Write A House Is Giving Writers Free Homes In Detroit

Write A House is currently hoping to raise $25,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo to restore Peach House, the first future home for a Detroit writer. Young Detroit Builders, which teaches contracting skills to young people in the city, will help get the houses back into shape.via Write A House Is Giving Writers Free Homes In Detroit.

Yes. This is why we need real, independent local government in our country. I cannot imagine any Bahamian government coming up with something so radical, but a municipal government has room to experiment.All the best to Detroit. This is a kickass project.

Saving Sammie Swain

SS-coverThis is not the post that I would have liked to write in the days after the close of The Legend of Sammie Swain, but it has to be done. We received so much support from our audiences and so many congratulations from the public at large for the revival of my father's folk opera that I wish I could say that we have been able to pay our bills, but at this point in time I cannot.In another post, I explained the cost of theatre to those who do not know better. I think I may have to refer people to that post again, because I am sure that people have looked at the apparent success of this year's Shakespeare in Paradise festival from the outside, seen the sold out houses and the turned away crowds, and come to the conclusion that we are rolling in money.Far from it! I'm not going to go into details, but the simple formula is this.Our festival as a whole cost us over $110,000 to mount. Sammie Swain accounted for about $75,000 of that. We estimated over $100,000 for the show, but we cut our costs to the bone and delivered it for 75% of the projection.Our festival as a whole had a total of 5,870 seats to sell. Given our $110,000 cost, that sets seat prices at $18.75 at FULL OCCUPANCY if we were to break even. However, even with Sammie Swain, we did not operate at full occupancy -- only the last four performances sold out. Sammie Swain had about 90% occupancy, and the festival as a whole had 75% occupancy overall. This made it our most successful festival ever, but it means that brings our seat prices to $24.98 a head for us to break even.But we didn't sell all our seats at $25.

  • Student matinee tickets sell for $10 a head.
  • College students paid between $12.50 and $15 a head.
  • Season ticket holders paid $20 a head.
  • Groups pay $22.50 a head.
  • Sponsors, poster artists, cast and crew get some comps

Our ACTUAL average ticket revenue, all told, comes to about $14 a head, which this year was a loss of about $11 a seat. We are still working out our actual take, but we know we had audiences of over 3000 people this year. 3000 x $14 =  something over $42,000.We made about $30,000 from sponsorships, donations and ads. Some $5,000 of that money, which is 1/6 of the total sponsorship, came from crowdfunding. Most of the rest came from small and medium companies (here I am not including the invaluable in-kind sponsorship that we continue to get from companies like Cable Bahamas, Starbucks/John Bull and Marcos/Wendy's, which assist us with our advertising and allow us to treat our performers like people by providing them with some very basic refreshments even though we can't pay them salaries). A little came from more substantial companies who understood what we are trying to build, but nowhere as much as you might think.That brings us to a total of about $75,000, give or take, in revenues, for a shortfall this year of some $35,000.How did we meet the shortfall?We always try to pre-sell our festival by seeking corporate sponsors. We really worked our butts off this year in this regard, and if we had got all of the sponsorship that we asked for, we would have been able to raise in the vicinity of a quarter of a million dollars. Even a quarter of what we asked for would have netted us enough to cover our costs. But we raised only one tenth of what we asked. So far, the Bahamian government and the Bahamian corporate community have not shown that they understand the value in investing in something intangible that is nevertheless part of our culture. They don't know why we can't cover our costs by selling enough tickets.But they don't know what we know: that because there is so little support for the arts in The Bahamas we cannot sell seats at what it costs us to produce our shows. If we were to sell seats at what it costs us to put on the Shakespeare in Paradise festival without paying our performers, each seat would cost you, the public, $40 or more. If we were to pay our performers, rack that up to $75 a head. And who can afford that?We sell our seats at what the public is willing and able to pay—$25 for a full price ticket. But we go beyond that because we believe that art is not only important, it is necessary to make whole human beings. So we perform as many matinees for students as performances for the general public. And we sell student tickets at  between $10 and $15 a head.In most countries and cities, governments, corporations and private individuals help artists produce great works that define their populations by subsidizing the cost that it takes to produce that art.In most countries and cities, great works of art are understood to be investments in national patrimony, identity. They are collected and guarded as closely as all other kinds of treasure. Most nations understand that it is great art that will survive, that will tell the story of the civilizations that existed, and nothing else at all. In other words, it's only our art that will remain when our Bahama Islands sink below the rising sea.Here, we've so far been fighting an uphill battle to convince our governments and corporate citizens of the value of what we do.Since Sammie Swain opened on October 4th, 2013, we have received several promises from government members both to address the shortfall and to remount the production. Nothing concrete so far has come out of them, so we will believe those promises as soon as we bank the cheques. (All Bahamians should know what government promises about culture can amount to--CARIFESTA, anyone?). To date, despite those promises of support, government investment in this year's festival, including Sammie Swain, was half of what it has been in other years.Thankfully, after this month's production of The Legend of Sammie Swain at Shakespeare in Paradise, when my brother announced on the closing night--as he had on the opening--that we are facing a shortfall that threatens the future of Shakespeare in Paradise, some individual members of our community took it upon themselves to start a campaign privately that will help us meet that shortfall. I don't have permission to say who, so I will not name names, but to them I say a great big THANK YOU. They know who they are.To everyone else, I say: this is the state of our culture, Bahamians. We all bear responsibility for it, so let us shoulder that responsibility together. And now, if we believe that we are important, let's do something to make it change.

