Little Little Theatre, TALLAWAH sits down with the JMTC and UWI Singers alum to talk about his early years, family values, and Jamaican theatre as a work-in-progress.

TALLAWAH: What led you to take up theatre as a creative pursuit?
Oliver Mair: I think it's something I've always had an interest in. While I was at Vaz Prep I did my first show called Samantha and the Seven Doobees. I played one of the doobees. I was supposed to play the prince, but that role went to a youth named Ziggy Marley.

TALLAWAH: Interesting. What was Ziggy Marley like in prep school?
O.M.: He was one year ahead of me, but he was very down-to-earth. All of the Marleys, from my experience, are down-to-earth people.

TALLAWAH: I've read that your family members play very active roles in your theatre life.
O.M.: For me, once your family is involved in what you're doing your life becomes so much easier; there's no tug-o-war. Both my wife and my father are helping out with this production doing ticket sales. It's a very supportive family, and through efforts like these we get to spend more time together. My mom and dad have supported me on every single production I've been involved with since Vaz Prep right up until now.

TALLAWAH: You're so very lucky.
O.M.: I think so, too. It's priceless actually. And I think it makes the challenges of your life's journey that much easier. 

TALLAWAH: Apart from family support, what else fuels your inner drive as an entertainer? 
O.M.: I love to see and hear people laughing. In school, I was always the class clown, so all my friends and the people who've known me for years aren't surprised by what I'm doing now as an actor and producer because of how I used to be cracking jokes in class all the time.

TALLAWAH: After Laff It off, what happens next?
O.M.: Right now we're just enjoying what is happening and the positive feedback the show's been getting. There are a couple of ideas we're thinking about, and we've had a few offers for overseas travel. Based on the feedback we get from the rest of the run we'll decide where we go next.

TALLAWAH: On reflection, how has Jamaican theatre changed since your first started out all those years ago?
O.M.: From what I've seen, we're still doing good work, and I have to commend people like Jambiz who are certainly the trendsetters in the business. You have to also respect people like Basil Dawkins, Dahlia Harris and David Tulloch for the efforts they're making. You see encouraging signs, but the industry is of such that there's still a lot of work left to be done. The government of Jamaica still needs to do more for the arts, theatre in particular. People want to see productions that make us think, encourage us to laugh at ourselves, and help us grow.

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Monday, September 1, 2014

THE PLAY'S THE THING: Globe cast gives Hamlet a hugely satisfying spin

A SECRET PASSION: Naeem Hayat playing Hamlet opposite Jennifer Leong cast as the tragic Ophelia.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Globe Theatre's recent performance of Shakespeare's most popular tragedy Hamlet at the Little Theatre is the resourcefulness, minimalism and innovative creativity that went into the staging. Grips and cases doubled as seats and other stage properties; performers carried out their own scene changes mid-performance; banjoes and other makeshift instruments added a whimsical jolt of musical bliss to the whole thing.

Each of the actors delivers a fine performance, but there's something to be said for Naeem Hayat's central performance in the titular role kinetically energetic and so passionately realized that one can only conclude that there was indeed method to the Danish prince's madness.

Kudos are in order, too, for Rawiri Pantene, whose pitch-perfect take on Polonius made me believe there was no firmer or more convincing way to deliver classic lines like "To thine own self be true" and "Brevity is the soul of wit." 

This small-scale production, directed by Dominic Dromgoole, playing to some 205 nations through 2015 (Jamaica was stop number 38) eschews old-school traditional style in favour of a more unorthodox spin imbued with a sort of hippie-gypsy aesthetic mixed with Shakespeare's genius and flair for language all ablaze. 

As the show heads off to the Dominican Republic and Haiti and South America, devoted Shakespearean purists needn't worry; the Globe's sparingly staged Hamlet whose Big Themes of honour, vengeance and unrequited love are epically examined still provides an enormously satisfying evening at the theatre, anchored by a richly modulated lead performance.

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MAN OF THE MOMENT: Usain Bolt continues to make the world his stage

COME FLY WITH ME: The athletic superstar standing next to Nissan's latest promotional ad featuring his image.

