FRONT & CENTRE: The pantomime's newcomers are a diverse bunch passionate about the stage.
Smart and savvy young Jamaican actors who take the craft seriously are always on the lookout for opportunities in the performing arts to hone their talents and upgrade their skills. In the local arts community, the LTM Pantomime Company offers the ideal launching-pad for these up-and-comers, as they get to sing, dance and act and learn the ropes of the industry, while following in the footsteps of such distinguished pantomime alums as Miss Lou and Mass Ran, Michael ‘Stringbean’ Nicholson, Nadean Rawlins and Oliver Samuels.
This season, six fresh faces make their debut in the national pantomime, bringing boundless energy and laudable commitment to their small roles in the Robert Clarke-directed musical comedy The Upses & De Downzies Dem.
It’s a diverse bunch of youngsters who are passionate about the stage and seem intent on making the most of the chance they’ve been given. “It’s been a great experience. I never thought I would get the opportunity to perform in a production like the pantomime, so it’s a dream come true,” says Janelle Wilson, a 20-year-old student, who is currently reading for a degree in Business Administration at UTech, where she also studied drama as an elective.
Impressed by her abilities, Wilson’s drama tutor Philip Clarke recommended her to the Pantomime Company, where she aced the audition. She’s been working to solidify her place in the troupe ever since, while balancing her love of performance with her academic obligations. “At first I felt a bit frustrated,” she readily admits, “but I think I’m settling in now.”
Schoolmate Michaela Brown, 19, who is doing a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Technology, knows the feeling. “It’s a close-knit group, and it’s an honour to be a part of it. But it takes a lot of hard work and commitment,” shares the JCDC Festival alumna. “I’ve been watching the pantomime for 16 years, so to finally join the cast is an achievement I’m proud of.”
Kevin Bloomfield, 19, an Innswood High graduate, has also done time with the JCDC Festival. Jahmali Rhoden is currently studying aspects of the performing arts at the Excelsior Community College. Ricardo Johnson, who sings with the UWI Men’s Chorus, has performed with Father HoLung & Friends, while Shawna-Kaye Turner, a shy 27-year-old now growing in confidence, is also enrolled at UTech. “I’m learning a lot. It’s fun. I love drama, I love the stage, and working with these other experienced actors is a welcome experience for me,” says Turner, who’s done shows at church and back in high school. “I’ve been on many stages, but never a big stage like this.”
Both Bloomfield and 22-year-old Ricardo Campbell are budding singers. “I do acting to enhance my stage performance as a pop and reggae vocalist,” notes Campbell, whose fledgling company VS Plus will be signing young artistes in the years to come. “I want my company to not only sign people but also push them to go internationally.”
According to Anya Gloudon, who puts out an annual casting call for the Pantomime Company, the night is young on the theatre careers of these promising first-timers, who have shown that they are willing to learn and grow as professional performers. “They have been settling in fairly well. This is the most newcomers we’ve taken in in one year,” Gloudon tells TALLAWAH. “They still have a lot to learn, and there’s the discipline and certain habits that have to be looked at. But as we go along, we’ll gel more and more.”