Saturday, 20 January 2018

‘YOU DESERVE IT!’ 7 Stellar Moments at the 57th National Sportsman & Sportswoman of the Year Awards Gala

REASON TO SMILE: McLeod and sports/culture minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange strike a pose for the cameras.

Star power, glitz and glam, and great energy commingled as the sporting fraternity, under the auspices of the RJR/Gleaner Sports Foundation, paused to celebrate the past year’s most outstanding achievements in sports, honouring top individual athletes, administrators and teams. TALLAWAH was at the Jamaica Pegasus-hosted ceremony (emceed by the enduring Neville Bell and Dahlia Harris) on Friday night to capture the highlights: 

> First-time winner Omar McLeod spoke from the heart, shed a few tears and elicited resounding applause, as he gave his Sportsman of the Year acceptance speech at the podium. “Obviously I did something great to receive this,” the 23-year-old sprint hurdler quipped, before going on to reminisce on his journey and urge young dreamers to keep their eyes on the prize, while thanking his bonafide supporters. “This award is not just for me,” he said, “it’s for all the people who genuinely believed and cared.” 

> Though celebrating 50 years of making hits, Ernie Smith is as energetic and young-at-heart as ever. The sole musical performer of the night, he dipped into his repertoire for the classics, giving sprightly, sing-along renditions of “Life is Just for Living,” “Play Di Music,” “All for Jesus” and “Duppy or Gunman.’ 

> For the second straight year, the VMBS Youth Award was presented during the ceremony. Wolmer’s Girls standout Aiko Jones, who excels on the volleyball court, received the award from VMBS’ Peter Reid, while proud mom Paula-Ann Porter-Jones beamed, seated close to the front of the audience. Both of Aiko’s parents represented Jamaica in volleyball. 

> A Don Wehby speech is not to be missed, if only for the anecdotal humour and nuggets of wisdom that he always imparts. His thought-provoking keynote address was no different, challenging public and private sector interests to play their part in building Sports Jamaica Incorporated, even as he expounded on the role of sports in tourism and its role as a unifying force to reduce crime. 

> With 21 global medals to her credit, including eight Olympic medals (three gold) and five won at the Commonwealth Games, Veronica Campbell-Brown remains Jamaica’s most decorated female athlete, carrying on the Merlene Ottey legacy. Stunning in black, she drew a standing ovation when she went up to collect the Gleaner Iconic Award for global accomplishment (being presented for the sixth time), wiping away the tears as she made her way back to her chair. 

> The first big award of the night, the Chairman’s Award went to veteran pollster and sports administrator Don Anderson, for outstanding contribution to the development of sports in Jamaica. The biggest surprise of the night: cricketer Oshane Thomas secured the most votes to win the People’s Choice Performance of the Year Award. 

> “It is history in the making that a swimmer has won this award twice,” Alia Atkinson remarked. As expected, the swimming sensation copped Sportswoman of the Year honours for the second time in her flourishing career. Unavoidably absent, she sent us a video message, in which she thanked the event organizers and urged her fellow compatriots to continue the fight for sporting excellence, in spite of the great odds.

WOMAN ON A MISSION: New NAJ president Carmen Johnson draws on her faith and fearlessness to take on her toughest leadership role

CALL OF DUTY: "The biggest challenge I face is successfully completing the negotiations," says Johnson.

Taking over as President of the Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) has presented Carmen L. Johnson with the role of a lifetime. She speaks candidly about her vision, her challenges and the road ahead.

THE first thing that grabs your attention upon entering the boardroom at the Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) secretariat on Trevennion Road in Kingston are the framed wall photographs. Neat rows of portraits of past presidents who have served the 71-year-old association with distinction. There’s Dame Nita Barrow, the body’s first appointed leader, and there’s a smiling Edith Allwood-Anderson, the most popular (unforgettable rather) president to serve the NAJ.

Since November 1 of last year, Miss Carmen L. Johnson, a veteran of the nursing profession, has been occupying the seat at the head of the table. Johnson, a devout Christian and mother currently in her 50s, comes to the post at a time of radical developments in the health sector. But she is undaunted by current and future challenges. Elegantly slender with erect shoulders and a workmanlike demeanour, she exudes the aura of someone who is used to taking on Herculean leadership tasks and coming out on top. We get that kind of confidence from her. At the same time, Carmen Johnson knows she has big shoes to fill.

“Having learned from those who have gone on, my main objective is continuing the work so that our association can advance to the next level, the level that they envisioned,” she reports. “We are now in our 71st year, and I hope the association will go on for another 70 years and remain viable and relevant to the needs of the nurses.”

And what the island’s nurses need at the moment is a more “acceptable” wage package from the government as the negotiations intensify. “The biggest challenge I face is successfully completing the negotiations, so that the nurses feel they are being adequately compensated for the meaningful service they have been giving their country. If we can achieve some meaningful level of remuneration for the nurses, I would feel satisfied,” Johnson says.

