Fighting to stay conscious I focused my gaze on my friend, in the front row, locked eyes with him, thereby finding the strength to ignore the need to throw up. The ringing in my ear persisted for an
extended period of time and I couldn’t help but compare the moment with what is portrayed on television, on a side note, I must say that movies capture the experience of a concussion quite accurately.
There was a blood moon that night but I didn’t realize this until I looked up at the sky when we stopped at a pharmacy (to get the drugs I needed). Despite prophecies that claim the blood moon to be a sign of the end, this moment was the true beginning of my journey into the martial tradition known as ‘stickfighting‘. This is where I decided to ‘pick up the slack’ left by my father’s generation and his father’s generation. I am retracing my roots to that of my great-grandfather James Moodoo, a stickfighter from Moruga.
Moments before my busshead I forgot one of the most important principles of the gayelle, ‘Any Boisman Could Cut Any Boisman’, and got ‘caught up’ in the ‘lavway’ (call and response song), drumming and ‘karray’ (stickfighting dance). So much so that I got lost in my perceived superiority over my opponent that, instead of conscientiously ‘braixing’ each blow from my opponent I parried his blows in a manner akin to showboating. The irony of the situation is that it was an imagined gayelle, my concussion occurred during a play.
“WHO LEGGO DE TIGER!” the Shantwelle raised a new lavway which, when combined with the gallop of the drums, made the fight quite intense. That is when it happened. “Joe Prengay Lend Meh Yuh Bois to Play…” something came over me, or possessed my character for I was living the moment as the character and forgot that I was acting and the showboating began. It was the closing night of the show, and the director threw all caution in the wind asking us to extend the stickfight scene and instructing the ‘Shantwelle‘ to sing more songs during the scene. Despite our protests, the play moved from moment to moment seamlessly until the fight scene. My opponent’s bois (stick/rod) broke and in character he exchanged his bois for a younger pois stick and the fight continued, however, the choreography was almost done when his bois broke and we were unable to communicate with each other without breaking character whether to restart or continue. The fight scene moved from a choreographed fight sequence into an actual fight, then egos set in.
Blood trickled down my head, down my sideburns, near the edge of my eyes, over my lips, down my shoulders, down my right leg eventually creating a sizable puddle on the stage. I looked to my friend and he looked back knowingly, he knew that his gaze was the only thing keeping me conscious. My first thoughts were “I blocked that shot, how did I still get hit?” then “I cyah dead, my wife would kill me”, then “my character was supposed to injure his foot not get a busshead…how could we make this work…” then “I can’t move”. The lights went down and I felt someone hold me from the back so I let go of my bois which was keeping me standing and I let myself fall into the arms of my fellow actors.
Having the sense knocked back into my head on that night of the blood moon, I decided to seek out training and to do so more seriously now with proper guidance. Forgetting ego, and focusing on discovering more meanings, lessons and histories. While my only memory of him is of his funeral when I was three years old, I embark upon a path similar to the one that my great-grandfather would have walked. May my footfalls echo his and carry on to awaken the dance of my ancestors in my children and their children and their children’s children and so on. Ase!
Keith Ellis in the essay named “Decolonizing the Discovery” discussed the development of appreciation for the indigenous peoples of the Western hemisphere and the need for a full assessment of Columbus’ so called ‘Discovery of the New World’. In the essay he equated the term ‘Decolonization’ with the ability to understand that Columbus’ arrival in the New World was a positive event only for those Imperial nations who claimed the New World for themselves, despite meeting it already inhabited. This is an interesting point, since a Eurocentric view of the ‘Discovery’ would make it difficult to see the impact that the ‘Discovery’ had on the region from an objective perspective. Therefore, the consideration of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, in relation to who they were and what they accomplished and the impacts made upon them as a result of Europe’s colonization is important. If the people of the Caribbean are to understand their identity, an analysis of the region from the point of Columbus’ arrival is inadequate.
