TALK THAT TALK: Yvonne Brewster (right), with Carol Lawes and Jean Small, during the Directors Showcase.
ALL of last week, as the Jamaica Women In Theatre Festival kicked into high gear, you kept hearing one constant refrain: kudos to Dahlia Harris and co-organizer Nicole Brown for the visionary leadership that led to the genesis of such a fantastic showcase of the skills, intellect, creativity and opinions of the female practitioners currently working in the theatrical arts, safeguarding the legacy of the legends who paved the way and ushering in a bold and exciting new era in Jamaican theatre.
The 7-day festival, the first of its kind in Jamaica (and the English-speaking Caribbean, for that matter), had a super-successful inaugural staging at New Kingston’s Phoenix Theatre, bringing together the industry’s best and brightest, established and emerging, writers, directors, technical experts, stage managers and actresses for a series of panel discussions and performance showcases, which proved, above all, that the women have not only been making serious strides, they have lots more to offer.
Deborah Hickling, moderated the opening session (on the business of theatre) drawing eye-opening contributions from such panelists as financial whiz and avid theatergoer Yaneek Page and attorney/actress/singer Coleen Lewis and male colleagues Lenford Salmon of Jambiz and Harold Davis of the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC).
The following evening, a discussion on stagecraft took centrestage, with the likes of ace set designer PJ Stewart, light-and-sound engineer Aisha Robinson, costume mistress Carolyn Chin-Yee, budding stage manager Mijanne Webster and Philip Sherlock Centre technical manager Nadia Roxburgh – all weighing in on the joys and challenges of their life-in-the-theatre experiences. Up next was a segment on directing featuring the likes of Dr. Jean Small, Carol Lawes and British-based living legend Yvonne Brewster.
Then came three nights of performance showcases. While the Actors Showcase served up memorable excerpts from productions like The Trial of Governor Eyre (National Reparations Commission), Not My Child (Probemaster Entertainment) and Demons In Me (Jamaica Youth Theatre), the Writers Showcase delivered crowd-pleasing pieces from Harris’ God Go Wid Yuh, Suzanne Beadle’s 70x7: The Real Truth and Tanya Batson-Savage’s Woman Tongue.
As for the Directors Showcase, Fae Ellington and actress Makeda Solomon revived the award-winning Who Will Sing for Lena?, Small offered humour and food for thought with Balance, while Nadean Rawlins brought from MoBay her maiden theatrical revue #Hashtag, which smartly explores how social media has captured the public imagination.
The festival wouldn’t have been complete without some icons being honoured. For the closing session, Sylvia Winter, Una Marson and Louise Bennett-Coverley were posthumously recognized with special tributes and staged readings of their classic theatrical works.
Poised to be an annual event, the Jamaica Women in Theatre Festival intends to create opportunities for women in the theatrical arts and develop skills necessary for successful stage productions, while honoring women’s contributions to storytelling, innovation and artistic advancement.