What it costs to make theatre in Nassau, Bahamas

People have been asking, as they do, what makes it cost so much to put on a theatre festival. It's a question we come up against a lot, whether it's asked in a straightforward fashion or whether it's behind some other question or assumption, such as the one I was asked outright last year: "Why can't you afford to pay the actors just a little bit--say $50 a day--for their participation?"

Part of the issue may be that these people see that we're selling tickets for our productions and make the assumption that the revenue we earn from that not only covers our costs but makes its way into our pockets as well....

Hold on. I'll be right back. I'm laughing too hard to see the screen just now....

OK, I'm back. And my laughter has been replaced with perplexity. After all, we all see the world from our own perspective. Maybe they--people, you, whomever--think that theatre is just about getting up on some empty stage somewhere and throwing out a few lines. How much can that cost anyway? And to top it all off, you're selling tickets! Pure profit! Why can't you share a little?

I can only speak for myself here, but I'll try and break it down.

When Ringplay Productions, our theatre company, or Shakespeare in Paradise, our theatre festival, prepares to put on a play, the first thing we do is choose a play. We like to do so based on some agreed-upon criteria. For Shakespeare in Paradise, it's either a Shakespeare play we haven't yet done, or it's a piece that we believe will speak to our audiences. Shakespeare in Paradise is dedicated to the production, preservation and celebration of Bahamian, Caribbean, African-American and African diaspora works because there aren't many theatre festivals out there that have a similar focus, and because the vast majority of our theatre scene in Nassau is introspective, focussed on current affairs and local issues. We seek to fill a gap.

So, back to basics: we choose the play.

Most times it's written by someone else. Many of those times, then, we have to pay for it. That's right! Plays are not free! Playwrights get paid royalties! and so that's the first cost we have to consider. It's a relatively minor cost, and is often calculated based on type of production (professional/community/amateur), but normal royalty payments total about $500-$600 per production.

So off the top: $500-$600 in cost.

Next we have to cast the play. To do that we like to hold auditions. We don't have to, as we could just pick people to be in the play from the people we know, but what would be the fun in that? Or, to look at it another way, that would not be in keeping with our desire to offer experience and exposure to a wide variety of people, so we have to hold auditions.

For that we need:

  • a space big enough to hold the people who come to audition

  • copies of the audition pieces

  • registration forms OR a tablet or a computer to keep track of the people who came to audition

  • a camera to take headshots

  • pens to help people fill things in

So before we get any further: another $500-$600 in cost (sometimes that cost can be shared or waived, depending on our access to the audition space).

Once we pick our cast, we need:

  • copies of the script

If the script is international, we either need to purchase enough books to give to our cast (that's the strictly legal way) or we need to reproduce it somehow.

In the 20th century this meant taking the script to a copying centre and getting copies made.

In the 21st century this means scanning the script and printing the copies out.

Either way, another $100-$200, depending on the size of the cast.

Then we need to rehearse the play.

For this we need a rehearsal space large enough to enable us to lay out an appropriate set, to encourage actors to project their voices the way God intended people to do before humans invented microphones, and to allow us to block and practice the play.

Rehearsal spaces don't come cheap. If we don't have access to an appropriate space, one of two things will happen. Either our rehearsals will not allow us to work in the physical dimensions that we will find on stage, and the final production will suffer and lose us money in missed ticket sales, or else they will cost us an arm and a leg. No, literally. The best rehearsal spaces come at $300 or $400 A REHEARSAL.

And we have to rehearse at LEAST twice a week (preferably 3-5 times a week for at least 4 weeks). Do the math. Rehearsals will cost us in the vicinity of $600-$1200 a week just for the space alone. This doesn't include the cost of keeping the cast comfortable--i.e. providing at the very least water for them to drink while they are working.

Total for rehearsals: $4800 and up.

So before we even get to the other things that make theatre theatre, we've spent a minimum of:

  • $500 for the play

  • $500 for auditions

  • $100 for scripts

  • $4800 for rehearsals

for a total $5900 before we can even get near to selling tickets.

So what else do we need?

Well, we need a performance space. A rehearsal space is one thing. It needs to be big enough to hold the cast and to mimic the size of the stage. A performance space is quite another. It has to be big enough for the performers and the audience alike. And it has to be big enough to allow us to generate enough money to help us cover the costs we've already spent.

So let's take the best one out there: the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts.

The Dundas rents its theatre for a $1000 a performance and up.

The "and up" is often non-negotiable, and can run one to another $300 per performance, so the Dundas can cost you $1300 per performance.

Sounds like a lot (and is) but here's the advantage: for that $1300 you get the basics: 330-seat theatre, parking, lights, sound, security, dressing room, backstage, performers' entrance, performers' bathroom. These things sound simple, but trust me, they're not; NEVER take them for granted if you're doing theatre in this place!

So if you're doing a single performance, your costs have gone up to $7200. And you still haven't started to deal with set, costumes, props, tickets, programmes, or publicity.

So let's do some more math. Let's go back to that selling tickets idea. How much would we have to sell tickets for if we want to cover the costs we have listed so far?

If we sell EVERY SINGLE SEAT in the Dundas, we have to sell tickets at $21.81 to cover these costs.

See where I'm going?

Now let's add in the things that make theatre theatre.

Costumes. These can cost next to nothing if the cast supplies their own clothing, or a couple thousand if we are doing something elaborate, exciting, or unusual. This figure also depends on the size of the cast. A one-person play will cost very little. A large play, like a Shakespeare production or a musical, will cost a lot. Something like 2010's A Midsummer Night's Dream cost in the ballpark of $2000 for costumes, as every cast member had to be clothed in a particular way. Something like 2012's Merchant cost about $200, as the cast all wore street clothes. Let's pick something fairly modest that gives us some room to play with: let's say costumes cost $500.

