VISUAL POWER: Stewart (inset) is known for her stunning backdrops and strong finishes, like this shot from this season's Queen Esther.
“IT’s been absolutely amazing. I’ve done all sorts of things I never expected to do. I’ve had some wonderful opportunities. I couldn’t have asked for better,” shares 71-year-old creative artist and devoted family matriarch PJ Stewart. A trained mural designer who has worked on all sorts of projects (including playgrounds in England), Stewart’s artistic evolution continues to take fascinating turns. In addition to her exploits as a full-time painter and studio owner, now based in Montego Bay, she’s earned renown as the designer responsible for those dazzling set pieces that transform Father HoLung & Friends productions into eye-popping spectacles. She reminisces with TALLAWAH.
Determination and Patience: “We used to do these show every other year until Father stepped it up to every year. The demand on your time is great. So determination and patience are definitely needed. You have to give the production the attention it needs. A lot of us have regular jobs, so time management is key.”
Team Work in Show Business: “You have to attend a lot of meetings ad have exchanges where you can get a grasp of each other’s thinking. So the director knows what the set designer has in mind; the lighting designer and the choreographer know what the director expects. We usually meet in January for a show in September, but now we met like two months before.”
Being a Woman in Design and Construction: “It’s not at all challenging for me in that regard. I haven’t noticed any discrimination. People are respectful. In this industry you are more engaged on your talents and skills than on your sex. It’s a small theatre world in Jamaica. The challenge for us doing Father HoLung productions is that there is no theatre space big enough; we have to use the Arena. We have no wires and gadgets hanging above the stage; so everything has to emanate from the ground.”
Establishing life-work balance: “That can be a challenge. I’m now divorced but I have children and grandchildren who depend on me. I’m also based in Montego Bay, and I have a studio down there, where artists exhibit, and I have to keep that run and running. Working with Missionaries of the Poor you have a limited budget, so it’s like designing for maximum effect with very limited resources. But you get enormous help from the brothers who put in hours and hours of work.”
Staying Power: “I have designed about 20 shows, but I’ve been working with Father for over 30 years now. It’s been fantastic. You get the opportunity to travel a lot. So far I’ve been to the Philippines, England, and the States. Usually we build half of the set to fold up and carry with us. I think being a part of this team has been the most extraordinary experience of my life.”