Thursday, 3 March 2016

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Theatre’s Eugene Williams on his creative process and being a perfectionist at heart

STAGE PRESENCE: Williams (far left) sharing a moment with theatre colleagues at the Philip Sherlock Centre in 2011. Inset, Williams.

The annual Philip Sherlock Lecture is one of the most keenly anticipated presentations within the local arts community. Every year, one of our distinguished scholars or a noted cultural icon is called upon to reflect on a topic of their choosing to engage the audience that usually packs the Mona Campus’ Philip Sherlock Centre. This year, that honour fell to Eugene Williams, prize-winning theatre director and retired director of the Edna Manley College’s School of Drama.

Widely known for his expertise on all things theatrical – modern and vintage – and his crowd-pleasing directorial brio, Williams centred his presentation on “The Anancy Technique: Unlocking Embodied Cultural Memory – A Gateway to Post-Colonial Performance.” Fascinating topic. But what exactly does it mean to “unlock the cultural memory?” “It’s about self-empowerment, particularly for those of us doing work that concerns the cultural heritage,” he tells TALLAWAH. “It’s about tapping into that sense of self in relation to our cultural history.”

But at the same time Williams points out that much of what he interrogated in Monday’s lecture stemmed from research he’d been conducting throughout his academic life. “Most of those ideas are essentially my discoveries, discoveries I was making along the way, and connections with my own work. Also, things I was studying and picked up from interacting with my students,” he explains. “And then I went on to do Performance Studies, and so my scope went beyond theatre and into cricket, rituals, and so on.”

Today, at age 53, Williams is in retirement from the School of Drama after almost three decades. But, obviously, the work continues. He has been succeeded in the top job at the drama school by Pierre LeMaire (formerly a part-time lecturer), whom he convinced to join the faculty full-time. “I wouldn’t say I was his mentor, but I am the person who asked him to come back full-time,” Williams remembers, citing admiration for LeMaire’s whimsical style of directing. “He has a good sense of fantasy and spectacle, and he works well with the students.”

By his own admission, Williams has no idea how the rest of his year will play out, but what he knows for sure is that he’ll be collaborating on a stage production, tentatively scheduled for April, and, as always, keep on “discovering.” “I am forever doing research,” he readily admits. “I am essentially motivated by unfulfilled creative urges. Even the productions that I’ve done, I’m never satisfied with them. A production is never finished for me because I’m always thinking of how it could have been improved.” 

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