Props. These, too, can cost next to nothing if borrowed or donated. But some things have to be bought, like fake knives, or anything else needed to create special effects. So let's say another $200.

Sets. These are non-negotiable. Every set costs money. Some cost more than others. Ours cost between $1000 and $6000, so let's pick a mid-point: $3000.

Lighting and sound. If we've invested in the Dundas, these come built in. We will have to pay for lighting and sound operation, but these are included in the cost of $1300. If, on the other hand, we have chosen another space, we are going to have to invest here. An adequate lighting system (something that lets the audience see the cast's faces) can be rented for $2000-$3000, but if we want more (which we rarely get) the cost goes up. So let's pick $2500.

In theatre, microphones shouldn't be necessary for ordinary plays. For musicals, that's a different matter, but in a play, the actor should have developed the ability to project her voice so that the audience can hear her no matter what; so we shouldn't need microphones. But we will probably need sound effects, music and so on. A basic sound system that provides that can be $200-$500. Let's say $250.

So where are we now?

We've just added another $6550 to our $7200.

Our little play is now costing us $13,750, and we haven't got to publicity, programmes or tickets yet; forget paying personnel.

So let's go there now.

Programmes can cost as little as a few hundred for paper, toner, and the printer or photocopier to duplicate them, or as much as $9000 for a full-cover printed deal. Our festival programme costs us a lot to produce and we have never paid less than $5000 for it. When we were doing one-off shows, though, we would run our programme off on a laser printer. That cost us about $150-$200. Tickets, though, need some investment. They are, after all, the things that make you money. Local printers can print tickets at about $400-$1000 these days, depending on how many you need (or you can order them from abroad, which looks cheap but costs something to bring them in -- either customs at the border or a plane ticket to get them here). So let's figure in another $1000 for programmes and tickets combined.

We'll need somewhere to sell the tickets. Some people use ticket outlets, which may donate their services or take a little in commission. Others, like us, use a stationary box office. That costs us money in both rent and personnel. So let's add in another $2000 for the box office.

And finally, publicity! There are all sorts of ways to get the word out there, but know this: the size of your audience depends very much on the quality of your marketing and publicity. Facebook does a lot, but does not do the whole job. The very best form of advertisement is television. For those who can afford it, cross-channel marketing (in the old days it was a commercial on ZNS during the news) is worth the investment -- but what an investment! If you want to sell your tickets, you have to invest several thousand right here. Let's be kind and add another $2000 to our pot.

Total cost of our production with ONE performance only: a cool $18,750.And that's being conservative in our estimate.

What does that come out to if we have to make all our money back on ticket sales then? How much will we have to price our tickets?

Our tickets have just gone up to $56.81 a head WITH FULL OCCUPANCY.

So what if we added in the suggested $50 per person per day? What would our costs be then?

  • Let's say we're doing a small play, with a few people in the cast. Let's say we have a cast of 4. We also have a director and a stage manager. Let's pay them all the same $50 a day.

  • Let's say we have a rehearsal period of 6 weeks with 3 rehearsals a week. Let's say that, because there are 4 people in the play, everybody has to be at every rehearsal. And let's say we just have one performance.

  • The math is 6 x 3 x 6 x 50 = $5400 for the rehearsal period + 6 x 50 for the performance = $300 for a total of $5700.

Our costs have gone up again to $24,450 for a single performance.

Your costs (cost per ticket) have gone up to $74.09 per ticket with FULL OCCUPANCY.

And we never get full occupancy; our most successful productions get about 60% occupancy. So jack the ticket price up again.

Here's how we make it work.

1) we don't pay local actors with cash. Yes, it sucks, but we want to keep doing what we're doing. And we happen to think that there is an exchange of sorts that's going on. There are no theatre schools in Nassau, and no real opportunity for training; the only way actors can hone their skills is by being in productions put on by experienced people and learning on their feet. So Bahamian actors gain experience and training that they don't have to pay for. It's a bad argument, but it's the only one we've got. The alternative is not to do theatre at all.

2) we don't invest all of the above for a single performance only. Yes, our rents go up when we have more performances, but all of the other costs are one-time investments, and they pan out over time. Once upon a time we would make the investment for a ten-night run; these days we find that we need to do at least 4-6 nights to make the investment worthwhile. Here's how that pans out:

  • Extra Rent = 5 x 1300 = $6,500 plus our base cost of $18,750 for a total of $25,250.

  • Total seats to sell: 330 x 6 = 1,980

NOW for us to cover our costs, the price per seat at full occupancy becomes a MUCH more manageable $12.75, and the price per seat for the expected 60% occupancy goes back to $21.25. This gives us room to work with less than full occupancy, and gives us the ability to offer bulk sales and discounts.

Maybe you'll get why I was laughing so hard at the top of this article. Pocketing money from theatrical productions is a dream. Covering our costs is the goal. Pure and simple.

That's how it's done.

I'll talk more about this again later, but for now, that's me.

Vaca-Who?

The last couple of weeks have been some of the busiest of the year.

They won't BE the busiest of the year—that time comes in late September/early October for me—but they HAVE been the busiest.

The reason? Well, as soon as the academic year ends for me, the theatrical year begins. Five years ago I was mad enough to imagine and found a Bahamian theatre festival. Shakespeare in Paradise was launched in October 2009 with a handful of people crazy enough to believe in it—and really crazy, because most of them were willing to work for free—and we pulled it off.

This year is our fifth, and it's still going. And we're crazier than ever, because we have determined to revive my father's folk opera, Sammie Swain, in honour of our festival's fifth year, in honour of our country's fortieth anniversary.

