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.

Creating theatre in Nassau, Bahamas

For those of you who may not know, I do theatre in my spare time.

“Spare” may be a misnomer. “Unassigned” may be a better way of putting it. See, I work for a living because I have to; I need that regular income, and most of all I need that health insurance. I’m a college professor. I’m not dissing that. In fact, I happen to think it’s one of the best jobs in the world. It’s the only job in this country that will pay me to do half of what I love to do, which is write and talk, and that will even include that writing and talking when it comes time for promotion, and at the same time also allow me the flexibility and space to do the other half of what I love to do. I bless the people who dreamed up the College of The Bahamas and I bless those people who made it do all these things.

But if I had my druthers, I’d be working in theatre too.

OK, for those of you who do know me, you’re probably saying to yourself: “But she does work in theatre.”

And you’d be right, after a fashion. After all, I am one of the founders of Ringplay Productions, a theatre company that’s been around for the past 13 years, and I’m the founding director of the Shakespeare in Paradise theatre festival.

But nobody pays me to do either. And so I have to do it in spare, or unassigned, or off, time.

Before you ask me, the answer is, yes, I do have a problem with this. I didn’t twenty-five years ago when I started working in Bahamian theatre. In the 1980s, the Bahamas was in its second decade of independence, and had much bigger things to worry about than about providing careers for young artists. I wasn’t raised to pursue such a career, anyway. Even though my father had studied what might well have been the most esoteric thing for a young Bahamian to study at the end of the 1950s—classical piano performance at the Royal Academy of Music, London—my parents brought me up to be employable (my father wasn’t, not in the Bahamas, so a teacher he became). So I did not go to school to study theatre, even though I liked being on stage. I grew up “knowing” that the theatre was something one did for the love of it, despite all odds, and not something one did to make money from. Even though I wanted to write plays I never thought of doing it for a living.

But times change, and people change, and the world changes. In the 1980s we weren’t welcoming five million tourists to the Bahamas and wondering what on earth there was for them to do onshore here. In the 1980s, there were still some things for them to do (although that was the decade when things started to change). There were still cabaret shows in casinos which provided regular jobs for dancers; there were still nightclubs here and there which provided regular jobs for musicians; and there were record stores that bought musicians’ music. Maybe I’m painting too rosy a picture here, but it seems to me that in the 1980s Bahamians liked Bahamian culture.

But we’re not in the 1980s anymore.

It’s the twenty-first century. And if there were every a century in which creativity could flourish, this is it. We live in a time of revolution; publishing and production and filmmaking and composing and making music are in the hands of the creative artists, rather than locked up in boardrooms thousands of miles away in somebody else’s country. And tourism is also changing to reflect this new century. Tourists are not travelling merely for sun, sand and casino winnings. They are looking for unforgettable, unique experiences, and they’re paying premium prices for them. It’s never been a better time to be a creative artist anywhere—except the Bahamas.

Those of you who know me well may remember that ten years ago this October I took on the position of Director of Cultural Affairs for the Bahamas government. Those of you who know me very well may remember what I was like when I took on that job. I am a happier person now, they tell me. I am not so angry all the time. Not so driven. (I would dispute the second, but WTH). I wasn’t always angry and driven. I took on the job believing, as one does, that I could make a difference. I took on the job to help bring back some focus to the Bahamas and to revive a sense of pride in Bahamian culture. It’s important, I believe, to for individuals to have some things done by the collective around them that they can be proud of, but in 2003 too many Bahamians were behaving as though they were ashamed.

I had no idea I was embarking on a wild and crazy ride that would take me through wildernesses and woodlands, across oceans to different continents, to high heights and even lower depths and bring me back right to where I started.

When I worked out that I had gone full circle, or maybe had made a spiral which brought me back to the same point as I’d started from, only maybe further away from where we wanted to be, I left. And started the theatre festival you see me working with today.

Shakespeare in Paradise is now five years old. We have survived by the grace of God and our own hard, hard work. We have grown and done some work that we’re proud of, and because it’s our fifth year and the fortieth anniversary of independence for this country, we’re taking a big, big risk.

And I have no idea where we’ll be by the end of October. In all honesty, it looks like we’ll be tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

The reason?

