Monday, 8 December 2014

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Playwright Fabian Barracks talks creative challenges, Bad Apple, and finding his voice

MY GENERATION: The playwright-producer with Oberlin High students at the Theatre Place.

They say if you can survive high school you can survive anything. Fast-rising playwright-producer Fabian Barracks has a knack for taking the all-too-real experiences of Jamaican adolescents (rough school life, domestic dysfunction) and transforming them into powerful, nostalgic parables about coming of age and rising above unimaginable odds ― making him one of the theatre industry's most important new voices with something meaningful to say. As he readies new plays for 2015 and sets his sights on taking his production house Barracks Entertainment to great heights, one gets the feeling that when it comes to his career as a storyteller this 25-year-old is just getting started.

TALLAWAH: Your plays, like Gaza Boyz and Bad Apple, largely revolve around themes and situations that speak to the teen Jamaican experience. Is that deliberate?
Fabian Barracks: When I did my first show, Family Remedy, I decided to do the mainstream thing with night shows. So for two months I rented a theatre and I just could not get the audience. Because what it means is you have to to have a lot of resources for ads and things like that, and don't have [those resources]. Then I realized going into the schools and talking to principals and drama teachers was more effective.

F.B.: The first time I did it, I got my alma mater, Wolmer's Boys, and they gave me 200-and-odd students. So I thought, 'Why not do it with all high schools?'? And it's been successful for me.

TALLAWAH: So what were you like in high school?
F.B.: I was kinda nuff. I was in a lot of extra-curricular activities, mostly arts-based ones ― drama, debating, students' council.

TALLAWAH: Bad Apple, your most recent work, takes a deep deep into the modern high school experience ― but with a hefty dose of drama, including abusive teacher-student affairs. Was the play inspired by any real-life examples?
F.B.: I remember there were real-life student-teacher relationships going on [during my time in high school], and I drew from some of that.

TALLAWAH: How do young girls ever rise above such psychologically damaging relationships?
F.B.: There is no real solution. It's just for us to help them get through it. Things will never go back to normal. You hear of people having relapses from experiences they had years ago. It will always have some impact. You just have to move on and focus on your dreams.
TALLAWAH: As a strong emerging voice in Jamaican theatre, your role comes with enormous responsibilities. Do you feel pressured to meet industry expectations?
F.B.: I know I have the potential within me. I feel God is doing something, and I can tell you I'm nervous too, especially when you have an idea but you're not quite sure how to put it out there. So I'm kinda anxious and all that, but I'm very hopeful.

TALLAWAH: You're a very busy man these days. I hear your next play for Barracks Entertainment is already set for May 2015.
F.B.: I also have one in February, which is called Saving Grace. May is for my next school play. I don't know quite yet what that play will be called, but I know it's about self-esteem and I envision my protagonist being a big far Black girl with self-esteem issues.

TALLAWAH: For the record, production houses like Barracks Entertainment are welcome additions to the theatre landscape. Where do you ultimately want to take it?
F.B.: I want to go regional. I really want to show in Barbados.

> REVIEW: Bad Apple scores a ripe B+

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