When she speaks of the plight of nurses who struggle to make ends meet, Johnson is speaking as someone who has been in that position. Who feels it knows it. “It’s what I know for myself. Many of our nurses can’t afford to buy food after paying their bills and making student loan payments. That’s what we’re talking about. Nursing education is no longer sponsored by the government; it’s now under the university council. So nurses have to borrow from institutions like Students’ Loan Bureau, which is quite expensive,” she explains.

Frankly, the president says, the Holness government’s current wage offer just will not do. Last month, the NAJ met with State Minister Rudyard Spencer, who stressed that the government’s increase offer still stands at six percent. The Government is offering the nurses three percent in year one and three percent in year two. When a revised offer was demanded, it still remained at six percent but amended to four percent in year one and two percent in year two. “We got it in writing, and we have since responded to the ministry, declining the offer,” Johnson tells us, rifling through her papers for something to back her up.

So the negotiations tug-o-war will resume in 2018, but hopefully it will come to a mutually beneficial resolution. “We are hoping we’ll be able to appeal to the Government’s conscience, so we can broker an agreement. We want them to be cognizant of our position, as we are cognizant of theirs,” Johnson emphasizes, with no shortage of concern in her voice. “Saying to the nurses, ‘Here is six percent; this is all we can offer’, what you are saying to the nurses is, ‘You can go.’ I’m really hoping we can reach the point where both parties will have a win-win situation.”
Every leader wants to have the strongest possible team to work with. As NAJ President, one of Carmen Johnson’s greatest concerns is the large number of A-grade nurses leaving our shores in search of a better life overseas. “Some of our best nurses are migrating faster than we can speak to them. That’s where a major management challenge lies. We can’t keep the experienced and trained nurses. We are losing them to the US and Canada. So a lot of the inexperienced nurses are being thrown into management positions. The nurses are willing to work but you find that the younger generation nurses are not as strong as the older ones,” Johnson explains.

She adds, “Sometimes there are more patients to care for with less staff. The number of patients can be overwhelming, so a major responsibility is how we the experienced ones groom the younger ones, because the challenges exist. You have resource challenges and challenges in balancing the clinical side and the humanistic side.”

Problems aside, the life-altering experiences that have come with being in the nursing profession have been the most rewarding of Carmen Johnson’s life. While at Knox College, she wanted to pursue sociology, but as a member of her church committee that would regularly visit the sick and the shut-ins, she was being groomed for the work she’s doing now. Even people who knew her then told her she was a natural care-giver.

Johnson officially became a nurse in the late 80s and by November 1990, she was being assigned to the St. Ann’s Bay Hospital. As with any job, there were days when she felt like throwing in the towel out of frustration, but the encouragement and support from her extended family, church brethren, fellow prayer warriors and work colleagues keep her going. In fact, her co-workers knew they had found their next president in Carmen Johnson. “I think they wanted me for the job more than I wanted it,” she remembers, laughing. “As part of our succession planning, they thought I would be the right person for the job at this time, so I accepted the honour.”

Drawing strength from her Christian faith (she attends the Runaway Bay New Testament Church when he goes home on weekends) and those within her circle, Johnson, who is not married and enjoys her own company, feels suitably armed to continue fighting the good fight. “I’m happy the way I am. I know how to survive and I have that structure around me to help me,” she says. “I take my life in stages. I plan and move from one level to the next level.” 

> Miss Carmen on staying healthy and hearty: 
“I exercise a lot. It’s one of my addictions. I eat healthy. Water is my medicine, so I drink a lot of that.”

THE BIG STORY: Hard news and history collide in the well-made drama The Post

DYNAMIC DUO: Streep (as Kay Graham) and Hanks (as Ben Bradlee) in the buzzworthy new film.

IF nothing else, The Post, superbly directed by legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg, is about the tough ball game that is the newspaper business. It’s early 1970s in Washingon DC. President Richard Nixon is in the White House and the Vietnam War rages on. 

Washingon Post publisher Kay Graham (a terrific Meryl Streep) has her most challenging decision to make: will her company, her family business, be ultimately ruined if she gives the go-ahead for the paper to publish a front-page story exposing years of US government secrets, having to do with the cause and conduct of the Vietnam War? It’s an enormous risk to take.

This is highly classified information (stolen from the Pentagon) revealing that the country’s leaders long conceded that they couldn’t win the war but kept deploying soldiers to the frontlines to avoid humiliation.

The New York Times broke the story and had field days with it, but a government injunction barred that newspaper from doing any follow-ups. Playing catch-up, The Post’s team, led by feral editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), wants to score some points of their own, especially when they land the lion’s share of the leaked information.

Careers could be destroyed, but the restive public has a right to know. Right?

What plays out is a tug-o-war of conscience, ego and a thirst for the big story, combined with ideas centred on accountability and truth to power. When the Supreme Court gets involved, it all boils down to a case of freedom of the press versus government security – and the media defending its essential role in a democracy.

It’s compulsively watchable stuff, with great pacing and high-calibre acting – Streep and Hanks chewing the scenery like the pros they are. It’s also testament to Spielberg’s genius that there are hefty doses of suspense and dramatic tension to keep viewers riveted.