We dream too damn big.

We’re reviving Sammie Swain, the folk opera that should be my father’s legacy but is dying because it hasn’t been performed for too long.

Why it hasn’t been performed is a long story which I’m proposing to tell here on this blog. There are some villains in this story, and some heroes too, and the villains and the heroes might not be who you think they are. And it’s all part of a much bigger story, which is still being written, but which so far is shaping up to be a tragedy. I want to tell that story too.

So I called this “creating theatre in Nassau, Bahamas” because I had hoped to get to the theatre part of the story. What you have is just the setting and the backstory. Bad storytelling, but live with it.

We’ll get where we’re going if you stay with the ride.


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:



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.

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.

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.

Black British Theatre - Britain gets a Black Theatre Archive

Sixty years of forgotten treasures

Britain is to get a Black Theatre Archive. Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah relives his role in its creationIn Britain, my work is almost exclusively compared to that of Roy Williams. This has always enraged me. Roy is a fine, prolific writer; but even if we were to be compared on the most obvious grounds – race – we still write out of two very different black traditions. I am terribly influenced by the African-American canon and stand on the shoulders of playwrights such as Edgar White, whereas Roy's work has echoes of Caryl Phillips. And Roy, I would argue, takes inspiration from sources closer to home. What amazed me was that US critics seemed to get that. Although they weren't always complimentary, to me that was secondary: what was important was that here was intelligent, detailed analysis and context.

Sixty years of forgotten treasures | Kwame Kwei-Armah | Stage | The Guardian

Killing with kindness

We on the arts community in The Bahamas often like to believe that things are different for artists in other Caribbean nations. This blog post from PLEASURE blog suggests that it's not so:

Tomorrow, the spanking new $518 million National Academy for the Performing Arts around the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, will officially open. But a few blocks away, at the corner of Roberts and White Street, Woodbrook, the historic Little Carib Theatre will remain boarded-up and shut. The restoration of that historic theatre, which was founded by local dance legend Beryl McBurnie in 1947 and which has played a key role in the development of the arts in this country, has stalled for about two years.The problem? Reportedly a lack of funding, with an additional $2 million needed to complete the restoration not forthcoming from the State. The same State that can pump $2 million into a flag around the crumbling Hasley Crawford Stadium and which can build arts academies apparently at the snap of its fingers.

* P L E A S U R E *: A place for the arts

It sounds all too familiar -- white elephants being created by decision makers more interested in showing off, attracting foreign investment, or negotiating cool perks than in building a nation for real. Of course in Trinidad, where oil money confers delusions of splendour, the showing off is of the glitziest kind.

The context: the T&T government has built, with Chinese money, something it is calling its National Academy for the Performing Arts, which is fancy, and which can ensure that the T&T government can have something that can be plastered on glossy magazine pages as evidence that the Caribbean is not home to transplanted savages and native beachbabes clad in Lion of Judah hula skirts and floral arrangements. At the same time, though, as is common with us all in Caribbean societies, the things that have made central contributions to the development of the arts are left to languish, perhaps because they're not glitzy enough, or because they mean nothing to the philistines who far too ordinarily get themselves elected to positions of power, or because they represent too much competence, outspokenness or creativity for the individuals who have been given charge of the government departments responsible for implementing government's policies. In Trinidad, the Little Carib Theatre and the Trinidad Theatre Workshop share fates that are not very different from the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts here in The Bahamas, which is being eaten from top to bottom by a very happy army of termites, or from any of the so-called "National" performing arts entities, not one of which has an adequate home:

Examine, for instance, the traumas of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW), once housed at the Old Fire Station Building on Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain. The TTW, whose founder was Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, was housed at that historic building for ten years from 1989 to 1994, when Walcott won the Nobel, and then to 1999.
Yet, after a swanky restoration, and the construction of a National Library around it, the TTW was quickly booted out of the building and left to find accommodation in a small gingerbread house on Jernigham Avenue in Belmont. To date, despite its name, the TTW has no real theatre of its own, with a small space at the house in Belmont acting as a performance area. The Old Fire Station is used for such things as press conferences by the Ministry of Information as well as hosting administrative offices.

