Mon | Apr 22, 2019

Five Questions With Conroy Wilson

Published:Friday | September 28, 2018 | 12:00 AMShereita Grizzle/Gleaner Writer
Conroy Wilson
Conroy Wilson

In this week's edition of Five Questions with ... we speak to the executive director of the Ashe performing arts group, Conroy Wilson.

A past student of St George's College, Wilson has used the performing arts as vehicle to success. The man who is known as the 'Swag Boss' on Digicel's Rising Stars, left high school with only three subjects. He describes himself as a hard-working, driven, and was determined to be successful. He has achieved success today as he not only leads the famed dance group, but is also an author and avid businessman. Today, we learn a little more about Conroy Wilson.

How did you get into the performing arts?

I started playing the piano in primary school with Shirley McDonald at St Aloysius Primary. I was also in the school choir, and I remember participating in Grand Gala doing the quadrille and other dances with Joyce Campbell. My interest increased when I auditioned for Cathi Levy to be a part of a play called The Gift of Life in 1988. After the production, she started the Little People & Teen Players Club, where we started training in singing, dancing, acting, miming and theatre in black. It was exciting to perform all over the country, as well as meet different people and build a family. Ashe solidified the passion I had, and I realised the performing arts could be a career, and not just something you do on the side or after a mainstream job.

Where's the furthest you've ever travelled with your group, and what was the response to the Jamaican culture like?

Thailand, in 2004. We performed for the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, and we were like the stars of the conference. Our performances of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and other internationally known Jamaican artistes was a hit, but so was our original work. We weren't just bringing the reggae pieces that were loved, we were also sharing original work we created in edutainment to educate young people about HIV/AIDS. Our original musical performances from our production, Vibes in a World of Sexuality and Parenting Vibes in a World of Sexuality, were smashing hits.

What's one thing most people would be surprised to know about you?

I don't know. Maybe that I have seven Pit Bull dogs (laughs). I have taught at every level of the educational system - infant, primary, prep, high/secondary, tertiary, professional development institutes, churches. I also use to work in a bank as a teller.

What does having your own theatre space mean to you and your team?

We were always used to having our own space to perform. When we moved to Nannyville Gardens in 1996, we built a theatre there and had all our shows there. We left Nannyville in 2003 due to violence. After our co-founder died in 2005, we struggled for a while to maintain Ashe as it was. It is the tradition of performing arts companies to put on a season once a year, and back then, and perhaps still now, the preferred space to put on a show is the Little Theatre. We celebrated our 16th anniversary in 2009 and decided to do a season at Little Theatre. Financially, this was a challenge, there was a huge cost to acquire the space to run the show each night. In addition, many attendees wanted complimentary tickets and they cited various reasons why they were "entitled".

After that season, we decided we would not do another season unless it was going to be financially profitable. After acquiring our current space at Cargill Avenue in 2011, we decided to include our own theatre space - The Vibes Theatre - and in 2015, we staged our first original Reggae Theatre Musical Production called Ded Lef! We are currently looking to expand our current theatre space to seat 230-250 patrons, and be a state-of-the-art midsize theatre in the heart of Kingston.

If you could be an adviser to the minister of youth for a week, what are some of the things you would focus on?

The first thing that must be taught at all levels and at every age is empowerment! This includes, Who am I (strengthen your grounding)? What is my purpose (build your platform)? And who do I have to be in every moment, with every decision to achieve that purpose (cultivate your audience)? This is covered in Your Empowerment GPA - a book I co-authored with Michael Holgate.