An understanding of the term ‘Decolonization’ must come after the term ‘Colonization’ is discussed. In “Decolonization in the English-Speaking Caribbean: Myth or Reality?” Trevor M. A. Farrell stated that the essence of the colonial condition is twofold. First, the organization of the resources of the colonized is effected in the interests of the alien, colonizing power, rather than in the interests of the colonized. He argued that while this is not necessarily a zero-sum game, the colonial condition implies that the net benefits are skewed toward the colonizer. There is then in his opinion the enforced subordination of the victim’s interests to those of the controlling power. Second, colonialism fundamentally implies the lack of control over the dynamic of one’s own movement or development (political, economic, or cultural). The classic colony is unable to make its own decisions, to choose how to adjust to a given configuration on the international scene. Its response is dictated or tightly circumscribed by the dominating power (Henry and Stone 3-12).
Decolonization usually goes hand in hand with political independence, but for Ellis’ essay, decolonization is used to discuss the independence of ‘thought’, in regards to an approach towards understanding the region as a whole. His attempts to turn the region’s thoughts towards turning away from the perspective that views the beginning of the history of the western hemisphere as starting with Columbus’ arrival. In so doing he places the need for a lot more emphasis on understanding and appreciating pre-Columbian civilizations. In doing so the people of the western hemisphere can learn more about themselves and in reaching this point they become fit to govern their own affairs.
Ellis made a contrast between Spanish-speaking and English-speaking territories of the Americas in relation to the development of an anti-colonial sentiment. He commended its arrival in Latin America and denigrated the fact that it took a much longer time for the anti-colonial sentiment to appear in the Commonwealth territories. The blame for the prolonging euro-centrism is placed upon the educational system which “protected the past and present British practices and the ideas that underlie them” (Lamming 199). Further along in the essay Ellis lauded the efforts of English-speaking Caribbean writers of the 1950s who promoted anti-Eurocentric ideology.
As his argument develops, Ellis brings to the fore the work of Jan Carew’s writing as significant in relation to the challenge of the view of Christopher Columbus as a “laudable discoverer”. He stated that up to the 1940s little attention was given to the pre-Columbian era, and that within official circles the indigenous peoples of the Western hemisphere was not given much thought. Additionally, Ellis hails José Marti’s advocating of the whole history of the Americas-from indigenous civilizations to present-to be studied by those who wish to know how to govern the countries of Latin America and Alfonso Caso’s work on the early civilizations of Mexico and its southern neighbours as praiseworthy endeavours. Ellis also discussed the hydraulic engineering, practices of fertilizing organically and the propagation of hundreds of varieties of potatoes and other crops suited to different altitude and other achievements of a pre-Inca civilization known as the Tiwanaku and claimed them to be greater than that which existed in a post-Columbian period. This is important since a Eurocentric conceptualization of the pre-Columbian societies describes them as primitive, so much so that the justification of enslaving the indigenous peoples included descriptions of them as naked, ungodly and primitive, so enslaving them was perceived as a benefit for both parties since they can be Christianised and be introduced to a civilized livelihood.
Ellis goes on to highlight the claim that “The resolution came when the revolution gave power to the workers and peasants.” (Lamming 199) and in his conclusion, Ellis claimed that Jan Carew’s Fulcrums of Change “represents an emphatic rejection of the spirit of the colonies” (199). He desired it to be available for both Latin America and the Commonwealth because it brings about a relevant process of rationalizing “a situation which, in a profound sense, was as old as the conquest” (199). because of the weight it gives to the indigenous presence he claims that it “…dares to specify what it takes to erase the colonial legacy in the Americas”
Ellis’ view seems quite Marxist in his take on the issue of defining the Caribbean. He pushed for the need to eradicate all of the influence, ideology and thoughts on who the people of the Western Hemisphere are. He latched on to José Marti’s ideology and pushed aside any notion of keeping the knowledge and concepts left behind by the imperial powers. The idea of workers gaining power to govern is discussed in Marx’s declaration that the alienated proletariat will rise and overthrow the bourgeoisie. His focus on community mirrors that of socialist and communist ideology. Every perspective has pros and cons attached to them. While re-defining how the people of the western hemisphere view themselves and how they want the world to view them is important. The drastic measures as discussed within Marxist circles are not necessary. Some go as far as wanting to change the term from discovery to re-discovery. This is not so important an issue since although the New World was already inhabited, Columbus did make a new discovery for Europe. The point really is, in defining and re-defining the identity of the Western Hemisphere, instead of becoming ‘thought police’ a focus is needed. Ellis provides the focus as beginning with an appreciating the indigenous peoples of the western Hemisphere.