Penned by screenwriters Josh Singer and Liz Hannah, the film also explores women in power and the great challenges that come with keeping a newspaper, the business, profitable and at the top of its game. 

Kay Graham really had to cultivate a thick skin and, in bringing this formidable lady to life, Streep’s portrayal delivers moments that unsurprisingly hark back to her Oscar-winning triumph as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Indeed, women are the fairer sex but these women can teach you a thing or two about rolling with the punches. 

Mrs. Graham arguably delivers the most memorable line in The Post, when she tells us that, “News is the first rough draft of history. We don’t always get it right, but if we keep at it, that’s the job.” Tyrone’s Verdict: A-

Friday, 19 January 2018

FLASHBACK 2017: Noted Jamaicans share their picks for 2017’s top newsmaker, food event, song, and more

> JAMAICAN OF THE YEAR: All of Jamaica 
Nominated by Dr. Wayne Henry, PIOJ Director General 
“I’d have to make a collective choice and say the people of Jamaica, for staying resilient and for continuing to believe. These are extremely difficult times, but the people of Jamaica continue to push on and press on.”

> NEWSMAKER OF THE YEAR: Commissioner of Police George Quallo 
Nominated by Prof. Stephen Vasciannie, UTech President 
“His year was positive with ups and downs. It is a difficult job. The crime problem has gotten out of hand. So I commend him for his stick-to-itiveness and his determination.” 

> The SPIRIT OF JAMAICA Award: The Press 
Nominated by Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment-Brown 
“In a way I think the media raised a number of important issues and sought to drive these issues further along in the national conversation in different formats. There were challenges, but they soldiered on and incorporated that in their way of communicating with the people of Jamaica.” 

> FOOD EVENT OF THE YEAR: Restaurant Week 
Nominated by Kandi King, Miss Jamaica World Pageant Director 
“I was one of their ambassadors, and I got some insight into how they developed the brand. And the food was absolutely amazing. You got to experience dining and enjoy meals at discounted prices that you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to.” 

> SONG OF THE YEAR: “Just the Way You Are” by Tarrus Riley 
Nominated by Kristen James, star of Queen Esther 
“I like the message that it sends to women. I like the realness of the lyrics. Tarrus has a voice that’s divine, and I really respect him as a songwriter. I got a chance to see him live recently, and he’s very creative, very vibrant. He’s one of the best.”

ACCESS GRANTED: Shaggy & Friends 2018 delivered plenty of highlights – on stage and off

It couldn’t have been a Jamaica House event without an appearance by PM Andrew Holness, who joined wife, Juliet, and Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett for a photo-op alongside the man who made the event possible, Orville ‘Shaggy’ Burrell, and international headliner Sting

Dancehall hitmaker Shenseea represented well for the music industry’s rising stars, turning heads in a super-stylish get-up (and shiny, mile-long hair), as she performed catchy tunes from her growing catalogue. 

As expected, Ding Dong and his cadre of hyper-flexible Ravers managed to raise the show’s energy level to epic proportions, reeling off chart-topping hits that always get the party started, tempting patrons in the crowd to join the excitement unfolding on stage. 

Third World gave one of the most appealing sets of the night that included renditions of timeless classics (“96 Degrees in the Shade”, “Reggae Ambassador”…). The man with the golden voice, lead vocalist AJ Brown, didn’t mind sharing the stage at one point with Mr. Bombastic, who also greeted the crowd during sets by Sting and Barrington Levy

Husband-and-wife duo Bunji Garlin and Fay-Ann Lyons peppered their sets with lively banter and humour, while performing the rag-waving anthems that the carnival lovers know so well. 

Former Fugees frontman Wyclef Jean played it cool backstage, ahead of his main-stage appearance to thrill the fans with hits old and relatively new. 

“Every Little Thing She Does”, “Englishman in New York”, “I’ll Be Watching You”, “Roxanne”, “Message in a Bottle” (with Agent Sasco”) and brand-new track “Don’t Make Me Wait” (featuring Shaggy) – bass guitar hero Sting hit all the golden notes, unequivocally winning over the crowd.

(Photography by SLEEK)

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

NEWS & NOTES: More women to be sent on overseas work programme + UWI celebrates 70th anniversary + Local professor says higher education is the way forward

SKILL IS POWER: “The world is moving to have greater balance in most operations and the Canadian government, as is the Jamaican government, wants to have greater gender balance in this programme. We are working towards it,” says Labour Minister Shahine Robinson, announcing that the government intends to increase the number of female participants in its Overseas Employment Programme. Administered by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the programme offers employment opportunities for Jamaicans in Canada and the United States in skilled and low-skilled areas, chiefly under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme (SAWP), which traditionally employs a greater percentage of males. According to Minister Robinson, her Canadian counterpart, Patricia Hayden, is equally committed to boosting the programme’s female contingent. Says Robinson, “We have reassured them that we have enough competent females who can go and are willing to go on this programme.”