There are times, indeed, when I'm thankful for the studied and deliberate contempt paid to Bahamian artists and arts in this country, thankful for the fact that the turn-of-the-century $3 million gift the Chinese government earmarked for our own Centre for the Performing Arts was not spent the way the Chinese wanted it to be spent (i.e. on renovating the NCPA on Shirley Street so that it could actually house performing arts, rather than function as it has been doing for the past 9 years now, as a glorified church hall). PLEASURE blog shows what might have happened:

The new academy was designed without any real consultation with the local artist community whatsoever, according to artists. The design was done by a Chinese firm, built by a Chinese contractor in accordance with Chinese building codes and specifications.

The building was supposedly inspired by the national flower, the Chaconia. But that is a loose association; the structure looks more like an imitation of the Sydney Opera House. Or a kind of sophisticated alien space-craft. How it fits into its environment also seems to have been an oversight by the designers, as the building looks away from the green of the Savannah and its environs, instead of paying tribute to them. This week, as preparations for tomorrow's opening continued with curious members of the public strolling around the academy, Chinese workers who will never be afforded the luxury of attending the swanky performances inside worked overtime to the sound of Chinese techno music playing from speakers housed in large wrought-iron boxes around the building's perimeter.

Questions have been raised about the adequacy of the steel used to build the structure, as well as the suitability of the design for performance. One Government minister has even pubically admitted, at the hearings of the Uff Commission of Inquiry, that some aspects of the building may be unsuitable to "performance" and more suitable to "training". And the myriad of concerns over top-level  corruption looming over Udecott, the State company that handled the project, go without saying.

* P L E A S U R E *: A place for the arts

Despite all of this, in the face of it, the arts in Trinidad and Tobago are flourishing, thanks to individual action in the vacuum.

It is a crowning irony that throughout all of this, some have managed to find fertile places for art in the most unexpected of places. For instance, the million-dollar, shimmery structure that will open tomorrow may be an audacious sight, but it may never compare to what is happening at smaller spaces like Alice Yard, which is a few blocks away from the neglected Little Carib Theatre on Roberts Street.At Alice Yard, a simple backyard has, over the last three years, done more for contemporary arts and discourse in this country than any $518 million mega-project can hope to do. Could it be that the State's neglect has actually engineered the conditions for true artistic creativity?

* P L E A S U R E *: A place for the arts

The answer, apparently, lies in taking matters into one's own hands, in not waiting for the "government" to deliver what one needs. (Hail Rik and Idebu!) So here's to us, artists. Artists of the Caribbean, unite!

R.I.P. Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter, 2007, (AP Photo/Carl de Souza) How Pinteresque, to die on Christmas Eve.

LONDON (AP) — Harold Pinter, praised as the most influential British playwright of his generation and a longtime voice of political protest, has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 78.Pinter, whose distinctive contribution to the stage was recognized with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, died on Wednesday, according to his second wife, Lady Antonia Fraser."Pinter restored theater to its basic elements: an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue, where people are at the mercy of each other and pretense crumbles," the Nobel Academy said when it announced Pinter's award. "With a minimum of plot, drama emerges from the power struggle and hide-and-seek of interlocution."

Just a note

Internet connectivity has been really slow over the past couple of days -- none at all yesterday, and slower than dial-up today, so that's why you haven't heard from me.Tomorrow we are scheduled to take the play to Berbice. Time to go to sleep, methinks.I'll be home on Monday, and will post more then.Till then!

