Monday, 7 November 2016

PERFORMANCE ART: At 48, UWI’s young-talent showcase Tallawah is poised for new heights

THEY'VE GOT NEXT: JYT members flash bright smiles, posing with their prize haul at Sunday's Best of Tallawah.

You can catch him again this month, leaving the audience in stitches as Ivor in Dahlia Harris’ Same Difference, but the UWI Mona-based University Dramatic Arts Society (UDAS) is where Desmond Dennis got his start. He recently returned to his roots, but this time as a director for the Philip Sherlock Centre-hosted Tallawah drama festival, which culminated on Sunday with the hugely enjoyable Best of Tallawah showcase and awards ceremony. Dennis outshone is rivals, earning three Best Director nominations and a win for his work on UDAS’ The Prophecy, a short but powerful drama about African village customs and human sacrifice. 

It’s a reminder of the kind of impact that this tertiary level competition continues to have on the local arts community, providing a terrific platform for young and emerging talents to express themselves artistically (through mini plays, poetry, monologues, storytelling) and begin the work that will, hopefully, land them in the big leagues one day.

Dennis, a past multiple acting awardee, is a sterling example of the competition’s fine products, as are Shantol Jackson (The Mountaintop), Quilt’s Rayon McLean and Akeem Mignott, who continues to lend his time to the Jamaica Youth Theatre, this year’s big winner of Best Production, for their provocative, all-female scorcher Demon In Me.

Festival coordinator and Philip Sherlock Centre staff tutor Michael Holgate is all too aware of Tallawah’s critical role, and moving forward, he points out, the emphasis will be on growth. “We continue to see strong talents coming out of the festival, but we need to do some rebranding and fixing, going into our 50th year,” he says, hinting that major plans are in the pipeline.

Judges Amba Chevannes, Michael Daley and Shawna-Kae Burns concurred, making favourable comments during their individual reports but expressing concern about certain areas of weakness, chiefly the writing, approaches to acting, the occasional lack of clarity when it comes to the names of performers entered for ensemble pieces – and the surprising absence of entries this year for multimedia and storytelling.

Speaking of the ensemble pieces, they accounted for four of the five works that comprised Sunday’s performance package. In addition to The Prophecy and Demon In Me, we saw the bloody-good “Vampires”, Tribe Sankofa’s winner for Best Use of Makeup and Best Group Poetry, but it was P.E.A.C.E that gave the most sobering presentation, with “All Lives Matter When Black Lives Matter,” a gripping exposé calling out the grave injustices that led to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Khajeel Mais, and the list goes on.

Striking similar chords, A.Z. Preston Hall’s “It’s Human Trafficking” (featuring Best Actress winner Jonique Francis) offered a moving depiction of a mother reflecting on the tragedy of having a daughter who mysteriously vanished – and the painful memories that remain.

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