Saturday, 11 March 2017

MAN OF THE ‘HOUSE’: Theatre vet Andrew Roache finds challenges, fulfillment in his latest professional stint

CHARACTER STUDY: Actors performing a scene from Tek Yuh Han Off Ah Me, co-produced by Roache (inset).

For Andrew Roache, the biggest lesson one has to learn when running a theatre house has to do with patience. He should know. Since October of last year, Roache has been the man tasked with spearheading the theatrical arm of Whirlwind Entertainment, the buzz-worthy production company that has taken over Kingston’s popular Green Gables Theatre and rebranded it as the Jamaican Shopping Club Theatre.

“The name change hasn’t grown on people as yet; people still refer to it as Green Gables and even us, in our advertising, say ‘formerly the Green Gables Theatre’. But we expect the new name to catch on pretty son. Like everything else that takes time,” explains the 52-year-old theatre veteran, one of the most experienced theatre practitioners working in the local industry today. “It’s nice to have your own space, a home where you can try out different things, see what works and what doesn’t. You have more flexibility. But it is very challenging to maintain. So we’re hoping that with time things will get better.”

Among the immediate challenges: zoning in on arguably the most important aspect of drawing in large audiences. “If you’re not selling benefits it’s rough, and we haven’t yet captured the market on benefits,” says the multi-talented artist, whose résumé lists multiple writing, directing and stage management credits. “What we plan to do is build up our client base. What we have found is that the average theatregoer prefers to go through a benefit person for tickets. And we expect it to grow because we’re committed to producing quality Jamaican theatre.”

And that’s paramount, Roache hastens to add. “There’s a kind of stigma attached to the Green Gables Theatre because of the kind of shows that used to take place here. I won’t call any names. But it is not like before,” he emphasizes. “We intend to do quality theatre, and once you’re committed to that and do it right over time, the benefits will come.”

In November, Whirlwind put on their first play at the newly refurbished space, and they are now on to their third offering, Tek Yuh Han Off Ah Me, a scorching domestic dramedy, penned by Michael Dawson, which has scored Thespy and Actor Boy nominations. Last month, they flew in Debra Ehrhardt to mount her latest laughfest Cock Tales, which enjoyed a limited run to critical acclaim and sizeable nightly audiences.

That’s just the beginning. “For anything to be what you want it to be, you have to invest in it. And come June we will be investing in the stage reunion of Oliver Samuels and Volier Johnson,” Roache informs TALLAWAH. “The kind of audiences that we’re getting is average at the moment. Oliver is always a must-see, so we’re hoping that he will assist us in getting the kind of audiences that we want, and consistently.” 

Samuels, currently bringing the big laughs in Basil Dawkins’ award-winning Four Can’t Play, is writing the script for the play opening in June. According to Roache, the title has not yet been decided on, but the script is at an advanced stage. Roache, who got his start in Jamaican theatre in 1983, has a near 30-year professional relationship with Samuels, hailed as Jamaica’s king of comedy. Though he’s been largely under the radar Andrew Roach has accomplished quite a lot.

“I started out as a stage manager, but I also build sets, I write, I direct,” says the sturdily built man, who stands at about five-feet-eight. His script for 2006’s Strength of a Woman, above, (starring Audrey Reid) won Best Comedy at the Actor Boy Awards. His most recent effort Mama Take Me Back to Church, below, (with Dorothy Cunningham) ran last year. Still, “most people know me as a stage manager,” says Roache, who has worked with multiple commercial theatre companies over the years, including Jambiz International.

Now here he is, on this balmy Wednesday night in Kingston, sporting a red company shirt, jeans and a baseball cap, fully focused on this new chapter of his professional life and the challenges that come with it. “With an economy like ours, theatre in Jamaica is not as buoyant as it used to be,” he insists. “I would love to see the day when people walk up to the theatre again and purchase their tickets. But it has to be a rebuilding process.”

And it’s early days yet for the Jamaican Shopping Club Theatre, which Whirlwind Entertainment hopes will stand the test of time. “It’s a more comfortable space than it was before. It’s a refreshing venue, and more people will come to know it,” Roache predicts. “For the future, the plan is to consistently offer good quality theatre that people can enjoy and learn from. It’s not just about the laughter. And hopefully the population will buy into that kind of theatre.”

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