BUILT TO LAST: With the arrival of 2018, the University of the West Indies (UWI) is celebrating seven decades as “a pivotal force in every aspect of Caribbean development, standing at the centre of all efforts to improve the well-being of our people.” At this juncture, says Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles, reflection, renewal and continuity are crucial. “As the UWI celebrates its 70th anniversary milestone, it will celebrate its students, faculty administrators, alumni, governments and partners in public and private sector,” Beckles notes. “It will focus on reflection, as well as projection for the future, with an emphasis on social justice and the economic transformation of the region.” 

> Sound byte! 
“Greater access to higher education will afford the skills that are required to participate in the global economy. These will not come from the primary and secondary levels of the education system. These levels are critical for building numeracy and literacy and laying the foundation for future learning. More citizens must participate in higher education to further acquire the skills needed for participation in a new economy.” – Newspaper columnist and lecturer Prof. Densil Williams

CAN YOU FEEL THE HEAT?: A Letter from the Editor

COOL RULERS: Laura Facey's Emancipation Park statue, "Redemption Song," was recently painted jet black.

JAMAICA is hot. The land of wood and water has kicked off 2018 with quite a heat wave. The murder rate is shamefully too high. The National Security minister and the Commissioner of Police are at loggerheads. The public sector workers are demanding more money. The list goes on.

The point is, we need to stop and take stock. Where are we going as a country? What do we want to accomplish this year? In 2017, Jamaica recorded its third highest number of killings in any one year. To bring these frightening crime statistics under control what must be done? Starting now? It will require focus, faith and a flexible plan.

To our leaders, the timid, wait-and-see approach will not work. It’s time for firm, decisive action that will bring real results fast. At the current rate, the JCF will be announcing 2,000-plus murders at the end of the year. We cannot afford that kind of loss. Jamaica is in crisis!

Speaking of loss, as I’m writing this, the country just bid a final farewell to esteemed journalist Ian Boyne. He was a relentless achiever whose vast accomplishments, not to mention “tremendous capacity for hard work,” Dr. Peter Phillips (in his tribute) said many of us would do well to emulate, in crafting our own legacies that will contribute to the nation-building thrust of progress and prosperity.

He’s so right. We all have our part to play.

Outstanding young Jamaicans like this month’s cover subject, Renée McDonald (“Girl on Fire”), a supernova talent going places, give us real hope of a brighter tomorrow. We’re also very lucky to have devoted institution builders like Nurses Association president Carmen Johnson (“Woman on a Mission”) on our side. 

Jamaica is destined to triumph over the current obstacles. There’s much work to be done. “Hardships there are, but the land is green and the sun shineth.”

WHAT HE’S LEFT BEHIND: Ian Boyne’s legacy hailed as ‘exceptional’ by dignitaries, media colleagues at thanksgiving service

GOING HOME: Boyne's casket is transported to the waiting hearse following Sunday's funeral service.

PEOPLE had always wondered, but Cliff Hughes finally put it into words: how did Ian Boyne manage to carry out his enormous Deputy CEO responsibilities at the JIS, plan, produce and present two hit television shows (Profile and Religious Hardtalk), write a weekly newspaper column, maintain a super-active reading life, carry out his duties as a clergyman and still spend time with his wife and the rest of the family?

The response from Boyne, Hughes says, is summed up in his enjoyment of all of these tasks and looking forward to the weekly schedule. He was undaunted. He relished the challenges. By all accounts, it takes great self-discipline and dedication to build the kind of legacy that Ian Boyne has left behind – a legacy that came in for lavish praise during the thanksgiving service to mark his passing, held inside the National Indoor Sports Centre on Sunday morning well into the afternoon.

From the landmark success of his interview programme Profile (three decades of episodes, making it the longest-running programme of its kind in the history of Jamaican television) to the “riveting stuff” of Religious Hardtalk to his incisive, richly argumentative Sunday Gleaner columns to his (State Liasion) work during the tenures of such prime ministers as Portia Simpson-Miller, Bruce Golding and Andrew Holness – Boyne’s consistent contributions, as his cousin Dr. Michael Boyle noted, “cast a long shadow.”

Holness no doubt agrees. “I would have leaned on him for the preparation of my upcoming Budget presentation. So when you hear of the void Boyne has left, it’s a real void,” Holness told the gathering during his tribute. “He was the only person that we know could criticize the Government and get away with it…. He had an incredible reservoir of knowledge and could eloquently articulate on a wide range of issues and topics with sharp analysis and intellectual rigour. He could speak truth to power and did so with respect, honour and dignity. Simply put, he was truly first-class.”

Simpson-Miller said she would miss her “dear friend,” who brought a classy touch to their collaborations, while culture minister Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange (who, as a junior minister back in the day, gave the green-light for Profile) fondly remembered the mutual respect they shared. Summing up Boyne’s vast bunch of accomplishments, Opposition Leader Dr. Peter Phillips said, “All of this is testament to the fact that he had a tremendous capacity for hard work, which so many of us would do well to emulate.”