The former colonies are in most respects independent politically, economically and socially from their former masters in relation to self-governance. However, one must be careful to consider if decolonization really occurred. Or if what happened was merely an exchange of European overseers for Caribbean overseers and a movement from direct to indirect colonization. Regardless of economic ties to the world market for example the role oil and gas industry which drives the economy of The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. The focus of the essay is on how much of the thoughts on who the Caribbean are is still formulated from a colonized perspective. If it can truly be accepted that decolonization did occur then in the development of the identity of the western hemisphere and its people Keith Ellis’ approach in the “Decolonization of the Discovery” is most appropriate.
Ellis, Keith. “Decolonizing the Discovery.” The Enterprise of the Indies.Ed. Lamming, George. Trinidad and Tobago Institute of the West Indies, 1999.198-199.Print.
Farrell, Trevor. “Decolonization in the English-speaking Caribbean: Myth or Reality.” Eds. Henry, Paget and Stone, Carl. Institute for the Study of Human Issues. 1983. 3-12. Print.
Laughlin, J. Laurence. Principles Of Political Economy By John Stuart Mill: Abridged, with Critical, Bibliographical,and Explanatory Notes, and a Sketch of the History of Political Economy. Harvard University. 1885.Print.
On Friday April 8th, I was afforded the opportunity to experience the Department of Creative and Festival Arts’ (DCFA)2016Student Theatre Production: Rashomon. DCFAis renowned for producing Caribbean based plays, so it was quite interesting to see them take on work originating from outside the region.
This is an imaginative play. The objective of the physical setting, lighting and music/sound is here to help create a magical mood-to cast a spell. Therefore ideally, all involved in re-creating and witnessing this world should allow their imaginations and talents the greatest freedom in fashioning something original and artful.”
(Dr Dani Lyndersay)
About the Play:
Rashomon is now perhaps our closing production in this space. A story which simultaneously clarifies and complicates what the audience knows or thinks it has seen, eventually creating a complex and contradictory vision of events that brings into question man’s ability or willingness to perceive and transmit objective truth.” (Dr Dani Lyndersay)
It was a spectacle oriented production, a beautiful work of art. Staging the Production outdoors was an interesting choice, in the open air, the forest setting was quite believable. The music that occupied the space before the play began was soothing and it magically carried me into the world or the play before I could think about it.
Together with the music, the lighting effortlessly allowed me to suspend my disbelief. However, since the actors were not miked, dialogue was lost from time to time due to being so close to the active bus route, and clashes with sounds/ music from the play itself.
Additionally, the set, language, costuming and makeup were effective in representing the differences between the poor and the wealthy in society. The dilapidated wooden “Rashomon Gate” versus the the bold red gate of the Magistrate’s Court, together with the ‘Standard English’ spoken by the higher classes in society versus the ‘creole’ spoken by those from the lower classes; and the Kimonos of the Samurai and his wife versus the “rags” worn by the bandit, the woodcutter, the wigmaker and the monk.
The strongest actor on stage was Rhesa Samuel, who did a superb job at playing Kinume (the Samurai’s wife). Her voice was always clear and she played the various versions of the character well, effectively communicating the various perspectives the characters had of her. Jeron Hackett‘s performance of Tajomaru, the bandit was full of energy and vigor, but I found him lacking range in the use of his voice and his approach to characterization, but I was happy to be able to hear his dialogue at all times.
