Tuesday, 12 November 2013

11 QUESTIONS: Stage director and lecturer Dr. Brian Heap on life, art and everything in between

MAN OF THE HOUR: "I don't think I would be young again if I were given the opportunity." Below, with fellow Thespian Spirit Award winners in February 2011.

Bringing the curtains down on yet another iteration (the 46th!) of the annual Tallawah tertiary drama festival/competition at UWI Mona, the well-respected director and lecturer reflects on an illustrious life in the arts, and much more. Dr. Heap is now available for questions....

It's been 46 years since the inception of the Tallawah festival. In what ways has the competition evolved over the years? 
It's not something that's gonna stay on one level all the time because it started out as an inter-hall competition, but as it expanded, we had to include more colleges. So it has changed over time, and I think we're gonna have to keep maintaining it to make sure that it stays relevant. 

You've said that this year's focus is on student drama. What led to that decision? 
We kind of re-emphasized the whole thing of tertiary-level students, because what we found was that we were getting youth groups and secondary school kids, who are supposed to have their own festival. So we didn't want to start encroaching on other competitions' territory. 

Being a director (stage, film, dance) is all about chasing that perfect scene, that perfect finishing touch. Do you agree? 
It is, but you never get it right. There have been no perfect productions because there never are. And the whole point is that we keep doing it because we're trying to get it right. You get a lot of things right, but you never get everything right. 

You recently participated in a panel discussion on the life and times of Ranny Williams, drawing attention to the storied history he shares with Louise Bennett. 
The thing is there are two names, but we tend to concentrate on Miss Lou because she wrote things down. And so, too, did Mas Ran but he didn't anthologize. He died with a lot of Anancy stories still in his head. They were never recorded, and we need somebody to go and actually do the research and also find out more about his work with Marcus Garvey. Some serious research needs to be done. 

Having completed your own doctoral studies, you've been rechristened as Dr. Brian Heap. What was it like working on the thesis? 
It was a struggle, and I believe I am the first doctoral candidate in the creative arts. And so that is a breakthrough. It was a UWI PhD creative arts programme, and I'm hoping other people will be able to come up and do a similar kind of thing. 

You haven't directed a pantomime in years. Why, and will you ever direct another one or two? 
Well, I did 15, and I think I'm still the [director] with the most. It takes up a lot of your year. And ever since I came here [to the Philip Sherlock Centre], it became more difficult because I've got my own yearly schedule at the university. Directing another one? Perhaps, but maybe when I don't have to think about a lot of stuff. Maybe in retirement. 

Who are you outside of the theatre? What are your other interests? 
I enjoy travelling, being with friends. Because I'm so involved in a social kind of art form, the socialization thing is not a big thing for me. So in fact, I quite like to get a little space for myself, read, relax, watch some movies. I've been going to the Met [at Palace Cineplex] and things like that which are really good. 

You grew up British before landing on our shores. Take us down memory lane. 
I did, but I've lived here longer than I did in England. It was a different kind of country. I grew up in a working-class kind of environment in the north of England, so I think I identified more readily with the broader working classes when I came to Jamaica. And it was very interesting. But working with people like [the late] Dr. Olive Lewin on folk culture sort of helped me to go deeper into the experiences of living in Jamaica. 

As a lecturer, is teaching still as fulfilling as it was in years past? 
I think it is. It's different now. Trying to keep the teaching relevant based on what's happening in the society is very challenging, and we've already moved into the digital age. So where as I am reader, I tend to find that a lot of our students aren't readers at all; they want to get things fast from off the Internet. And they don't have the level of curiosity that I'd hoped. 

What's one thing people would be surprised to learn about you? 
I don't know that there's anything at all surprising. I've had a very checkered history. I used to teach in the penitentiaries back in the 1980s, teaching English. I enjoy things like swimming and the outdoors, but I'm probably very boring. And I enjoy cooking. 

I hear you're a man of 63 years. How are you finding life at that tender age? 
Ah, it gets so much better (Laughs). I don't think I would be young again if I were given the opportunity.

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