Long before the advent of his TV shows, Boyne began his sojourn in the Jamaican media in 1975 as a freelance journalist. Fast-forward a few decades, and he was well on his way to becoming a leading presence in the field. He worked with the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) and the Jamaica Information Service (rising to the post of Deputy CEO) and has won numerous awards for his frank, sometimes ferocious opinion journalism.

His esteemed media colleagues came out in their numbers to mourn him. In addition to Hughes, Press Association president Dionne Jackson-Miller and RJR/Gleaner Group Managing Director Gary Allen delivered tributes, hailing Boyne as a fine example of a first-class media professional.

Boyne died on December 18 as a result of complications from heart failure, at age 60. As an author, he published Ideas Matter and Profile of Excellence. His numerous accolades include the National Order of Distinction (Commander Class), received at King’s House in 2009.

Monday, 15 January 2018

THE LONG GOODBYE: Glowing tributes flowed, stirring songs rang out as mourners bid farewell to Ian Boyne

STATE OF REST: Boyne's casket is prominently displayed as mourners participate in Sunday's funeral service at the NISC in Kingston.

IT was only fitting that Kelly-Ann Boyne gave the most touching (and longest) tribute before the sea of mourners who gathered inside the National Indoor Sports Centre on Sunday morning, to join bereaved relatives, the JIS family and other colleagues in paying their final respects to Ian Boyne, the outstanding Jamaican who not only distinguished himself as an accomplished journalist, TV personality, public intellectual and speech writer for national leaders, but also as mentor, advocate and family man.

Boyne’s older daughter, Kelly opened her moving remembrance in song (“It Is Well with My Soul,” “His Eye Is on the Sparrow”) as she made her way from the back of the arena to the podium to delve into the meat of the matter. She recalled her dad as a gentle giant who doted on his kids and was devoted to his wife and the rest of his kin. Theirs was a home where intellectual fervour was cherished equally with humour and a love of the good life.

Kelly, wearing a soulful afro and a dramatic black grown fit for the opera stage, also interspersed her tribute with video clips featuring other relatives recalling Ian’s idiosyncrasies, his joie de vivre and immense kindness. Earlier, she accompanied shy younger sis, Brianna, to the stage to deliver her brief tribute, in which she recalled her father as a parent who had no qualms about showering his baby girl with kisses and other displays of affection. Ian had a big heart.

His 20-something-year-old son André, now the man of the family, knows he has large shoes to fill and has vowed to step up to the challenge to make dear ol’ dad proud. He described his father as “brilliant” and a lover of a good debate, but readily teased him about regularly tuning in to the Lifetime channel to get his suspense fix.

Boyne’s wife, Margaret, didn’t have the strength to make it to the podium, so she kindly asked emcee Fae Ellington to read her tribute on her behalf. Adding ample flair that enlivened the reading, Ellington spoke of a man who dedicated a great deal of his time to reading and reading and reading. Ian Boyne devoured books. He bought tonnes of reading material online.

Evidence of his romantic side, he took his wife out for wining and dining every Saturday night. Margaret said he was a man of boundless gratitude and deep spirituality, which led him to becoming a pastor.

To wit, several of his fellow clergymen gave tributes during Sunday’s service, as did his good friends Dr. Glen Christian and Ken Bird, who said he baptized Ian Boyne into the Adventist Church.

All in all, Ian Boyne got a glowing send-off (sometimes reflective, sometimes celebratory) that ran for almost four-and-a-half hours, but truly befitted the measure of the man.

The stage was eye-catchingly done-up with a white backdrop and blue and yellow ribbons, and two gigantic video screens. A band of musicians was on hand. The National Dance Theatre Company performed the Kerry-Ann Henry-choreographed “Haven.” Entertainers from the gospel fraternity (Rondell Positive, Kevin Downswell and Jermaine Edwards) ministered in song, as did Ken Boothe, the Jamaica Constabulary Force Choir and staffers/choristers from the JIS, impeccably attired in black and white, as they gave a rendition of “Jerusalem.”

Following the service, Boyne’s body was interred at the Dovecot Memorial Park in St. Catherine. Ian Boyne drew his last breath on December 18 due to complications from heart failure. He was 60 years old.

CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK: Actor Boy Awards set for March 26 + Pantry Playhouse remains ‘closed’ + Rosie Murray in recovery mode

On the eve of World Theatre Day (being observed on March 27), the Actor Boy Awards, theatre’s biggest night, will take place at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston. Maurice Bryan and Michael Daley are reprising their roles as chief producers of the show, after “outsourcing” the duties last year. David Tulloch, Weston Haughton and Aston Cooke stepped up to co-captain the ship then. This year, Daley and Bryan are joined on the immediate planning committee by Ainsley White, Martin Thame and Suzanne Beadle. “The problem with the Actor Boy Awards is that we don’t get a lot of sponsorship so, hopefully, we can get our usual support from the CHASE Fund,” Bryan says. The Pegasus is also a sponsor. As for the ceremony’s 2018 theme, the committee is leaning towards the idea of celebrating the theatre industry’s unsung heroes. “We’re toying with the idea of paying homage to the people who work behind the scenes – stage managers, props designers, sound and lighting technicians,” Bryan tells TALLAWAH. The eagerly awaited list of nominees, he said, are due out at the end of February. Each year at the ABAs, members of the theatre community honour their peers with statuettes for outstanding work done in the previous year, in categories ranging from set design and costuming to music and acting. 