These things are crazy because we've added about $100k to our bottom line.

Ah well. We've been here before, more or less. In 2009 we didn't have any money at all. We pulled that festival off through the kindness of many people, and by building bartering relationships that paid off. This year we have a track record and some money, but people are (rightly) not so willing to barter and they're holding their purse strings tighter than ever.

So my vacation has been pretty non-stop grubbing for funds. Translation: my fabulous festival assistant and I have been writing letters, setting up meetings, and looking people in the face, telling them what we need and how much we believe in what we're doing. A lot of little bits of money does the same job as a few big chunks.Money might be slow in coming, but recognition is growing. That's why it's important that we have to stay afloat long enough to make the festival what we know it can and will be. In the meantime, this past Tuesday I was asked to do a photoshoot with Duke Wells to help create a photograph to go along with an interview done by Caribbean Beat Magazine. This is great, because we are getting regional coverage, and from a personal perspective, because I get new profile shots.I like this one:

Nico2013

Nico2013

This is turning out to be a sales pitch and I didn't mean it to be. I just wanted to say that this has been the least like a vacation that I've had in a long time.

And to say keep your eye on our facebook page, and remember the name of Shakespeare in Paradise. It's our fifth year, I've spent my vacations working on it for free for the past five years, and I'm doing it because I believe. I believe in our theatre, I believe in our audiences, and I believe that the Caribbean, and the Bahamas, can produce world-class theatre if we are willing to invest in it.

Watch me.

Intellectual property, slavery & reparations

imageThis morning I spent three-plus hours in a workshop on intellectual property. I have to thank the Ministry of Financial Services for it, but the information that we received was sobering, frightening, even. The amount of traditional knowledge that is stolen from our region on a daily basis is staggering. And the legal situation is dismal; retroactive applications of legislation is difficult, almost impossible. Attempting to reclaim our knowledge on an individual basis appears futile.But there is one debt that the developed world, the former imperial world, owed our region that remains unpaid. It is a debt that may be unpayable, but that is none the less real. It is the debt for three hundred years of forced labour on which the developed world developed. And since 2007 disscussions about reparations for the enslavement of our ancestors are tentative.Perhaps, though, this is where our recourse for present situation lies. Reparations are owed. Our ancestors' sweat, their toil, their bladderwater, have yet to be paid for. The slaveowners received compensation for the loss of their "property" at emancipation, but the slaves and their ancestors have never been paid for the generations of their labour.Their labour should be paid for.Our traditional knowledge should be paid for.Is there a linkage between the two?Is it perhaps time we begin to collect everything that you owe me?

Sidney Poitier, Independence, and respect for Bahamian artists

I have been involved in the performing arts, and specifically in theatre, in The Bahamas for over thirty years. Like many in my generation, my involvement began as I entered high school, continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s and blossomed in the 21st century. For all of that time, my mentors were great Bahamians who, sometimes at considerable personal sacrifice, had committed themselves not only to their own personal development in the arts, but to sharing their skills and training generations of Bahamians who came after them.Four names come immediately to mind:

  • Winston V. Saunders, playwright, actor, director, producer, whose leadership of the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts between 1975 and 1998 laid the foundation for what has more recently been called the “golden age” of Bahamian theatre, establishing a regular Repertory Season, and allowing for the production of some forty original Bahamian plays;
  • Philip A. Burrows, actor, director, and Artistic Director of the Dundas Repertory Season from 1981-1997, whose training and expertise not only assisted Winston Saunders’ vision for the development of Bahamian theatre, but who made international standards of production and performance synonymous with Bahamian standards, and who trained, both through workshops and through working with actors in productions, scores of Bahamian actors in the craft of theatre;
  • Cleophas Adderley, composer, singer, director, whose musical genius has inspired, challenged and strengthened all of us who have heard or performed his work, known now as the director of the National Youth Choir of The Bahamas, but perhaps most famous for being the composer of the first classical grand opera in the English-Speaking Caribbean;
  • E. Clement Bethel, pianist, composer, teacher, Director of Cultural Affairs, and my father, who gave up fame and fortune as a internationally-acclaimed concert pianist to return to the Bahamas to make his own contribution to the recognition and development of Bahamian music and arts, and who taught thousands of young Bahamians about themselves and their culture as a result.

