Monday, 22 August 2011

A LIFE ARTISTIC: Karl Williams brings us up to speed on life in his cultural universe

MAN FOR ALL SEASONS: Williams talks culture and contribution.

In this age of fast-rising up-and-comers and the next-big-things, it remains both crucial and revitalizing to keep an ear out for those seasoned artists of original talent and impeccable credentials, whose insight into our cultural landscape and the road not yet travelled is vitally important. The actor and playwright Karl Williams is one such voice. It’s been years since our last chat, but the award-winning artist, based in New York but currently on a rare visit home, still exudes an affable likeability that sits well with his combination of intellectual gift and artistic savvy, which he came by honestly, of course: via years of toiling in the trenches to establish a name of note and a body of work that can stand up to scrutiny.

Case in point, his widely-praised 2006 family drama Not About Eve, was among a roster of works recently featured at a well-attended theatre festival in the US, where Williams now lives and works. “It was excellent,” he marvels, reflecting on the event, which took place in North Carolina. “I was kinda overwhelmed by the reception. We had a full-house for the reading, and there are producers who now want to stage the play. So that’s exciting. I just hope it takes off.”

Ever the self-motivated one, with a penchant for feverishly pursuing a project he genuinely believes in, Williams, who is now primarily based in New York – land of Broadway and (reportedly) ample opportunities for artistic fulfillment – is intent on pushing his works to achieve whatever form of success lies in wait. “For me, it’s about getting the work out there, keep entering [Not About Eve] in festivals and showcasing it,” she says, before adding that “publishing will probably be the last stop.”

The writer within him is, in the meantime, busy fashioning a new work centred on family and the human spirit. And, he emphasizes, it will enjoy a Jamaican premiere before being shown anywhere else. “It’s about two brothers who are dealing with the death of their mother,” Williams says of the as-yet-untitled play, which was inspired by a conversation with fellow thespian Chris McFarlane. “Both brothers are named Sean, so that’s a part of the conflict. But it’s really about how the two of them go about burying their mother.”

Casting a keen eye on the state of theatre in Jamaica, Williams makes no bones about calling for a proliferation of theatre activities across the breadth of the island. As it happens, theatre is largely concentrated in the capital and has been so for decades. At the same, he says it is up to local actors to elevate themselves. “On a broad scale our actors just have to keep going and reinventing themselves. The onus is on them,” he remarks. “But from what I’ve seen, the next generation is stepping up and doing them thing.”

On a more personal note, Williams, by his own admission, intends to keep playing his part in championing the arts. “I’m still trying to help showcase the Jamaican voice while applying theatre to non-traditional places and steering MADKOW (his producing outfit with Michael Daley) in that direction,” he says, citing his attendance at a recent session on Theatre and Public Health at New York University. “Archiving is also very important to me. I am really interested in applying what I have learned to help others, because it doesn’t make sense that we curse and say people don’t know anything when nobody is teaching them.”

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