CARIFESTA Update - Second Georgetown Performance, and Anna Regina

I can say right now that Anna Regina was the highlight of our trip. Protocol and prudence would have me add "so far", but I doubt that there will be anything more to come that will rival our Anna Regina (Essequibo) experience. I offer my public thanks to the organizers and schedulers of CARIFESTA X Guyana for sending Teeth to Anna Regina, and allowing me to go.That said, let me start.The Children's Teeth was scheduled to appear in the Anna Regina Multilateral School in Essequibo at 6 p.m. Tuesday -- this after its finishing a two-night run at Queen's College in Georgetown. We waited for some time to get information about when we should leave for Essequibo, because the set would have to be built in the space we were performing in and we needed several hours of advance time. Philip and Terrance erected the set in Queen's College in four hours; if it would take as long in Essequibo, we would have to factor that into our journey planning. Anyway, by five on the night of the second Georgetown performance, Philip finally got to talk to Paloma Mohammed, CARIFESTA's Artistic Director, and work out what we would need to do. In the meantime, I took off for downtown, as I'd discovered that the one thing we'd forgotten to bring for our performance was a programme for Teeth, and I wanted to print and photocopy the one page of information that I'd prepared during the day.I was travelling with the liaison officer assigned to me, a young woman whom I call Shelly because she always introduces herself to me as "your liaison officer". We have two sets of such officers assigned to our contingent. The regular ones are assigned by the CARIFESTA Secretariat, and are detailed to work with the various elements of our contingent -- with the Junkanoos, the writers, the actors, the dancers, the musicians, etc -- and the other ones are assigned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and are detailed to work with the senior officials on the trip -- myself and Greg Butler (Directors of Culture and Youth respectively) and, of course, Minister. Shelly had agreed to take me to find a place to get copies made, and we ended up at the mall. Of course, my Bahamian eyes saw no mall -- they just saw a downtown block with lots of storefronts, until Shelly led me through a passage that reminded me of the entrance to the Prince George Arcade in Nassau, and we ended up -- yes -- in a mall, complete with roof and escalators up to second and third floors and lots of shops. Right near the entrance was a counter with a girl sitting behind it and a photocopier beside her. Was this the place to make photocopies? we asked. Yes, she said, and took the plastic cover off the machine and started it up. Can you print from a flash drive too? She turned the machine off and recovered it. No, she said, perhaps somewhere else ...We wandered through the mall, until we were advised that we should try an internet cafe. At that point Shelly -- who is very organized and efficient in an extremely quiet and understated way -- made a phonecall and walked me outside, and asked whether I'd have a problem taking a bus to get to City Hall.I said I didn't. And in theory, the anthropologist in me didn't -- indeed, that anthropologist was quite looking forward to the adventure of taking a bus. But the Bahamian in me was screaming Hell No!!! because she had seen the Guyanese buses before -- nineteen people squeezed into a fifteen-seater bus, the kind of vehicle we in The Bahamas might call an eight or nine seater (we like a little more personal space at home these days -- perhaps we can afford it). But I could see City Hall a few blocks away, and figured that the adventure of catching, boarding and deboarding the bus would be less efficient in the end than simply hoofing our way to the Hall. So we walked the three or four blocks we had to walk -- perhaps as far as it would be to get from the British Colonial to Rawson Square, if that -- and entered the City Hall compound.Now I have seen Georgetown's City Hall from the road, from a bus, every time I've been here. But I have never been on foot really till now. And the Hall looks imposing, majestic, and downright beautiful when it's seen properly -- it's white with pale blue trim and is made of wood and wrought iron and it has a tower and several storeys and it's a historically significant building. It also turns out that Shelly's mother was the Town Clerk, and she agreed to print the programmes for me.The second performance went well, with a fuller house than the night before, and loads of press -- Guyana TV, BIS, ZNS. And afterward, while we were being fed by our stagehands and liaison officers, Philip and Terrance dismantled the set and began to prepare the pieces that would make the journey upcountry the next day. The whole set couldn't go, because the stage was smaller than the one we had; but we would make do. Eight pieces went, and the truck arrived to be packed, and we packed it, and then we came on back to our residences and prepared for a seven thirty start in the morning.

Dissent, Power, and Politics

Well, from Jamaica, this is interesting:

PM Golding has invoked the Staff Orders rule that says governmental officials must keep their traps shut when their individual positions conflict with existing gov’t policy. Not an atypical move for him to make. But, it really does and should sweet us when we see cracks in the veneer of retrograde, unsubstantiated policies, that come in the form of truth-telling, even if the labba-mouth will probably lose their jobs.

Gagging Dissent « LONG BENCH

Especially given the exchange that's been occurring on Rick Lowe's BlogBahamas and Larry Smith's Bahama Pundit about the responsibility of civil servants to speak out about the wrongs and the cracks in the society.

Here's the source of Long Bench's commentary.