Sidney Poitier was not one of those individuals. Nor did he, like his fellow Bahamians in Hollywood, Calvin Lockhart and Cedric Scott, come home and give of his talent, expertise and skill to help develop those of us who were working in theatre in The Bahamas. There were times when we felt that he did not respect our continuing struggles, that he had shaken the Bahamian dust off his feet, and had turned his back on us altogether. The reason I understand the betrayal being expressed by many who are now working in the performing arts at the decision to establish something in his honour is that I too felt betrayed by him.And yet I support the idea that The Bahamas should honour him in some tangible, long-lasting fashion.I've thought about this long and hard, and have argued about it long and hard, long before this most recent controversy about Sidney Poitier's worthiness to be honoured. There was a time when I was like those people who opposed the awarding of honours to Sidney Poitier; what did he do for us? I wondered. What did he give to us? In meetings of the National Cultural Development Commission, when that body existed between 2002 and 2007, the same discussions that are being had in public in social media were held as we hammered out the National Heroes and Honours Bills; these questions were raised and discussed, with some of the members of that body, Bahamian icons in their own right, coming down on one side of the issue, some coming down on the other. (Both of those Bills were, to the best of my knowledge, presented in the House of Assembly in 2007 but which, for reasons presumably connected to the change of government in May of that year, are not functionally laws today. Perhaps they were not passed. Perhaps they were not ratified. No one seems to know.)I don't remember when or how my mind was changed; I don't think that it happened all at once. I do remember a moment, though, when, sitting in one of the symposia that accompanied the first Sidney Poitier Film Festival at the College of The Bahamas, I listened to an American academic who made a set of simple and clear points that I had never thought of before. Sidney Poitier changed the world for Black people in the 1950s. And he did it because he was from Cat Island. He did it because he was Bahamian.I don't feel the need to go through all the details that were given in that presentation. I'll just say it very simply. Until Poitier appeared on screen, the image of the black man that was circumnavigating the world was that of a shuffling, forelock-touching, yes-massa, servile sort of person, or else it was that of the cannibalistic savage dancing in a grass skirt around a fire, shaking a rattle and salivating at the thought of cooking up some prime white meat. There were some exceptions, like Paul Robeson in the 1936 film of Show Boat, but they were circumscribed by things that made them safe; Robeson's character Joe was, for all his strength and gravity, softened by the fact that he burst into song. Sidney Poitier didn't sing. He didn't take roles that made him out to be anything less than a man who deserved—and demanded—respect. Few black men, if any, spoke in Standard English on the silver screen. Poitier spoke English better than most Americans did. He looked into the camera, and dared you to call him "nigger" or "boy", and did it by using the dignity Cat Island instilled in him and not by inspiring fear.If that were all that Sidney Poitier did, I'd say that it would be appropriate for the land that raised him (and the land that he would also have been born in, if he hadn't arrived prematurely on that Miami trip) to honour him in some tangible and meaningful way. But I've learned that it wasn't all that he did. We tend to judge people's contributions to the nation by their notoriety, by their fame, and those people who simply do what they know to be right without looking for recognition seem to disappear into oblivion, while people who make a big fuss about their actions are placed on pedestals. Suffice to say that I'm convinced that Poitier has contributed, generously, to our nation through his support, financial and otherwise, of individual Bahamians.That said, I want to return to where I began—with reference to those people who mentored me in the performing arts. In all the discussion about why Poitier should or shouldn't be honoured and who should be honoured instead, I have not heard much mention of any of them. I wonder why. Like Poitier, they have all dedicated themselves to their craft, and have worked to make sure that whatever they produced was the best that they could possibly deliver. They didn't limit themselves by what they thought the Bahamian public would like or understand; instead, they pushed the envelope, tried different things, and inspired Bahamians to think differently about themselves, to dream better, to go further, to be better. They inspired me to do that. They taught the people they worked with to do it. They never thought that being Bahamian meant being second-rate at anything; the standard they upheld was universal and excellent. And yet their names are not called. Neither are the names of many others who worked, and work, according to the same criteria. I wonder why.So I am left, in all our discussion of respect for Bahamian artists, with the question of what it is we are respecting, and why. Is excellence one of our criteria? Is popularity? Is our discussion informed by a real appreciation for the work of all Bahamian artists, or only of those we know, recognize and support? Are we reasoning our way to our list of proposed honourees, or are we acting out of emotion? Are we seeking to rectify omissions of the past, or paving a pathway to the future?I don't know the answer to these questions. But I do know that now we have begun the discussion with Sidney Poitier we need to hold the discussion in earnest. And we have to hold it in the way I ask my students to write their papers—by establishing criteria and goals, by doing the research, by presenting the evidence, and by making our cases. And we have to do it as a nation, collectively, as a citizenry who know and articulate who and what it is we would like to be. By now it should be clear that we cannot leave it to others; we need to do it ourselves.

Charlie, R.I.P.

This morning, my heart and mind will be at Christ Church Cathedral, where my former minister and colleague, Charles Maynard, will be laid to rest. My body will not; I teach a class at the same time which I have not yet met and which meets once a week, and my first obligation is to them. But my heart and mind will be with Zelena, Charles' children, Mr and Mrs Maynard, Andrew, Nina, George, and the family at large.Charles and I worked together for some eighteen months. He was the Minister of State for Culture; I was the Director of Cultural Affairs. Unlike his colleagues on both sides of the political divide, Charles got it. He was the first Minister of Culture to have had his own conscious, real investment in the business of culture, and he understood what we in The Bahamas needed in that regard. He and I didn't always agree, but he always allowed room for healthy discussion, and would always listen to dissenting views; even more strangely (for a politician), he would even allow himself to be convinced by another person's position if he felt that it had more merit than his own, or if he felt it could bear fruit. In other words, he made room, when I worked with him, for the possibility that he might be wrong. The rowdy persona that he adopted in the House of Assembly was miles away from the person he was in his ministerial office. There, he would join in a debate in his usual vigorous fashion, but as minister he would never ridicule you or dismiss your position outright. The typical malaise that we associate with Bahamian cabinet ministers, that of having instant expertise conferred upon them by God or the Governor when they take the oath of their office, did not afflict him; he had respect for the experts in the field  and would bow to their expertise when necessary.I loved and respected him as a minister. I knew that his desire was the same as ours—to develop Bahamian culture in such a way that it would become a beacon of pride for all citizens, an integral, perhaps a primary, part of the tourist package, and a source of income for many. He believed in us, in our worth, in our ability to create greatness. That he could not infect his colleagues with the same belief was not his fault; and so, like us, he deferred his dream.He told me once, when we were in a passionate discussion about CARIFESTA and why we should hold it in The Bahamas at the time we had committed to do so (and he went to bat for us, all guns blazing, because he understood what it could do for a nation), that he was advised as a cabinet minister to make a choice. "Either you are a cultural activist, or you are a cabinet minister," he was told. "You need to pick a side." He was passing the choice on to me; "Either you are a cultural activist," he was saying, "or you are a civil servant." He made his choice. He believed, as almost all politicians do, that maintaining a position of power was the best way to effect the change that he wanted to see. I was not so sure about that; I knew which one I was. Our paths parted, and we continued working in the ways our consciences demanded. I am more committed than ever to make his dream real.Perhaps coincidentally, today, August 24, is the day my father died, twenty-five years ago. For those who don't know, my father, E. Clement Bethel, was the first Director of Cultural Affairs in The Bahamas. He had the same dream that Charles and I shared, but he had it forty years before us. When the idea of the Bahamian nation was both embryonic and impossible, E. Clement Bethel was imagining greatness for Bahamian culture. In 2007, Charles Maynard was imagining the same. That we have not achieved it yet is not the fault of either man. The best legacy for Charles now is to honour him by making the dream a reality. I'm committed to it. Come join me.And Charlie—rest in peace.

