TAKING THE LEAD: "This is my chosen path. I'm gonna stick with it and leave something for those coming up after me," says the award-winning director, producer, actor and writer.
After and eventful year filled with professional triumphs (new hit plays, several awards) and personal challenges (back surgery, a diabetes diagnosis), David Tulloch is ready to commence a fresh chapter. The 36-year-old playwright-producer sits down with TALLAWAH to talk about sharpening his focus, the joys of fatherhood, how his challenges have made him a better man, and this month’s long-awaited sequel to Jamaica Sweet.
SURELY there’s no father-son moment more touching than this one: David Tulloch and his cute-as-a-button kid, Joshua, goofing off as the photographer snaps away, capturing some truly iconic images. The photoshoot to mark David’s first TALLAWAH cover story offered us the rare opportunity to see the ace playwright-producer outside the work zone, a glimpse of his fun daddy side for a change. Come to think of it, it was also a much-welcomed respite, given the eventful year he’s had – the artistic triumphs (new stage hits, Probemaster Hall of Fame induction) and the personal challenges, not excluding the operation on his back and being officially diagnosed a diabetic. What a year!
Tulloch is not the kind of relentless achiever who lets any kind of setback slow him down or cramp his style. He keeps moving forward but reflection is paramount. “We travelled a lot this year, and we were happy to do that. Every year I’m expected to do at least nine, 10, 11 shows, but I did less this year because I wanted to spend more time nurturing the talents in the [Probemaster] camp. So we were touring with shows like Across the Bridge, White Skin Black Heart, Bad Breed and Wine & Roses,” the Probemaster Entertainment founder says, now seated behind his work desk, located a few feet away from the Blue Room (Phoenix Theatre premises) in New Kingston.
Running Probemaster Entertainment (which he started almost two decades ago) and overseeing day-to-day operations at the Phoenix (as manager) has put Tulloch smack in the middle of Kingston’s showbiz excitement, at a time of momentous change in the entertainment landscape. He couldn’t have asked for a more fitting, challenging, awesome job that keeps him on his A-game and on the tip of his toes.
“I’m now in my second year as manager, and I can safely say we have grown. From a management perspective, the diversity we get to offer means a lot. We uphold culture in all forms because culture is not just theatre. So we’ve been hosting concerts, gospel events, church events and weddings,” he explains. But growing his Probemaster empire (with strong talents like Sabrina Thomas, Samantha Brevett and Akeem Poyser on the roster) matters deeply to Tulloch, who hosted an 18th anniversary celebration this past summer. “It’s very important that the talent is nurtured, for a viable industry. You have to have a generation to pass the baton to. We lost a lot of titans this year, so we have to be constantly thinking about the up-and-comers who are going to carry on the legacy.”
Inside Tulloch’s office you’ll find cherished memories framed on the walls, awards adorning the mantle, a selection of books, a work desk covered with evidence of his busy life and a sepia photo of a young, handsome David from the time he portrayed Jesus on stage. An artist works here. There’s absolutely no doubt. And what David Tulloch is working on at the present momemt is the long-awaited sequel to Jamaica Sweet, the clever and tuneful musical comedy revue that swept the Thespies three seasons ago. This month, Tulloch and the gang are back with Jamaica Sweeter, which promises to bring the laughs and, hopefully, some award-worthy performances.
“It’s perfect for the holiday season and for those coming home and want to spend an evening at the theatre. I’m directing it. I’m composing the pieces. And we have quite a number of sketches completed already. If you liked Jamaica Sweet, you’ll definitely enjoy the sequel. It will be our December offering,” he boasts of six-hander, which will play at the Phoenix (starting December 22) before hitting the road in 2018.
Financially speaking, theatre is an industry given to constant fluctuation. Some producers have it harder than others. But the way Tulloch sees it, such problems can be remedied with the right solutions. “There are corrective measures that can be taken. We just need to take the bull by the horns. We are now competing with [platforms like] Netflix, so the quality of the products we are offering has to be up there,” argues Tulloch, a regular adjudicator at the JCDC Drama Festival, who also lectures in Public Speaking and Marketing at the University College of the Caribbean (UCC). “We all have to play our part to be a force to be reckoned with in this industry. We need to feed the younger generation, as the dominants, so that there is continuity. Passing on what we have learned is important.”
Stressful work. Demanding work. But Tulloch is not a quitter, even when the going gets tough. “I have to try my best. This is my chosen path. I’m gonna stick with it and leave something for those coming up after me,” he notes, reclining in his chair. “I’ll continue to teach and lend my colleagues my support. I am a theatre manager now, so I help everybody who comes here to do a production, to be the best with their product. I’m always ready and willing to help.”
Actress Stephanie Hazle, who’s known David for years, admires the mile-a-minute drive he brings to the performing arts scene. “He’s created a business out of what many performers do for fun,” she says. “The quality of some of his more recent productions may seem below his usual standard but that’s because he’s under so much pressure and he’s taking a lot of risks. But I think once he gets more settled, we can expect great things from him.”
You totally see where she’s coming from. Amazing how Tulloch stands tall in the face of the health challenges that threatened to make him immobile. He did major back surgery in April to remove a disc from his spine and recently his doctor confirmed something he’d been dreading: he has diabetes. “It runs in the family, so I was heading down that path,” says the heftily built 36-year-old, who shed 35 pounds from his frame. “I changed my diet. I’ve become a lot more health-conscious.” Good for him.
Back at the photoshoot, Tulloch’s wife (and Joshua’s mom) Karla has joined the party, completing the family circle. David and Karla have a natural, appealing chemistry that works well for the camera. But Joshua (megawatt smiles, diva tantrums) is the star of this show. The three-year-old, his only child (so far), is the apple of David’s eye. “All along I’ve wanted to be a father. I’ve always craved that feeling. And now that I am, it’s more than I expected,” he tells TALLAWAH, blushing. “He may have a sibling soon. We’re working on it. A sister or a brother. Whichever we get, we’ll be grateful.”
Photography by Michael Daley.