Wednesday, 27 February 2019

OUR FAREWELL TRIBUTE: Aston Cooke lived and loved the Jamaican theatre and our island culture

 A MAN APART: Cooke had an eye for real talent and crafted entertaining fare, like the hilarious Jamaica 2 Rahtid (pictured below).

“…and Tyrone never lies.”

This glowing recommendation coming from Aston Cooke as he spoke to a colleague about my work as a theatre critic one evening at the Pantry Playhouse, circa 2013. Aston enjoyed my reviews; he looked forward to my thoughts, via TALLAWAH, on his latest plays, other theatre productions, and the work of established and emerging theatre practitioners that I regularly write about, in keeping with my job as a culture chronicler.

The respect was mutual. And I am sure I speak for theatregoers and industry people alike when I say that, as a writer/producer, Aston Cooke produced work that stood up to scrutiny and had something meaningful to say, making solid additions to the body of work that constitutes Jamaican theatre. Who can forget hits like Concubine?, Jonkanoo Jamboree, Internet Affair, Children Children and Me & Mi Chapsie, to name just a few of his best offerings?

Then there are the mini productions he crafted for the Jamaica Youth Theatre (a product of Schools’ Drama Festival) to bring to the international stage. The JYT, especially in recent years, garnered critical acclaim and multiple accolades (and not just at UWI’s Tallawah festival), thanks in large part to Cooke’s expert guidance. He knew how to unearth, mould, nurture young talents.
To that end, several of today’s marquee names in theatre (Dahlia Harris, Sheldon Shepherd, Deon Silvera, among them) will credit Aston Cooke for the pivotal role he played in getting them established in the fickle showbiz world.

It was hardly surprising that, prior to his passing, Aston (collaborating with Weston Haughton) agreed to take up the gargantuan task of co-producing the annual Miss Jamaica World pageant! Yes, he was a hefty man who had it in him to take on hefty roles – and he did so with mucho gusto. He even served the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) as Chairman at one point.

And speaking of the JCDC, you’d always see Aston at their events, armed with his trusty camera, capturing priceless images to add to his personal treasure trove and to share on social media.

Aston Cooke loved his island culture. For some, he was an authority on all things Jamaican – the theatre and beyond. A past co-producer of the Actor Boy Awards, his presence in the grand scheme of things will be terribly missed.

Walk good, Aston. Your legacy is in capable hands. And your little friend Tyrone is still here, continuing the work, in Jamaica 2 Rahtid.

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