False alarm: the Pantry Playhouse is not back in business. However, the former Dumfries Road hotspot has been hosting shows based on special arrangement with the occasional producer (due to shortage of space in the Corporate Area), a Pantry source tells TALLAWAH. Last year, they accommodated Ricky Rowe’s Four Bulla and a Patty and recently the hit comedy Something Fishy had performances there. Owner Karl Hart closed the theatre doors in 2015 (after more than a decade of memorable performances and other events), citing financial hardships and a desire to focus on the catering side of the business. 

Rosie Murray is alive and giving thanks! The award-winning actress, who suffered a massive heart attack two weeks ago, was recently released from hospital counting her blessings. Speaking with TALLAWAH over the phone recently, she confided that after checks with her cardiologist, she will be making several “lifestyle changes” during this recovery period and beyond to prevent a recurrence. Murray (whose stage credits include Not My Child, For My Daughter, Wine & Roses and the one-woman show, Slice of Life) is due to reprise her role in this month’s remount of the ensemble dramedy Saving Grace at the Phoenix Theatre.

Friday, 12 January 2018

GIRL ON FIRE: Renée McDonald banks on her winning mix of optimism, ambition and enormous talent

ART & LIFE: The 28-year-old, who finishes law school this year, says it's her dream to work with more international dance companies.

Juggling law school’s final year, the dance world, and the big plans on her horizon, innovative choreographer Renée McDonald is winning – and living life on her own terms.

WITH energy-boosting coffee in hand, Renée McDonald arrives promptly for her early-afternoon interview at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, exuding the warmth and elegance that we have come to associate with her. She is also charming, very polite and full of compliments for the work that TALLAWAH has been doing over the years. (We love her even more now!) Once settled on the plush-red sofa adjacent to the hotel’s Legacy Suite, she flashes that megawatt smile that says she’s game, ready to spill the beans on the memorable year she’s had and the evolving artistic journey she’s been making.

For the uninitiated, Renée McDonald is one of the most seriously talented choreographers producing work in the contemporary Jamaican dance community, and in September she hit a career high when she was invited to mount a piece for the internationally acclaimed Ailey II troupe in the United States. She did us proud and wasted no time returning home to work on brand-new pieces for Dance Theatre Xaymaca and Company Dance Theatre, the troupe that, under the legendary Tony Wilson, nurtured and enhanced her creative instincts.

But McDonald, who is currently finishing up at law school (more on that later), is the kind of relentless young achiever who enjoys having a full plate and wearing many different hats that speak to her versatility and flexibility. But, as we all know, taking on too much can take its toll. For McDonald, 2017 reminded her of that in a big way.

“This was the year I was able to say I became an international choreographer, but it’s also the first time that I really struggled with time management. It was the first time I felt like I was struggling to find a balance for everything I was doing,” she confesses. “Norman Manley [Law School] is no joke and to be juggling that with teaching dance [at Campion College and other places] was a big challenge.”

McDonald, who completes law school this year, may be a nice girl and a pretty face but she’s also a fighter who believes wholeheartedly in push and perseverance. At age 28, she has set no ceiling on what she wants to take on next and in subsequent chapters of her vibrant young life. Choreographing for more international companies, teaching kids the technical rigours of interpretive dance and setting up her law practice and starting her own performing arts company – she wants it all. The girl can’t help it.

“I don’t believe in spending your life doing just one thing. I believe in spending it doing as many different things as you can. Choreography and law are not the only career options I’ve dreamed about. When I was younger, I wanted to become a flight attendant and I still plan to do that,” she gushes. “The only fear I have is that time flies and many of the things I want to do I might not get to do them. I’m not worried about failure. I am going to do everything I want to do in this lifetime, ‘cause it’s a bag of things.”

Yes, ma’am. McDonald comes by this uninhibited self-assuredness the old-fashioned way: a solid upbringing. A city girl through and through, her parents (mom is a chartered accountant, dad is a project manager) first enrolled her at Sts. Peter & Paul Prep (where her bestie’s passion for dance rubbed off on her and led to the Tony Wilson stables). Campion College was up next, before she went on to complete a marketing degree at UWI Mona and indulge her evolving passion for dance/choreography with the widely acclaimed University Dance Society (UDS). So ever since she turned eight, dance has been in the picture; Renée has always been losing herself in that vortex where music inspires magical movement.