Lessons from the East (and it’s not China) | tmg*

Barbados has also taken an aggressive approach towards growing its creative economy and developing its creative class, implementing policies that take advantage of the CARIFROUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement. This agreement allows Caribbean investment in European creative services and makes it easier to supply those services to the European market. In short, it provides easer market access and facilitates the formation strategic partnerships between Barbados and Europe for services from architecture to music. Barbados has also passed a Cultural Industries Development Bill which encourages private sector investment in the creative industries by using tax incentives for investments which support those industries.via Lessons from the East (and it’s not China) | tmg*.

Bahama Pundit's Larry Smith - Running Hot on Culture

We Bahamians are considered such philistines around the region. They laugh at us for stooping so low as to blow up our own culture, and that's not a joke - it actually happened in 1987, when the government demolished Jumbey Village with explosives.The village was an offshoot of a community festival launched in 1969 by musician and parliamentarian Ed Moxey. An earlier and more 'cultural' version of the fish fry, it featured music and dance performances as well as displays of arts and crafts, and local produce, and was aimed at locals as well as tourists.In 1971 Moxey persuaded the Pindling government to let the festival take over a former dump site on Blue Hill Road and build a permanent facility. In the period leading up to independence in 1973, there was a lot of buzz about a popular enterprise promoting Bahamian creative arts."We put the homestead site up and in '73 we had a meeting with all the teachers. And they agreed right there that all the teachers in the system would donate a half day's pay and every school would have a function...and we came up with $100,000 in the space of three months," Moxey recalled."We put up a special cabinet paper, cabinet agreed, and when I pick up the budget, everything was cut out. Everything." Moxey told University of Pennsylvania researcher Tim Rommen in 2007. "That was a little bit too much. Village lingered, lingered...just kept on deteriorating until they came up with this grandiose scheme to put National Insurance there. And when they ready, they blow the whole thing down."via Bahama Pundit.

Shakespeare in Paradise — A Theatre Festival for Nassau and the World

With the curtain call of Julius Caesar, at 10:30 tonight, the 2011 Shakespeare in Paradise theatre festival officially came to an end.We would like to thank all of our performers, directors, volunteers, staff, guests artists, sponsors and of course our audiences who helped to make this year’s festival a success.For the majority of us, this festival is a labour of love as we try to keep theatre alive in our country and give a number of young people the opportunity to do more constructive things with their lives.Your continued support of our festival is most appreciated and we look forward to that support in our 4th annual theatre festival in 2012.via Shakespeare in Paradise — A Theatre Festival for Nassau and the World.

Attention, Government of The Bahamas:

It's a new century. It's the age of culture.When are we going to be joining it?YouTube - Il Volo - EPK.This is the kind of opportunity you are letting your citizens miss. With vision, boys like Osano Neely and Matthew Walker could have done this. Without vision and support, all we can do is bend over and take foreign investment in places where the sun don't shine.Am I angry?You bet.Always.