Unsurprisingly the summer-early fall months are when people like The World's Fastest Man see their frequent-flier miles soar to new heights. For the sprint king, this year has proved to be no exception. For the past several weeks at least, Usain Bolt has been continent-hopping to delightful and exotic destinations, with his Jamaican flair, exuberant bravado and reliable sidekick Nugent Walker (Team Bolt's Executive Manager) in tow.

Following that gold-medal-winning stint at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, it was on to putting in an appearance at the European Athletics Championship in Zurich, Switzerland, where he caught up with good friend and fellow track powerhouse Mo Farah. 

Bolt has a thing for the UK and Brazil, so naturally a bit of club-hopping in London and a return to the picturesque Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro soon followed complete with a 100M win (over pal Wallace Spearmon) and shiny new medal to add to the stash.

Imagine that: It's also a season of firsts for the jet-setter who recently competed for the first time in his career in Poland (at a memorial meet in Warsaw). And come September 2, he'll be in India, the land of Bollywood and the Taj Mahal, but his trip isn't necessarily for the cultural connection. Instead, he's been invited to headline a seven-a-side cricket exhibition match as part of a PUMA promotional activity, against none other than 2011 World Cup hero Yuvraj Singh. The match-up has been generating huge amounts of buzz in the blogosphere and is expected to draw a global audience.

And as part of his current world tour, Bolt will also be hopping over to Beijing (the scene of his 2008 record-breaking Olympic exploits) to add some star power to the launch of Nissan's sparkling new GT-R model. As for where he'll show up next, he'll certainly keep us all guessing, but rest assured that the Director of Excitement will be reporting for duty.

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CULTURE VULTURE: What's new, what's next, what's trending in Jamaican pop culture

BOOKS: HarperSport very recently unveiled the paperback version of Faster than Lightning, bearing a striking cover image of athlete-author Usain Bolt in a powerful blaze of a pose. Lightning marks Bolt's second autobiographical publication following 2010's well-received 9.58: My Story, which properly introduced readers to the man behind the two most coveted world records in sports. Also available at Hope Road's Bookophilia, where I happened to come across Bolt's book the weekend are copies of Pepperpot: The Best New Short Stories from the Caribbean (Peekash Press), which showcases some fine prose by 13 of the region's best contemporary scribes, including the Jamaicans Sharon Leach and Garfield Allen. Yet another great back-to-school gift is Drifting (Akashic Books), Katia D. Ulysse's widely acclaimed novelized account of the Haitian-American experience.

THEATRE: For the man who gave the world so much powerful reggae music, what better way to mark the 70th anniversary of his birth than with a grand stage musical charting his journey from humble beginnings to global phenom. That's basically what the creative team at the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company (JMTC) had in mind when they sat down to plan their 2015 junior production, Nesta's Rock. And the JMTC couldn't want for better collaborators than Tuff Gong International to bring the show to Philip Sherlock Centre audiences from January 9 to February 22. Bob deserves the best, so talented youngsters are being invited to audition for roles, in the month of September. Visit the JMTC's Facbook page for details.

FESTIVAL: When it comes to showcasing the utter diversity of Jamaican music, the Gungo Walk Festival has been doing a fantastic job, while offering a much-needed platform to many relatively unknown bands and emerging singer-songwriters. At this year's staging (Sep. 6 at the Edna Manley College) over 35 performers (a mix of bands, solo artists, poets and theatre ensembles) will bring their wonderful talents to the different stages around the campus, which is also hosting a Healing Village and the return of Armchair Rebelution to close off the day-long series of activities. See Gungo Walk's Facebook page for daily updates.

YOUTH: Some 28 students make up the 2014 cohort of recipients of the Carlton Alexander Memorial Bursaries administered by the GraceKennedy Foundation and is made available annually to assist company staff members based in Jamaica in meeting educational expenses for their children enrolled in secondary and tertiary institutions. Of the 28 awardees, seven are first-time recipients..... And from the classroom to the field of play, 113 schools (38 contesting the urban-area Manning Cup; 75 vying for rural daCosta Cup title) are set to do battle in the new season of schoolboy football, which kicks off this Saturday, September 6.