The acting was generally indicative of students who are learning and growing, so I expect each performance to be one of diligent attempts at crafting and molding their art. The actors were obviously Caribbean people doing a Japanese play, whether this is a good or bad thing I cannot say. Maybe it allows for the Caribbean audience to experience the story and relate to the characters easily. However, this often disrupted my suspension of disbelief because, although the actors were dressed in Japanese clothing, I was not convinced that they were Japanese characters.
Dr Dani Lyndersay was quite successful in crafting the magical experience she set out to create. She utilized spectacle in the form of lighting and sound masterfully in moving the action of the play. The transitions between scenes were filmic, moving almost like the changing of frames in a movie. However, I must question the use of the opening “corpse”dance and the “wisps”. The dance seemed repetitive, hence it lost my interest early on and the lighting of that scene made it difficult to see it clearly. The wisps or spirits of the forest were highly decorated Moko Jumbies whogave life to the forest when the “Medium” summoned the spirit of the dead to witness at the trial. While the costuming was interesting, the wisps seemed to be under-utilized, thereby having little more than aesthetic value.
Rashomon was both an enjoyable and thought provoking experience. The story is intriguing with enough philosophical and psychological overtones to have you on the edge of your seat. A wonderful spectacle, Go See It!
On Friday 9th October 2015, I was afforded the opportunity to see the opening night of Teatro Journee‘s presentation of “Working with P.E.P“. It was more than a show, it was an experience, utilizing other mini performances and engaging activities after the show. Last month a number of local thespians, including myself, were bemoaning the existence of a lackluster two sentence description of the Trinbagonian Theatrical landscape, which we found in a certain ‘tourist guide booklet’. On the contrary, our work is amazing, we need more than two sentences!
The work is reminiscent of Jamaica’s Sistren Theatre Collective and their Documentary Theatre/ Protest theatre, due to graphic dramatization of the lives of those oppressed by our society, done by an all female cast and director. The performance of “Working with P.E.P” was a near perfect example of how to create and maintain the “suspension of disbelief“. We often take for granted that an audience would suspend their disbelief, however it is our job as performer(s) to create and maintain the conditions necessary for the activity. “Working with P.E.P” was well paced, engaging, pore raising, enjoyable and prize worthy.
ABOUT THE PLAY:
“Working with P.E.P” written by local playwright Lisa- Morris Julian tells the stories of three women who work in the Community -based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme otherwise known as C.E.P.E.P.. The play carries us on a journey which highlights the sudden judgements of society because of their chosen career and the class system that enslaves us still today. They are almost invisible to society as they are classed as merely stereotypes. One look at this play and you would see strong, courageous, fearful, fearless women who no longer guard their vulnerability but are now fighting for their voices to be heard” (Teatro Journee).
When the acting is good everything falls into place. Anisty Frederick, Tyker Pionero Giselle and Zoe White worked really well together. White’s performance was nothing short of committed, believable, and entertaining. Frederick’s strong presence and powerful voice captivated you especially when she sang, and Giselle’s performance commendable, though it seemed a bit ‘too much’ at first, it got better as the show progressed.
The lighting worked in perfect unison with the action (if there were errors I didn’t notice), so no complaints there. The costuming was both adequate and detailed. Although the play traversed time, place and memories the three actors were dressed as ‘C.E.P.E.P. workers’ throughout the play. Each character was dressed within the framework of the personal identity of the specific worker. An example of this was the worker who did no work had the newest and cleanest clothing and accessories. In addition to characterization, various pieces of cloth, hand and set properties were used to facilitate the transitions from location, time and with characters. The sound/ sound effects were functional and complemented the play very well, my only complaint is that the initial recorded announcements came on too loudly, but it was fixed almost immediately.
One of my favourite quotes is “You see the hand of the director less when the performance is good, and you see it a lot more when it’s bad” (Dr. L. Efebo Wilkinson).I found myself trying to figure out how much of the performance was done by the hand of the director, how much was the playwright’s vision and how much of it was the actor’s interpretation (s).