President of the Jamaica Civil Service Association, Wayne Jones, said the Government's Staff Orders outline a mode of behaviour for public officers, as it relates to their interaction with the public.

Jones told The Gleaner yesterday that Section 4.4 of the order points to how government material or documents should be shared with the media through the permanent secretary, head of department or designated spokespersons.Jones said Harvey would not be able to express a personal view, particularly on topical issues, without the media and other persons in society construing it to be government thinking.He acknowledged that public officials would be faced with situations where they might be asked to express a professional or personal view on a matter.

Come on, people of the Caribbean.  Do or do we not live in democracies? What is the responsibility of those of us employed in governments to our nation?  What is gained by the kinds of restrictions applied to civil servants that are outlined in the documents we inherited from the Brits (who remain subjects, and not citizens, in their own land, by the way)?  Weren't they written when only a small number of people worked for government, and when our lands were colonies anyway and when freedom of speech was not something anyone had at all?  Why are they still being invoked today, when our governments are major (in The Bahamas' case, the largest) employers?  Does this not seem to be at odds with the idea of a democracy?

Nevertheless.  General Orders stands.  Our Rules of Conduct may be found here.  Go read for yourself.


Video Excerpt from The Children's Teeth (Ellie and Blanche)

Relevant Excerpt:
The outside child of Neville Williams returns to the house where she was raised -- by Ellie, Neville's wife, who took her in -- and Ellie's mother, Blanche, gives her a piece of her mind. In this clip, Ellie responds to her mother. It's the end of Act I, Scene i.

Nursing viper in your bosom. I tell you Ellie, you let trouble under your roof and trouble take up residence big big, I tell you that. You see? I swear by these my last years, you take this back in today you digging your own grave far as I concern and you ga have to live in it. You hear me? I's your mother but you would be dead far as I concern if you take this house, the only thing you got to hand your children, and give it to the outside child. You hear me?

This my house too. I got every right to be here.

Ya pa dead! You een get no right to set foot in here no more.

I get a letter right here to prove it.


From a lawyer. Saying Daddy leave me part of this house.

Damn straight.

Greedy twoface...

Like you ever did anything for him! You’n got no right to judge me!

Well, damn!

Where the phone? I need to call a taxi.

Carry your hip!

I’ll carry you.DONNIE
No. I cause enough trouble for one day.
(JEFF collects DONNIE’S bags from their place in STACEY’S room.)

Jeff, you— Jeff! JEFF!

(Moves towards the exit with the bags)
Come, Donnie.

Ellie, ya see? Ya see? You see how this child get alla yinna running round her like you was the Haitian and she was somebody? Is the same thing all over again. From the day she set foot in that door. She like she pull her panty over yinna head.

All right!! Thas enough. Momma, you is a old woman, and you did raise me from small, and I never had one reason to complain bout anything you do for me but one. But lemme just tell you this one time. When I marry Neville I marry him for me. I take him for better and for worse, in sickness in health, and I keep my vow. For me. I'n care what anyone else do, I make my vow and I keep it. And if that mean taking in his child when she'n got nowhere else to go I do that too, because I love him. Donnie is his child and when her mother leave her high and dry she become my child. I do that for him. So let me just say this once. If I want bring Donnie back into this house what Neville Williams build for me and his family, I don't care if you is the Almighty come down off the cross, I don't care if you have a stroke and die on the spot, you understand, I ga do it. Because this is his house and she is his child. You hear me? So now we ga have this party for you and I ga feed all your cantankerous friends, and I ga smile up in they face and quarm and pretend like I like them cause you is my ma. That is what we ga do this afternoon, and you ga sit right there and smile too. You understand me? So you just put on your happy face and act like you glad you turning eighty-four and thank Jesus he'n call you yet and enjoy this party I slave over, and when I ready I ga take care of Neville daughter just like I promise. Donnie, child, take care, and call me. Stacey, go get the potato salad and put out some plate. Jeff, you hurry back, hear? People coming any minute and I ga be damn if I'n ready for them when they come.
(They all stare at her. The doorbell rings. Blackout.)

The Children's Teeth - Book

For those of you who have been noticing, I've taken the plunge into self-publication.  So if you missed the play (for shame!!), you can read it if you're interested -- simply by buying a copy of the book from  I've got a handy-dandy link in the sidebar that'll take you straight to the online bookstore.