Ward Minnis' The Cabinet

Ward Minnis' new play, The Cabinet, is a popular success. It's got a sure-fire premise, being a cynical look at party politics. Never mind that the action is set in the fictional "Archipelago Islands", featuring the leaders of the Peas N Rice (PNR) party and the Flamingos; the audience all know Minnis is talking about The Bahamas. Moreover, he's providing us with a thinly disguised take on the recent general elections in 2002 and 2007, with the Flamingos' fall from power (carefully engineered by Reginald Moxey, their leader, played by Chigozie Ijeoma) and the ascension of the PNR, led by Jerome Cartwright (Ward Minnis), and then Moxey's return to power thereafter.It's got a ghost for good measure, and it doesn't hurt that it's of a dead Prime Minister—the late Sir Lymon Leadah (Ian Strachan). It's got a sweet but ineffectual stand-in for power, Kendrick Johnson (played by Matthew Wildgoose), a conniving and manipulative female sidekick, Latoya Darling, M.P., played by Sophie Smith, and a defeated second-in-command, Fenton Green (Arthur Maycock). It's got laughs. It's got some seriously clever moments. It's got a solid premise—that the ghost of Sir Lymon Leadah helps to engineer a dastardly plan to allow Reggie Moxey to "keep his word and break it at the same time". It's got conflict. It's got characters, and it's solidly acted to boot. It's a play, and a funny one at that.But.When I go to the theatre, I want to be entertained, yes, but I want to be captivated too. I want to be removed from my everyday life by more than the darkness of the theatre; I want to be told a story that surprises and delights (or appals, if it's that kind of play). I want to enter a different world.And this is where The Cabinet fell short for me. The story was just too familiar. Now I may be in the minority here, but if I'm going to spend two hours and twenty minutes at a live production, it'd better deliver a little more than just laughs. I'm looking for a story that tells me something new; I'm looking for a play that goes beyond naked predictability.To be fair, the first five scenes of The Cabinet promised something more. These are the scenes in which the dramatic tension is building, and even though the story is familiar, the spin placed on it is fresh enough to intrigue. Lymon Leadah's ghostly appearance to a drunken Reginald Moxey makes for a strong beginning, and the vulnerability of Moxey at that moment is a strong way to start a tale about an almost-dictator and his machinations. As those machinations unfold, moreover, and Moxey attempts to propose his plan to the bumbling Kendrick, the tension builds; for Kendrick isn't as much of a pushover as Moxey expects, and Matthew Wildgoose's Kendrick reveals a self-deprecating integrity that inspires a sliver of respect along with our laughter at his muddles. To this point, the Archipelago Islands are not The Bahamas, and we are willing to accept that different things might happen there.Jerome Cartwright, Kendrick Johnson and others may be inspired by real people in our political past, but Matthew Wildgoose and Ian Strachan in particular make it clear in their protrayals that they are not actually pretending to be Tommy Turnquest or Lynden Pindling onstage. What lets the play down is the character of Reggie Moxey, who can be nothing but Hubert Alexander Ingraham in disguise; Ijeoma's playing of it, which consists of an extremely clever impersonation throughout, leaves no doubt. And thus the damage is done. Instead of leading the audience to invest in a story that may parallel our own but has enough twists in it that we are pushed beyond the everyday, the play simply goes over well-trodden ground.After the opening, then, it is too easy to let one's focus slip. If one knows recent Bahamian history, there's no tension at all. There's no subtext, there's no suspense. The only reason to remain sitting in the audience is to see what gems the writer and the actors will deliver next.And this is a shame, because although there are gems throughout—such as when Cartwright, the Leader of the Opposition/then Prime Minister/then Leader of the Opposition, waxes eloquently off into neverland ("I have consulted extensively and attenuated bureaucracy"), or when Moxey delivers lines that are well known from other, more famous contexts, such as "I have heard the voice of the people. Who am I to argue with the will of the people?"—the writing alone cannot sustain one's full attention. What happens instead is that the actors—Ijeoma in particular, but Minnis himself at times—take refuge in the easy laugh to bring the audience back on board.There are issues with the production as well. Some of these may come down to the script itself, which starts well but loses its way in the middle, and never quite recovers its equilibrium thereafter. After the set-up, the dramatic tension lags as the result of too many small scenes going nowhere fast. This could have been addressed both by judicious trimming of fat that didn't move the story along, and by intercutting one scene with another to pick up the pace and add layers of activity. The real question, it seems to me, is how Reggie Moxey is going to pull off the sleight of hand that enables him to run for more than two terms while at the same time gaining the trust of the citizenry; the main conflict, as written, is between Leadah and Moxey in a game of political wits. The play would have been made even stronger if Moxey's adversaries were not so one-dimensional, if there seemed to be some doubt, even though the audience "knows" the story, that he would succeed. Instead, we appear to have to take it for granted that because Ingraham always gets his own way, Moxey must as well.Other issues come down to technical choices. There's no real need, for instance, for there to be a blackout after every single scene, especially when there are three playing areas onstage; actors can simply cross from one location to another without losing momentum. Such a strategy would also have eliminated the need to find so much scene-change music, much of which seemed to have very little to do with the story at hand.More thought could certainly have been given to the layout of the stage, which had Reggie Moxey's dining table centre stage, necessitating its movement upstage and downstage to keep it from blocking the other playing areas. Given that there are two political parties represented, and two political leaders, it would have made perfect sense to have set the leaders' homes stage right and stage left, leaving centre stage as the Prime Minister's office; a simple platform would have elevated that office and resolved sight issues all at once.Those who attended The Cabinet over the last two weekends and enjoyed it may find these criticisms picky, even petty. They are necessary, though, because the play itself has so much going for it. It's got the story, it's got the characters, and it's got the timing to make it succeed for the moment. But what it should be looking to do is to last, to be able to be revived, not at the end of the month, but in five or ten years' time, and produced by a different cast doing different things. This is, after all, a play, something that has characters in conflict with one another working to achieve catharsis in its audience. And I'm afraid that under those circumstances it's not enough to write a play that inspires us just to laugh. What is required is the production of a funny work that also gets us to think.

Love My Bahamas

Just had to share this. Artists Takin Ovah!!If you're on Facebook, go find the Love My Bahamas page and have a look at the art.When CariFringe starts, there will be tours you can take of the art.

Love my Bahamas Downtown Art Experience is a mural project that will enliven the walls of downtown Nassau. It involves 15 local and international artist. Come and visit the open studio space where you can see the artist at work, and learn from the rich visual arts scene in The Bahamas.Share with us this unprecedented art experience by visiting:via Live Positively Bahamas - Journal.

(And they said it couldn't be done.)

Reimagining oneself: possible, and profitable

Came across this in my reading and thought not of the change in Durham, SC itself, but in the attitude and the social structure that wrought that change. We are trying something similar here with the various attempts at rejuvenating downtown, but we aren't thinking big enough. To start, we need a municipality to govern the city of Nassau; beyond that, it mightn't hurt to have true local government for the entire island of New Providence as well. It's pretty clear to me that what we do have doesn't work in the slightest right now. But read the excerpt and then read the whole article and think about it.