Furthermore, the Trinidad Theatre Workshop‘s theatrical space is intimate, but holds a fair amount of difficulty to maneuver to create a performance. This space isn’t your usual proscenium view. The director has to shape the action so that it has to be presented to three different audiences simultaneously or split the action in such a way that you craft what you want specific sections to see. Tafar Chia Lewis accomplished this to a near masterful efficiency.
Crick Crack, Monkey break he back, for a piece a pomerac… In a Trinidad Guardian article on 21 June, 1970 Derek Walcott described Ti-Jean and His Brothers as his most ‘West Indian’ play. Furthermore, he called this play “the least forced, most spontaneous and least laboured [of his plays thus far] both in rhythm and concept”. However, if you attended Monkey Mountain‘s first performance of Ti-Jean on Thursday 28th May 2015 , you would disagree almost entirely. It was the worst performance I have seen in quite some time…it felt and looked like the most amateur of student productions, which is quite surprising since the cast consisted of a significant number of very skilled actors/ performers like Muhammad Muwakil, Tishanna Williams; Kurtis Gross just to name a few. In retrospect it was mostly due to the inefficiency of the technical aspects of the production that made the performance difficult to enjoy. (Hopefully they have improved!)
ABOUT THE PLAY:
Nobel Prize-winning author Derek Walcott explores the power of good versus evil, poor versus wealthy and the search for what defines humanness. This folk tale—told by the animals of the rainforest through dialogue, dance and song—tells the tale of a poor widowed mother, her three sons, and their bargain with the devil.
In relation to structure Walcott intentionally ‘bastardized’ greek drama by fusing it with Caribbean storytelling and other indigenous rituals. Furthermore, he claimed to be following in Aeschylus‘ footsteps, he goes as far as making this proclamation within the play itself:
FROG: Greek-croak, Greek-croak.
CRICKET: Greek-croak, Greek-croak.
FROG: (sneezing) Aeschylus me!
Walcott uses the story of the mother and son and their participation in a game of “Who vex loss” with the Devil to examine the Caribbean’s search for it’s place among the global community of sovereign states. In the book Plays for Today, Errol Hill cites John Simmons’ analysis of the play: “the play exists on several levels…” as a simple folk tale, a metaphysical verse play and a relevant black parable inciting to anti-white revolution. Hill also cites Eric Roach’s view that the three brothers are symbolic of the movement of generations through West Indian History. In essence the play is noted as a representation of the struggle against colonialism with the use of Greek and Caribbean theatrical/ritual/folk forms.
With the ticket prices for this production, you’re set up to expect a flawless show. As a theatre goer, when you see ticket prices over $150.00TT, you expect a lot especially when the evening is started with complimentary wine and beautiful house music that really helped to put you in the mood for something great. In the theatre, the set was colourful and the use of gobos for trees on the side of the walls set the mood for a magical experience, so you ‘suspend your disbelief’… and then it began…
The animals appeared with interesting and beautifully coloured costumes and you tell yourself, “brace yourself for a once in a lifetime experience”… however, after a few minutes you began to think that you never want to experience this again. Mouth Open, Story Jump Out! The first half of the performance was poor and the experience didn’t improve by the second! The music overpowered the dialogue and even when there was no music and the voices were audible, you almost never understood what was said. The only characters whose dialogue were clear and distinguishable were Ti-Jean (Muhammed Muwakil) and Gros-Jean (Kurtis Gross). It was obvious that the cast never worked with the set before since they seemed to be fighting each other for what little space was left after the scaffolding for the orchestra and flats were placed on-stage,the lighting cues were slow and mistimed at times, often leaving stagehands with no other choice but to awkwardly walk on and off a brightly lit stage to change set while there were blackouts for them to do these actions early on in the performance. Additionally, some of the dances seemed forced unto the play.
The best things about the production were the last song and dance before the curtain call and Danielle Lewis’ almost solo curtain call. This performance looked like a dress rehearsal rather than an actual performance.
