Friday, 1 December 2017

GRACING THE STAGE: Freedom Ministry is empowering Jamaicans by fusing gospel and the arts

THIS FAR BY FAITH: Actors performing scenes from the Dramafest 2017 production, Remember You Owe Me.

FOR years, Praise Academy of Dance and Laud Dance Ministry, among others, have been combining Christian ministry and the performing arts to touch lives and spread the gospel. But while those groups are run by artists whose roots are in dance theatre, Freedom Ministry Jamaica has been drawing on the theatrical arts to connect with the masses and get their messages across.

In a nutshell, says team leader Pastor Cornelius Brown, the work of Freedom Ministry is about using the performance space to empower and inspire Jamaicans, using the arts as a tool for transformative work.

“For about a decade now we’ve been focusing on theatre. As performers we are committed and we come together for different causes,” Brown explains, while being interviewed on the weekend at the Phoenix Theatre, where they put on a pair of rousing one-woman shows, full of wit, wisdom and food for thought. “We try to bring a balance, so it’s about education, empowerment and ministry. We are about developing individual talent, hence the one-woman shows. As an entity, we believe that for the group to develop, the individual talents must develop.”

Evidently, Freedom Ministry is also about the work of the church. Its members hail from several denominations – Gospel Assembly, Baptist, Pentecostal, you name it. Pastor Brown’s roots, come to think of it, are in the New Testament Church. He currently shepherds a flock in Olympic Way, Kingston. By and large, Freedom Ministry is continuing the age-old tradition of devout Jamaican Christians collectively using their singing-acting-dancing talents to create arts-based ministry to do the Lord’s work. Consequently, they’re becoming a force to be reckoned with, driven by faith, focus and immense dedication and passion.

The one-woman shows – “Listen Mi” performed on Saturday by Stacy-Ann Morgan-Devalier and “Sever the Ties” done by Samantha Thompson on Sunday night – are the latest productions from this enterprising group. Prior to this weekend’s showcase, they mounted faith-based comedy-dramas with such droll titles as Stealing Love on Both Sides, Remember You Owe Me, Idlers’ Corner and My Wife’s Mother-in-Law. They’re just coming off their annual extravaganza, Drama Fest Jamaica, held every end of October, for which they produced five new full-length plays.

According to Pastor Brown, a self-admitted theologian who “fell in love with culture,” theatre is an ideal medium to enhance their kind of mission work. At present, they are donating proceeds from their events to support the Yadel Girls’ Home in Old Harbour, St. Catherine.

Pastor Jackie Cousins is one of their biggest cheerleaders. She believes the blend of performance and gospel ministry for edutainment purposes is a crucial component of nation-building. “It’s a performing arts ministry that provides an excellent way of dramatizing some of the issues that confronts people in their daily lives – which the church pastor would not necessarily preach about,” she notes. “It lets people see their situations through performance. It’s an opportunity for deliverance and healing through the arts.” 

Come April 2018, Freedom Ministry will be heading to Massachusetts for the annual Drama Fest Boston, for which they are preparing some new mini productions.

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