Wed | Jun 26, 2019

Disrupting the ordinary - creating the extraordinary

Published:Sunday | January 27, 2019 | 12:14 AM
Student actors from School of Drama in Barbara Gloudon’s ‘Money Bags’, directed by Pierre Lemaire.
Student actors from School of Drama in Omaal Wright’s ‘Belly Woman’, directed by Dorraine Reid.

Each year, theatre enthusiasts anticipate a treat of varied productions in Jamaica. Many of these often tackle issues that confront the society daily but might be difficult to talk about. Theatre tends to make such conversations easier because it represents a mirror for us to see ourselves, even if in caricature. This is facilitated by the popular proscenium arch stage (audience at one end and stage at the other), symbolic of the audience staring at the actions (their lives), while the action stares back at them in an interplay of art reflecting life and life reflecting art. In this safe space theatregoers are often afforded an opportunity to navigate the range of emotions induced by the plays and experience the Jamaican aphorism, “tek kin teet kibba heart bun”.

The Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) continues to support this function of theatre and other art forms through the continuous training of artists. As the first of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean, the EMCVPA maintains its status as “still the only of its kind” through a model of training that is as attentive to theory as it is to practice. Indeed, the model requires both the acquisition and immediate application of knowledge in its various forms. Accordingly, students are exposed not to just academic supervisors and peers but to the general market place as well.


Honing skills through experience

The School of Drama, for example, stages four major productions each year. Though centred within the School of Drama, students participating in the productions are usually drawn from the five schools of the college. All participants, therefore, benefit from the interdisciplinary and inclusive approach to learning which requires that a range of talents and skills are developed. Thus, students are seen in the cast, stage crew, light and sound operation, front-of-house management as well as assisting with costumes and props. Given that the productions are open to the public as commercial theatre, students benefit further from experiencing actual market responses.

Research as practice

The historical, political and social constructs of the plays are critical to choices made for staging. This process assists the students to effectively arrive at a product that not only satisfies the palate of theatregoers, but develops a deeper awareness of the value of their art to navigate and manipulate time, space, and situations and tell stories regardless of context and content. In the post-production phase, students are required to individually document their production process, as the explorative process experienced by each student immersed in the varying productions would be undoubtedly be different. Hence the qualitative experience is documented.

Through this process, EMCVPA teaches the artist how to prepare to navigate the professional landscape. While it may be argued that theatre in Jamaica does not embody a range of styles, the training afforded students at EMCVPA is inclusive of a variety of theatre styles which not only prepares them for engagement with the local theatre landscape, but also facilitates their ability to navigate a global space; and this includes the ways in which they are equipped for postgraduate studies.

It is not immodest to claim that an EMCVPA’s graduate is not an ordinary individual. The training is designed to ensure that the graduates are grounded in an understanding of the value of their art, and how it can be used to create artistic initiatives to transform and contribute to national and global development. Indeed, they are prepared to make the world their stage with limitless production and performance possibilities. No wonder they are recognised by the ways in which they are driven by innovation, creativity, passion and imagination, and embody the discipline to disrupt the ordinary, make you comfortably uncomfortable, and create the extraordinary.

- Dorraine Reid is head of drama in Education Department, School of Drama, Edna Manley College of The Visual and Performing Arts. Send your comments to jm.