It is important to note that everyone except Muwakil and Gross seemed to have problems with enunciation or their microphones, therefore for most of the play the audience was left wondering what was actually being said. My main critique of the performance is that there was a lack of clarity in relation to the dialogue, and I am not quite sure whether it was due to vocal techniques or technical issues.
Asha Sheppard: Frog
Sheppard’s characterization was good but I just wish that I actually heard her dialogue. I was only aware of what was being said, because I am relatively familiar with the script. Other than that, it wasn’t a bad job, but there is room for growth especially with combining croaking with dialogue.
Jesus Patterson: Cricket/Goat
There was no clearer indicator that the group never worked in the space with the set or costumes before, than observing this fellow. Cricket’s antennas were so long that they were literally whipping everyone in close proximity to them. However, his control of his body was quite good, and he did really well to compensate for the lack of experience wearing the costume as the play progressed.
Nailah Blackman-Thornhill: Bird
When I recall her performance I think “oh what a nice dancer”…but…other than that, nothing else really comes to mind.
“Work those wings girl!” Parris never let her energy fall, of all the creatures in the forest I remember the firefly most vividly. Simply because she did a really good job in maintaining her character…just wish I heard her dialogue.
Leslie-Ann Lavine: Mother
Lavine’s energy and physicality were ‘on point’, however, I would really have loved to hear her words.
Kurtis Gross: Gros-Jean
I couldn’t imagine a more underwhelming performance from such an experienced actor. It seemed as if he never worked with his hand held prop before, moreover the most belief breaking moment of the play was when he dropped his axe (personal prop) in anticipation for a choreographed ‘dance’ move with the character called ‘Bird’. However, it was nice to actually hear his dialogue.
Nickolai Salcedo: Mi-Jean
I was left wondering if he ever used the fishing net in rehearsal, since while on stage he seemed to not know what to do with it. However, Salcedo brought an energy and commitment to the performance that kept you alert, but I’m not sure if it was enough to help the audience to maintain a suspension of disbelief.
Muhammad Muwakil: Ti-Jean
One of the most experienced actors, with multiple Cacique awards to his name, Muwakil was the easiest actor/character to follow, though the scene where he played drunk left me confused.
Tishanna Williams: Bolom
Admittedly one of my favourite local actresses/actors, I felt disappointed to witness her performance. While her characterization was awesome, it felt unoriginal (Whether this is good or bad, I don’t know)…she seemed to be obviously imitating ‘Smeagol’ from the Lord of the Ring series, both in body and voice. Furthermore, her enunciation was bad, so I am yet to hear a single word she uttered on stage.
Aaron Schneider: Devil/Planter/Old Man:
“A poor ‘Wendell Manwarren’ imitation”, it looked as if he spent more time trying to imitate Manwarren (the character he seemed to be playing was Mr Manwarren rather than the Devil/Planter) than he spent creating his character(s). I heard bits and pieces of his dialogue, but his performance became labouring to look at since it seemed as if he was struggling with remembering his lines. So much so that Muwakil seemed to be attempting to help push the play forward while Schneider seemed to really want to remember his lines.
I once heard Dr. L. Efebo Wilkinson say, “You see the hand of the director less when the performance is good, and you see it a lot more when it’s bad”. Well, I couldn’t help but question the producer’s choice in the Director. Plays aren’t easy to put together, but this was the worst meshing together of ‘moment to moment’ movement that I can recall having witnessed since watching amateur student productions. I felt as if the Director did not understand the structure or the essence of the play, which led to a wide range of decisions based on spectacle/aesthetics rather than moving the play from beat to beat, moment to moment. Moreover, it’s quite possible that most of the flaws which I noted earlier, regarding the use of the stage, showed an inherent lack of understanding of the theater space and what is needed (and not needed) to allow for optimal use of the Little Carib’s intimate setting. This performance is a reminder that despite past achievements, your most current production is most telling, so keep working Christine Johnston, your work not done yet!