MEDIA: Jamaican journalists deserve proper recognition for their outstanding work, and this is a fact at least one responsible corporate citizen continues to believe in. "The Jamaica Broilers Group is pleased to be able to increase the cash prizes to journalists who continue to support this programme," confirms group President and CEO, Christopher Levy, announcing the changes to the Fair Play Awards, a calendar staple now in its 14th year. "We applaud members of the profession who continue to work hard to keep our nation informed and to present stories that are thorough, balanced, accurate and have resulted in positive national impact." To that end, this year's winner and runners-up will share a total of $1 million in cash, in addition to awards of excellence trophies at a ceremony set for Sep. 16 at the Terra Nova in St. Andrew.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

A MAN APART: Belafonte caps an illustrious career with a huge Academy honour

FIGURE OF SPEECH: Belafonte onstage during the 2014 amfAR New York Gala at Cipriani Wall Street on February 5, 2014 in New York City. 

When one hears the name Harry Belafonte it's hard not to think of the robust and melodious voice crooning the lyrics to "Day O (The Banana Song)", the chiselled features staring back from the cover of the groundbreaking album Calypso, or the arresting visuals featured in the probing documentary Sing Your Song that wowed Sundance in 2011.

In a career spanning several decades, the 87-year-old Jamerican artist and activist has made such sterling contributions to the arts to the point where he's now best described as an exemplary icon who has touched countless lives with his powerful oratory and captivating stage, musical and film performances and documentary appearances. A book, My Song: A Memoir, was published in 2010.

But what folks don't get to celebrate or even discuss enough of are his lavish contributions to humanitarian causes that brought huge credit to the performing-arts industry for years. It is for this very aspect of his life's work that he's been tapped to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Motion Picture Academy's 6th Annual Governor Awards in November in Hollywood.

Only a very select group of icon-artists have received this uberprestigious honour since it was first handed out in 1956. Quincy Jones, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Angelina Jolie and Oprah Winfrey, to name only a few. Per the Academy, Belafonte is being recognized for his dedication to shedding light on racism and inequality worldwide.

For the multihyphenate, it's a crowning achievement in a life and career that's already been greatly laurelled. To date, Belafonte is the winner of a trio of Grammy Awards and a holder of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy, an Emmy and a Tony from the American Theatre Wing. In 1989, he received the Kennedy Centre Honours and in 1994 came the National Medal of Arts.

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CLUB VIP: Stars dazzle on the scene from Rose Hall to the Liguanea Club

GOOD LOOKING OUT: August 23, St. James. Helping the homegirl Vivica A. Fox celebrate the big 5-0 on the breezy lawns of the Rose Hall Great House in MoBay on Saturday were head-turners like The Game's Wendy Racquel Robinson and ace designer/stylist to the stars NeaLis McIntosh, who had Robinson all dolled up for the shinding. (Photo: Skkan Media).

GAME CHANGERS: August 23, Kingston. Jamaica's top tennis stars were on show this past weekend as the curtains came down on the Hi-Pro All-Jamaica Senior Tennis Championships at the Liguanea Club. Kingpin Damion Johnson, left, (collecting his trophy from Hi-Pro's Darren Lawrence) was crowned winner of the Men's Open title. (Photo: Skkan Media).

HEAD OF THE CLASS: At company headquarters, Grace Kennedy Group CEO, Don Wehby, (second right) imparted pearls of wisdom to these accomplished students, the 2014 recipients of the Carlton Alexander bursary. From left are Dwayne Campbell, Darienne Spalding, Danielle Griffiths and Brianna Lindo. (Photo: Grace Kennedy).

FAMILY AFFAIR: August 27, Kingston. The sons and grand-daughters of the late Carlton Alexander - Philip, Zoe and Edward - also posed for photographs with Wehby and this year's batch of bursary recipients. (Photo: Grace Kennedy).