No, it's not available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  This one's not that grand. (Why, you may ask, is Essays on Life getting such wide distribution?  Well, because the essays are being printed and read not only here in Nassau, but in Britain, being reprinted by both Bahama Pundit the New Black Magazine, and I thought there might be some interest globally.  The play, now -- that's a different story.)

Yes, it is going to be available in real bookstores in Nassau.  I'll tell you when.In the meantime, you can order it from  

The Children's Teeth

For those of you who're wondering what I've been up to, here it is: 

The Children's Teeth has nothing to do with orthodontics. The title of Nicolette Bethel's latest play is taken from a Bible verse that goes, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge. (Ezekiel 18:2) 

Ringplay Productions, of which Nicolette is a board member, chose this play to open the new Winston V. Saunders Repertory Season. The play was always meant to be a part of the season but when difficulties arose with the re-staging of Winston's You Can Lead A Horse To Water to open the season it was decided that The Children's Teeth would be the inaugural play. It was something of which we thought Uncle Winston, who read the play before his death, would approve.Kennedy and Theresa The play boasts an interesting mix of actors, from veterans to relative newcomers. Returning to the stage after a long absence dabbling in politics and in other areas is Theresa Moxey-Ingraham. She plays 'Ellie', the matriarch of the Williams family, who is struggling to make ends meet since the death of her husband over four years ago. Anthony "Skeebo" Roberts, a veteran of Ringplay Productions, plays that husband, 'Neville', a ghost. Theatre veteran Claudette "Cookie" Allens plays 'Blanche', the cantankerous mother of 'Ellie', who has no difficulty speaking her mind, and who has no filter on what comes out of her mouth. Leah Eneas plays 'Neville's' daughter, 'Donnie', who was conceived by a Haitian mother and raised by 'Ellie' and has now returned home and very quickly sets the cat amongst the pigeons. Kennedy Storr plays 'Ross', a nephew/cousin. who is also a former lover of 'Donnie' and a person keenly interested in "helping" 'Ellie' get a sale for her house. Another veteran of Ringplay Productions, Scott Adderley, is 'Hepden Smith', a developer who is keenly interested in buying the Williams home. Rounding out the case are two newcomers to Ringplay Productions, but not newcomers to the stage. Both actors, along with Leah Eneas, are members of Thoughtkatcher Enterprises and have appeared in Da Spot. Candaclyn Rigby plays 'Stacey', 'Ellie' and 'Neville's' daughter, and Dion Johnson plays her brother 'Jeff'.The Children's Teeth touches on a number of themes including, but not limited to, family property, Haitian immigration, infidelity and sibling rivalry. It deals with these, and other themes, with both humour and pathos.Philip A. Burrows, Artistic Director of Ringplay Productions and former Artistic Director of the Dundas Repertory Season, directs the production. The Children's Teeth will only have eight performances, which begin on Thursday, January 17th at the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts and continue through Saturday, January 19th. Performances begin again on Tuesday, January 22nd and go through Saturday, January 26th. Starting time for all performances is 8:30 p.m. and tickets are $20 if reserved or $25 at the door.The Children's Teeth is Rated "C"

Theatre and democracy

Theatre and democracy were invented in the same place and in the same decade. When two actors on stage talk to each other, at that moment a different emotion is demanded from the audience. It's the emotion of empathy. The same emotion that is required for theatre to work is the emotion that is required for democracy to work -- the idea we need to care about each other's experience.

Oskar EustisThe Public Theaterformer director of the Eureka Theatre Companydramaturge of the San Francisco production of You Can Lead a Horse to Water.

I took that quotation from Wrestling with Angels, a documentary on Tony Kushner, the author of the critically-acclaimed play Angels in America, which Oskar Eustis directed for the Eureka Theatre Company, San Francisco. As I understand it, Philip (my husband, for those of you who don't know, a theatre director) followed the production of the play (which was a two-parter, a long meditation on America, AIDS, and the end of the second millennium) and saw it when it made it to New York. Kushner's work is brilliant, and it critiques in every line the ideas that societies take for granted.

