Arts Come Downstage

Legends in the Arts

As a teen in the late 90s, I attended a staging of Laff-it-Off at the Daphne Joseph-Hackett Theatre. I was unaware of the theatre educator whose name graced the building, but I knew I enjoyed what I saw on stage. It was authentically Bajan, something that I could identify in and around my community.

The Independence Edition

Picture taken from, secretbarbados.com

As a teen in the late 90s, I attended a staging of Laff-it-Off at the Daphne Joseph-Hackett Theatre. I was unaware of the theatre educator whose name graced the building, but I knew I enjoyed what I saw on stage. It was authentically Bajan, something that I could identify in and around my community.

Imagine your family being uprooted from their homes and placed on the stage to give us rich narratives that explored things as simple as family squabbles and diverse as political affairs. Wendell Smith, the shopkeeper, Marcia Burrowes, his wife, Tony Thompson, the ever-present uncle, Peta Alleyne, the nosy neighbor, John Walcott, the crazy cousin, Carla Springer-Hunte, the Bajan-Yankee niece, all played impressive roles in this play. Skillfully directed by Cecily Spencer-Cross, these characterizations were true representations of the days of our lives. Though they each played many characters in the different scenes, these initial characters were the ones we met as the show began. 

Last year, when the world came to a halt, I had some intimate one-on-one live Theatre Convos with some of these theatre practitioners to hear their never-before-heard-of journeys towards the world of theatre. As time passed and I relistened to each episode, I realized that some of us were linked in more ways than one. As small as it may seem, it has impacted my theatre journeys.

The Communal Stage

Tony was born and raised in Waterhall Land and lived a stone’s throw away from my granny. He would tell de whole of Buhbados with pride. The retellings of yesteryear were sure to fill his speech when he met a neighbor. As a fellow Waterhall Land girl, this live conversation blew me away when I learned that Greaves’ Shop birthed the early sketches of Laff-it-Off. Yup, the rum shop at the bottom of the gap belonging to the old man who beat out the cock’s crow with shots from his old shotgun every fore day morning. Yes, the village shop was the communal stage.

Sisterhood in the Arts

It was interesting to learn that just like my dad, Carla’s father introduced her to the arts and made sure she was involved in various art forms. My dad was the one who sat with me in the theatre, back then, as I watched Carla in full dramatic scale. Or should I call her Velda number 1 since I was Velda number 2! When Carla was preparing for her new role of becoming a mother, I received the honor of being cast as Velda in the play, Going for Love, as part of the Barbados contingent traveling to Toronto for the On the Water Festival. This was a pivotal moment in my stage life. Her support during this journey shaped our sisterhood in the arts and allowed me to further understand why she wanted to be involved in theatre just like her cousin Cecily.

Leading from the Sidelines

Cecily inspires so many of us to continue to sharpen our tools in education via theatre. As the Director of Laff-it-Off, she has invited many theatre arts teachers like myself and our students with open arms to watch and critique the show. What struck me most in our one-on-one was who inspired her to get involved in acting. She mentioned that seeing Icil Phillips, now her partner as Directors of BADE (Barbados Association of Drama Educators), on stage as an actor was a prime inspiration. Cecily continues to hold our hands as we prepare theatre students for their practical examinations and always finds a way to reassure them of their efforts in the kindest of ways.

These simple yet profound moments exhibited and etched in my memory are why I celebrate them as Legends in the Arts.

Watch full episodes or glimpses of each episode here. 

~ Stay tuned next week for more on Legends in the Arts – The Independence Edition.

~ Jae is a passionate Theatre Practitioner and Educator with a Masters in Arts – Creative Arts and the Creativist of Theatre Convos. Find her via @theatreconvos

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