WE LIKE IT: August 27, Kingston. Red Stripe's newly launched 2014/15 initiative Drink Right WE I.D. got the thumbs-up from endorsers like Lisa Hanna and Warren Weir, who were both on hand for Wednesday's well-supported launch at Red Stripe HQ. (Photo: Skkan Media).

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Friday, August 29, 2014

ROGER SAYS GOOD NIGHT: Remembering an indelible politician and jovial public servant

BEER VIBES: The minister (with Senator Norman Grant) at the 2013 Denbigh Agricultural Show in Clarendon. Below, with Simpson-Miller and others at Denbigh 2012.

For those who knew him best, Roger Harold Clifford Clarke was a man who took a bonhomie approach to life and a commitedly civic sense of duty to his work in representational politics. He took both styles with him when he died on Thursday in Miami, Florida, where he'd gone to have surgery done on his back. He died of a massive heart attack while on his way home, the reports say. He was 74.

A politician who produced laudable results, especially in his roles as MP and as the present government's Agriculture and Fisheries minister, Clarke earned the respect of his constituents in North East St. Elizabeth (which he represented from 1991 to 2007) and Central Westmoreland (up until the time of his death) - and his numerous colleagues in Gordon House, not least among them PM Portia Simpson-Miller. In responding to the shocking news of Clarke's death, Simpson-Miller saluted the late PNP stalwart for his conviction on the job and the compassion he brought to everyday life.

"Roger Clarke was a special kind of politician who was loved not only by members of his party but people on the other side," Simpson-Miller noted in a statement released by the OPM. "He was loved by Jamaicans of all walks of life. His caring, gentle and compassionate spirit was matched by his generosity, good humour and laughter. It's hard for us to be sad when Roger Clarke was a man who brought laughter to so many of us."

Personally, what struck me most about this heftily built son of Westmoreland (born June 11, 1940) was his jovial, easy-to-get-along-with aura, typical of down-to-earth folks who can walk with kings without losing that common touch. It's an immensely likeable quality that the Opposition Leader also recognized in him. "[Clarke] had a cheerful nature and sharp wit, always injecting fun and revelry in his commentary and to debates in the House," Andrew Holness recalled. "He was a diffuser; there was always a simple thought he would introduce to a tense discussion that would cause us to look at ourselves and change the mood of the discussion."

In his time, Roger Clarke led quite a successful political career, to say the least. He never lost an election, winning a total of eight (two Local Government polls and six General Elections). His resume further highlights such positions as former Mayor of Black River and Chair of the St. Elizabeth Parish Council. For three years (1988-1991) he occupied the presidency of the Local Government Authority. But the role to which he brought the most distinguished service and obvious devotion was that of agriculture minister. "He was a champion of the agricultural sector who contributed significantly to its development, both as minister and as a farmer," proclaimed Clarke's JLP counterpart J.C. Hutchinson. "I will miss his wise counsel," Simpson-Miller added, "his tremendous sense of duty to public life and his outstanding contribution to agriculture."

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PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Warren Weir supports Red Stripe's new responsible drinking campaign

SIGN OF THE TIMES: In its quest to spread greater awareness about safe and responsible drinking islandwide, corporate citizen Red Stripe on Wednesday launched its Drink Right WE I.D. campaign, a much-welcomed initiative tied with the company's commitment to reducing the level of underage drinking in the country. As such, Red Stripe wants consumers to show some form of identification when purchasing alcohol. Olympian Warren Weir pledges his endorsement of the initiative by affixing his signature to the Autograph Wall mounted at the event hosted at Red Stripe headquarters. The track star, who is known for working closely with the Champs athletes at his alma mater Calabar High, joined such fellow public figures as Youth minister Lisa Hanna and newly crowned Miss Jamaica World Laurie-Ann Chin as advocates for this timely and supremely important cause. Also on board for the mission of enlightening the population on the impact of alcohol misuse and the importance of responsible drinking at all levels of the society are bodies like the National Parent Teachers Association of Jamaica (NPTAJ) and the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA). (Photo: Skkan Media)

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