Angels in AmericaNow the thing I like about the USA (there's plenty I dislike too, so pay attention) is that democracy works, for the most part, there. Or perhaps it would be more accurate is that democracy is given room to work -- many American citizens seem to miss the point of their freedom, and spend plenty of time and money trying either to curb other people's (such as in the banning and burning of books from schools, the banning of public prayer and the like, or -- most sinister -- the making of legal exceptions against rights to privacy and speedy justice and the like for people who are not American citizens). Be that as it may, democracy can thrive in the US if people want it enough. And Tony Kushner wants it.

His epic play (it's a single play, split into two movements) examines a whole sweep of things, and for me to try and say what it's about would be futile. Suffice to say, though, that it examines the deaths from AIDS of two gay men. One of them's Prior Walter, an everyday, ordinary, gay guy, who begins the play happily when he gets his diagnosis, living pretty monogamously with his lover, who's out and living with his homosexuality in New York, where there's room for it. The other the closeted, hatemongering Republican lawyer Roy Cohn, who is also dying alone from AIDS. The two men move towards death through a series of visions/hallucinations/visits from otherwordly beings -- Prior Walter by the Angel of the title, along with a series of his ancestors, all of them also bearing the name Prior Walter (it's an ancient family name), and Roy Cohn by Ethel Rosenberg, whose death he was responsible for.

But enough about that; if you're interested in the play, you can check out the HBO Miniseries version of it and see it for yourself. My point is what Eustis had to say about theatre and democracy.

Both, he says, are inventions of the ancient Greeks and both were invented in the same decade. Leaving aside the ethnocentrism of that idea for the moment, the fact that one group of people formalized both around the same time is remarkable; it's possible to suggest that there's a connection between the two. The Wikipedia article to which I linked (and I always tell my students not to rely on Wikipedia articles, because they aren't guaranteed to be either accurate or unbiased, but never mind) points out a far deeper origin to theatre, one which I would be inclined to accept. The point is, though, that the kind of Western theatre tradition that we in the Caribbean have half-adopted as our own is one that is all about characters -- people -- in crucial positions. To succeed, that kind of theatre does indeed depend on empathy. And Eustis is claiming that empathy is fundamental to the practice of democracy as well.

I think I agree. That should come as no surprise to anybody, considering that I'm a playwright and a theatre enthusiast, but I do believe that there is something both powerful and transformative about being in the same space with people who are telling big and epic stories. Theatre is similar to, but different from film, in that the very democratic nature of theatre requires the actors to tell their stories again and again, fresh every time, to different sets of people, without a mediator, whereas film is ultimately the creation of a director. The democratic difference should be evident there. When the director retires from the production -- which my husband does at dress rehearsal -- the play is set in motion, and it is owned from there on by the performers and technicians, by the whole team that brings it all together, all the time, all at the same time as the audience. But the director (and, of course, the producers) never retires from the film. When the film is finished, it is the director's -- not the writer's or the actors', though the actors can make a big impression -- it's the director's because the director picks what parts of the actor he wants to show.

Lorca, too, appeared to have a similar feeling about theatre. He wrote the following about the place of theatre in the creation of nations:

A nation that does not support and encourage its theatre is -- if not dead -- dying; just as a theatre that does not capture with laughter and tears the social and historical pulse, the drama of its people, the genuine color of the spiritual and natural landscape, has no right to call itself theatre; but only a place for amusement.

This raises the uncomfortable question. Theatre is currently moribund in The Bahamas. What does that imply for democracy? And by that I don't mean the once-every-five-years punitive democracy that the people have been exercising this decade, the kind of thing that happens when you get out of your taxi and realize that your driver didn't take you where you wanted to go, and so you switch taxis and hope the next driver will take you closer to your destination. The problem is that if you don't give your drivers any indication of where you want to go -- and take immediate action to tell the driver when he's going off course -- you will end up far away from your goal. No; I mean the active ideal kind of democracy, where each member of the democracy helps to navigate towards that destination, so that when they all get there they agree that "There" is more or less where they wanted to be.

We haven't ever experienced that here. Or have we?

The fact that we have too little theatre -- the fact that the average Bahamian is suspicious of theatre -- may explain why.