She choreographed her first big piece for L’Acadco in 2009. (Artistic Director L’Antoinette Stines calls her talent “a gift from God”). Eight years on, Renée puts it quite interestingly. “I would say my life as a choreographer feels like a snowball rolling down a hill. It starts small, then keeps rolling and rolling and rolling. And I’m still rolling. It’s been very fulfilling, very rewarding, having one thing lead to another,” she notes.

Her pieces like “Divulgence” and “5Urge” are fiery testament to her innovative approach to motion. You don’t just see these dance creations; you experience them and they stay with you. Hopefully, her future exploits in the legal profession won’t dim her passion or rob us of her impressive creativity. She has so much more to bring to dance.

But Renée being Renée, she is serious about becoming an attorney. “I do plan to practise, but I have no idea what exactly I want to do. I like to draft; writing up the documents. Some people love going to court. I love writing up the documents.” She’s been getting lots of practice drafting wills etc. for school assignments. For years done; the final one almost complete.

That said, she could have another big year ahead, but cautiously optimistic, she’s simply keeping her fingers crossed. “2018 for me is a blur. I think it will all come down to the opportunities that are presented to me. If a huge choreography job comes up, I don’t know if I’ll be saying no to that,” she explains. 

By her own admission, Renée loves people. She enjoys photography and she likes a good party, where she can kick back with her friends. She knows how to have a good time, but her commitment to her craft as an artist keeps her focused on her future and where she wants to go. 

“I’m really hoping that I will get to do more pieces for Ailey II, and it would be a dream to choreograph for the main troupe,” she tells TALLAWAH, eyes brightening at the idea. “I am a storyteller. I like telling a story through my choreography. I’m also very dramatic. I use my work to inspire people and evoke some kind of emotion in them and have them think about something and relate it to some aspect of their life. ‘Breaking Point’ [the Ailey II piece], for example, is about fighting for something, wanting it so bad, that you can’t breathe.” 

I don’t believe in spending your life doing just one thing. I believe in spending it doing as many different things as you can.

KING’S RANSOM: ‘All the Money’ packs intensity and intrigue but hardly satisfies

RESCUE PARTY: Andrea Bodini, Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg in the Ridley Scott-directed film.

“TO be a Getty is an extraordinary thing… A Getty is special. A Getty is nobody’s fool.” In the intense new drama All the Money in the World, reportedly inspired by true events, J. Paul Getty imparts priceless nuggets like these to his grandkids (he has over a dozen of them) and they hang on to his every word. A doting grandpa holding court with the youngest of his kin. 

But the aging billionaire’s devotion quickly evaporates when Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), the most headstrong of his grandkids, is kidnapped by a pack of outlaws hiding out in the Italian countryside who demand US$17 million for the boy’s release.

It is July 1973, and Getty is “the richest man in the history of the world,” thanks to his massive oil empire. But, as portrayed by Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music), Getty is an arrogant, hard-hearted curmudgeon who professes to love all his grandkids but refuses, point blank, to negotiate with the kidnappers whose demands eventually fall to US$4 million.

It’s any mother’s worst nightmare, and for Abigail ‘Gail’ Harris (the ever-resourceful Michelle Williams) this is no exception. Testament to the strength of the human spirit and a parent’s utter refusal to give up on her child, Gail has to cope with sleepless nights and a relentless pack of reporters shadowing her every move – not to mention the despicable behaviour of Mr. Getty, her (former) father-in-law, who prizes his vast art collection above all else. As the months go by and the police investigation heats up, the questions and speculations build to an insurmountable pile. 

Directed by Ridley Scott (who specializes in action-packed juggernauts like Gladiator) and loosely based on the book by John Pearson, All the Money in the World is a hit-and-miss film. The plot is intriguing, to say the least, but too much of the emotion feels forced. As a result, the film yields mixed results. 

A solid presence throughout, Williams is well supported by Mark Wahlberg, playing Fletcher Chase, the quick-witted negotiator hired by Mr. Getty to see the matter resolved “as inexpensively as possible.” 

All the Money in the World could have been a great film, but in the end it’s hardly satisfying. There’s intensity and intrigue and some race-against-the-clock action but, for the most part, it doesn’t feel authentically riveting. Tyrone’s Verdict: B-

Thursday, 11 January 2018

MAKING A POINT: Miguel Coley reflects on his success and legacy + Lloyd B. Smith riffs on the socio-economic status quo + Mario Christie weighs in on the Sandz/Palisadoes fiasco

“The current way in which the Andrew Holness-led administration is handling the public sector wage issue is a prime example of how not to govern for the greater good. Something has to be desperately wrong in a country where banks make such whopping profits while the working poor have to sell their souls to the company store and where so many politicians end up being rotten rich while their followers have to be satisfied with the crumbs that fall off the table at Jamaica House.” – Journalist and columnist Lloyd B. Smith voicing concern over Jamaica’s political and socio-economic status quo 