TEN years ago, Matthew Beason’s duties as a restaurant manager here included driving to the airport to retrieve a weekly shipment of duck confit and pâté from New York.“We couldn’t even buy anything like that around here,” said Mr. Beason, who went on to open Six Plates Wine Bar, now one of many ambitious restaurants around Durham. “Now, virtually every place in town makes its own.”Of the rivalrous cities that make up the so-called Research Triangle — Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Durham — Durham 10 years ago was the unkempt sibling: scruffy and aging.“There was no one on the street at night, just the smell of tobacco drying in the warehouses,” Mr. Beason said.Now, a drive around town might yield the smell of clams from the coastal town of Snead’s Ferry, steaming in white wine, mustard and shallots at Piedmont restaurant; pungent spice and sweet fennel from the “lamby joe” sandwich at Six Plates; and seared mushrooms and fresh asparagus turned in a pan with spring garlic at Watts Grocery.The vast brick buildings still roll through the city center, emblazoned with ads for Lucky Strike and Bull Durham cigarettes. They are being repurposed as art studios, biotechnology laboratories and radio stations.More important for food lovers, hundreds of outlying acres of rich Piedmont soil have “transitioned” from tobacco, and now sprout peas, strawberries, fennel, artichokes and lettuce. Animals also thrive in the gentle climate, giving chefs access to local milk, cheese, eggs, pigs, chickens, quail, lambs and rabbits.

via Durham, a Tobacco Town, Turns to Local Food - NYTimes.com.

February 11. Day of Absence. All day.

The idea behind the Day of Absence is political because all of the above are connected. The oppression shared by Haitians in The Bahamas (and the Americas), and by African-Americans in the USA in the pre-civil rights era is the same oppression that makes the arts irrelevant to us today. They all stem from the same origin: the need to justify the widespread enslavement and maltreatment of a group of people in order to create an empire or a world for oneself. The first is the economic end-product of that original sin, if you like. The second is the political end-product. The third -- the place, or lack of place, of art in our society is the psychological by-product.In order to enslave an entire "race" of people, you have to displace them, you have to deprive them of their possessions, you have to deprive them of their rights, and -- most insidious of all -- you have to deprive them of their sense of who they are. The last is, like art in The Bahamas, invisible, and so it is the hardest of all to counteract. You have to tell them, and tell them so they come to believe it, that they have no culture, that nothing good ever came out of their country of origin, that they are fortunate to have been enslaved, so that they might learn culture and art from the enslavers. (For those who find this language offensive, I apologize, but if you know some other way to say it without lying about it, I'm interested to see it).

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Jackson Burnside on Day of Absence

Is the Emperor naked? Is Art really absent? Nicolette makes it abundantly clear that, “We Bahamians have cultivated the habit of supporting certain cultural endeavours simply because they are produced by Bahamians, regardless of quality. We have suppressed our critical faculties. We have come to expect sub-standard work from Bahamians, so much so that the very adjective “Bahamian” stands for mediocrity.” While this sad case of affairs is undeniable, it is also true that there is an abundance of individuals and organizations that, in spite of the culture of the “Emperor and his court”, produce diverse expressions of the highest standards.This is a blow that Nico strikes on the defensive in her “Second Response” to Ward’s stinging critique. She asks two questions, how good are we? And, how do we get better? She also argues that most of us choose to present the culture of mediocrity to make the argument that we are not that good. She turns that argument on itself and begs us to focus on the positive. There is no argument from any of us that for a country of our size we have produced an enormous volume of excellent Artwork of all kinds.Ward argues, however, that when we think of “the world of Art”, we are thinking mostly of artists generally from outside our borders. This is a very important issue, in his mind, because he says, ” The reality is that most, if not all of the images and products that filter our way from great foreign cultural creators, such as the United States, have been produced by professionals who have already been paid. To ask the right question therefore, is to ask, what would the Bahamas be without Bahamian Art?”I agree with Ward that the metaphor of absence must be questioned. Ward says. “We do not need any more absence. We need to make our presence felt”. We particularly need to make our presence felt to ourselves, so that we, Bahamians, would not automatically conclude that to get quality creative production or design, we need to look outside of ourselves.

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10 to Watch in 2010, 01/10 | The Independent

Kareem Mortimer listed as one of the "ten filmmakers to watch in 2010" put out by the Independent Newspaper, UK:

DAY TWO of TEN - KAREEM MORTIMERBahamian filmmaker Kareem Mortimer shakes up his homeland's homophobia with Children of God, which debuted last month. Read what his mentor, Steven Beer, had to say about Mortimer's savvy handling of actors and a limited budget, only on Facebook.via 10 to Watch in 2010, 01/10 | The Independent.

Read more. And congrats to Kareem!!

Geoffrey Philp - Two More Ways to Help With Haiti Relief

And you know that I'll be buying into the first of them for sure!!! Via Geoffrey Philp.

I'll be making a contribution to Cafe Cocano because it represents some of the things in which I believe: the ability of Caribbean peoples to overcome any situation and that we are responsible for creating the changes we want to see. Unless we (InI) do it for ourselves, nothing will happen.***Because I also believe in the power of the Word and that with giving, we can also speak/write/do great good, I'm recommending a site--thanks Randy!-- VWA{Poems for Haiti):VWA: Poems For Haiti was created by Caper Literary Journal as a way to inspire people to think about the tragedy in Haiti. We want people — readers and writers alike — to generate hope through a time that is very dark. We have luxuries many do not, and though some of us cannot help in major ways, sharing your work in the name of their pain and strength is something we can do. VWA, the kreyòl word for voice, aims to turn the pain and inspiration into literary works.via Two More Ways to Help With Haiti Relief.