BE OUR GUEST: The Molynes Road-based theatre seats a minimum of 200 patrons.
THE Stages Theatre in New Kingston (adjacent to the Tastee outlet on Knutsford Boulevard) had a grand opening followed by a brief run between 2013 and 2014 and then closed its doors, for undisclosed reasons, quietly exiting the showbiz scene. Financial woes and other weighty challenges forced the Pantry Playhouse to call it a day in 2016. Luke Ellington is determined that that will not happen to his latest undertaking: the new and improved Crown Playhouse.
Following in the footsteps of David Tulloch with the Phoenix Theatre and Andrew Roach with the Jamaican Shopping Club Theatre, the industry veteran has taken over the reins of the Molynes Road-based theatre, embarking on an upgrade project that has resulted in a transformation of the spot into an inviting and cozy space now awaiting its first big audience.
Ellington, looking to add a new chapter to Jamaican theatre history, waxes optimistic about what the renovated space will add to an industry he’s been a part of for the past 30 years and counting. “I know it can become one of the top theatre spots in Jamaica. That’s the kind of potential it has. We just need to market it properly and sell it to the wider public,” he tells TALLAWAH, as he gives us a brief tour of the facilities. Evidence of construction work (set pieces, paint jobs, stacks of chairs) is all around.
The theatre man is well aware that drawing the big audiences at the outset means he has his work cut out for him. “When people hear the name Crown Playhouse, they automatically link it with the hotel [Olympia Crown Hotel], which used to have shows upstairs. But this is a separate theatre from the hotel, even though it’s on the same property. And we want to make that very clear,” Ellington says. “It is on the hotel property, but we want to emphasize that the playhouse is not the old venue that used to host plays.”
The new Crown Playhouse, Ellington feels, has a lot going for it: great central location, easy access, ample parking and an interior that will enhance the overall viewing experience. While the primary aim is to have producers mount their projects from time to time and host school functions and other events (Camperdown High recently used the facilities), the Crown Playhouse will serve as the base for Ellington’s Lukington Productions, now 26 years old.
That said, he wants to assure the public that his production company is in the business of putting on theatrical productions high in entertainment value and well worth your hard-earned dollars. The newly renovated space will get its first big test with the March 23 opening of the buzzworthy comedy Uptown Ghetto, which Ellington (dubbed the original ‘Maama Man’) wrote and directed. He’s urging patrons to come out in their numbers and experience a hilarious Jamaican comedy in a cozy and audience-friendly space.
“Without the crowd support, the bills won’t get paid. It’s like you’re opening a new shop. You put everything in place and wait for the people to come and support. But I’m sure it will pick up. That’s how it goes in this business,” says Ellington.
Conroy Wilson, who has been doing some great work with Ashé’s Vibes Theatre on Cargill Avenue in Kingston, is quick to congratulate Ellington on this initiative. “The truth is that for a country that’s so culturally strong, we have too few theatre spaces. That needs to change,” he says. “So we welcome the addition of the Crown Playhouse to the industry. There is a place for everybody to exist. There is a wide range of tastes and audience preferences to cater to islandwide, so there is a place for everybody in Jamaican theatre.”
Meanwhile, Ellington says he has drafted a five-year plan, but he’s not yet ready to divulge the details. “I have long-term plans for the venue,” he tells TALLAWAH. “People still want to see plays, but you have to have something to entice them. Once you have that they will come.”