“We need to understand both the legal and practical requirements and assess each scenario on a case-by-case basis to understand what is necessary to ensure compliance. Government agencies, party promoters and municipal organizations need to come together in crafting these frameworks and protocols to ensure this debacle never recurs, as it paints the entire nation in a hue of incompetence. Spewing all the facts helps no one, because in the end, the reality we now face is that there was a breakdown in the system, and that is what we need to address.” – Mario Christie (technical manager at a local environmental consultancy firm) talking about the recent Sandz/Palisadoes strip traffic nightmare 

“My legacy is humbling to me. Every year was different; different players, different mindset. The society changes, so to win every single year is always good. It is not easy though. It is very difficult. But being here made it much easier. I will always be a part of the family here. I am happy that I came here. It was mutually beneficial. It has been a journey and I will never leave. My spirit will always be here.” – Departing Jamaica College football coach Miguel Coley, specially honoured at last week’s Purewater/JC/R. Danny Williams meet

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

NEWS & NOTES: Kei Miller’s latest honour + Tourism ministry reports record year of growth for J’ca in 2017 + 2018 Golden Globe winners revealed

> Lady Bird, Three Billboards among big winners at Golden Globes 
Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri was the most celebrated film, at Sunday’s Golden Globes ceremony in Hollywood, taking home four trophies, including awards for Best Drama, actress in a drama (Frances McDormand), supporting actor (Sam Rockwell) and screenplay (Martin McDonagh). Lady Bird won Best Picture (Musical/Comedy) while its leading lady Saoirse Ronan was voted Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy. The Shape of Water’s Guillermo del Toro was named Best Director, while composer Alexandre Desplat took home the award for the film’s original score. Other winners: Gary Oldman – Best Actor in a Drama (The Darkest Hour); James Franco – Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (The Disaster Artist); Allison Janney – Best Supporting Actress (I, Tonya); Coco – Animated Feature; In The Fade (Germany) – Best Foreign Language Film and “This Is Me” (The Greatest Showman– Best Original Song. Comic and TV host Seth Myers hosted the ceremony during which living legend Oprah Winfrey was presented with the Cecile B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. 

> Poet Kei Miller to receive regional award for arts and letters 
Five outstanding Caribbean natives have been named as the 2018 recipients of the Anthony N. Sagba Caribbean Awards for Excellence. The list of laureates includes Jamaica’s own Kei Miller, the celebrated novelist, poet and essayist, who will receive the award in the category of arts and letters. He is the sole Jamaican honoree. Guyana’s William Anthony Boyle was cited for entrepreneurship; Trinidad & Tobago’s Chevaughn Joseph and Noel Joseph (public and civic contributions) and Dr. Adesh Ramsubhag, also from Trinidad & Tobago, for science and technology. Started in 2005, the awards are now valued at TT$500,000 each and come with a medal and a citation. The ceremony will take place on May 5 at a venue to be announced. 

> Jamaica nets 11.7% increase in tourism earnings 
According to the Ministry of Tourism, 2017 yielded a record year of tourism growth for the island, which welcomed a record-breaking four million-plus visitors. The revenue generated amounted to approximately US$3 billion, an 11.7% increase in earnings when compared with 2016. About 1,000 new hotel rooms came on stream throughout the year. More good news: Jamaica moved up seven places to rank 69th out of 136 countries on the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Index (TTCI), up from 76th place in 2015. The Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) reportedly allocated an additional $350 million to the National Export-Import (EXIM) Bank of Jamaica to continue the provision of loans to operators of SMEs.

TALLAWAH BOOK CLUB: Tanya Lee draws inspiration from sports + Michael Wolff goes inside the White House + Patricia Whittle brings back pieces of the past

Editor’s Pick! 
“Athletes are a great source of inspiration for sports fans. Having worked with and studied successful athletes over the years, I do recognize some stark commonalities,” says sports-marketing veteran Tanya Lee (of SportsMax fame) about the impetus that led to self-publishing her debut non-fiction book, The Winner Within, on sale now. Primarily aimed at tertiary students and up-and-coming athletes, the 104-page text (with chapters exploring such ideas as “Push,” “Perseverance” and “Obstacles and Dream Killers”) also looks at how anyone can discover their talents, achieve their goals and unlock their potential. Says Lee, “I wanted to document aspects of their journey as a source of inspiration. My book explores what I believe makes the difference for those who succeed.” 

HEAT WAVE: Fire & Fury: Inside the Trump White House is writer/journalist Michael Wolff’s 336-page new offering, drawn from what he says was former White House adviser Steve Bannon’s regular access to the White House’s West Wing and more than 200 interviews, including three hours with President Donald Trump himself. Published by Henry Holt & Company, the controversial book has been hailed by critics as “brilliantly reported” and “astoundingly fresh” but Trump is not a fan. According to the President, “The book is full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist.”

DEM GOOD OLE DAYS: After receiving mild acclaim for efforts like Puss Food and Other Jamaican Stories and A Way to Escape, LMH Publishing is set to release The Village Crook and Other Stories. Penned by Patricia Whittle, the 84-page paperback is being marketed as “a humorous and charming” collection of stories about the idiosyncrasies and traditions of people from rural and old-time Jamaica. Nostalgia for the Bustamante generation.