Brenda Hughes- Producer (Left), Christine Johnston – Director (Center), Carol LaChapelle- Choreographer (Right) and the Cast of Monkey Mountain’s Ti-Jean and His Brothers
“Entering the ‘gayelle’ is a brave deed, so much so that some individuals ‘braix’ (avoid) the mere thought of a ‘buss-head’. It is good sport to see a warrior bleed, but the possibility of having personal use of the ‘blood-hole’ at the centre of the ring is too much risk for most. On 25 February 2014, our playwriting class at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, was afforded the opportunity by our Lecturer (Award winning playwright and scholar) Tony Hall, to participate in a Kalinda (a stick dance/fight) workshop held by the Bois Academy. This workshop was very enlightening, it revealed some history about the martial tradition known as stickfighting and its place within the Trinbagonian ethnic and socio-political landscape. It also assisted in the discovery of meanings, which could be applied to Trinbagonian life and by extension the theatre.
Spectating at the 2014 Stickfighting finals at Skinners Park was my first real experience of the tradition, which makes the Bois Academy Workshop my second practical contact with the stickfighting tradition. Errol Hill’s The Trinidad Carnival: Mandate for a National theatre, Louis Mc Williams’ postgraduate thesis: “Kalinda/Stickfight- Ritual, Form and Content: Its Implications for Caribbean Theatre“, Eric Roach’s Belle Fanto, Errol Hill’s Man Better Man, and Rawle Gibbons’ I Lawah arereally good places to enter the world of the Boisman. However, all these secondary sources regardless of how informative or captivating, were not able to move the energies within me in the way that the stick fighting finals and the Bois Academy workshop did. The lessons learnt from the workshop can be summed up in the identification of five principles: ‘Doh (don’t) break the circle’, ‘Doh (don’t) Soca the Lavway’, ‘Doh (don’t) back’, ‘Any Boisman (Stickfighter) could Cut any Boisman’ and ‘Doh (don’t) squeeze your own bamsie (buttocks)’. I believe these concepts could be applied to an individual’s lifestyle as well as in the conceptualization of Caribbean theatre.
The word Calinda/Kalinda refers to three performative elements: song, dance, and stickfighting (Mc Williams). The workshop revealed that the Stickfight’s roots lie in both Africa and India and that it is present in various forms throughout the Caribbean and other parts of the post-colonial world. The purpose of this workshop was to help the playwriting class discover value in the uncovering of the histories, meanings and applications of the Calinda in the writing of plays. The workshop was successful in raising my interest in the tradition, it also spurred me into exploring how the ritual could surface in my own writing about Trinbagonian society, both with and without having my characters become actual stickfighters.
In addition to affirming that I am neither skilled at dancing nor am I particularly good at learning through observation, four commands and one warning given during the workshop remained with me. The workshop demanded that we form a gayelle (circle) as the space wherein the Calinda exists. ‘Doh Break the Circle’, this principle refers to more than shape of the congregation. Further to keeping the physical shape of the gayelle, this command referred to keeping our energies and attention focussed into the happenings of the gayelle. This lent to my understanding of Calinda as a ‘community activity’.
The gayelle that was formed called for us to look inwards towards the centre of the circle where we could see each other, rather than facing outwards with our backs to each other. This allowed for the energies to be focused and contained within the group, as opposed to be being dispersed away from the activity. For the activity to remain alive it is necessary for the both body and mind to be engaged. This led me to contemplate the significance of participating in an activity without ‘self’ alone in mind. It led to the discovery of a happiness which emerges from being a part of something bigger or beyond my own selfish existence. Whether it was through clapping, singing or dancing the energies need to flow freely, therefore maintaining the circle is important for the activity to exist in its purest form.
Even though death could be the result of a stickfight, the gayelle became a space where a collective could release and share its energies in a way that would only be possible in sacred settings. This space exists without master or slave, boss or employee, husband or wife, boy or girl – only men/women with their bois (stick) – with equal opportunity to dance, sing and exchange blows as beautifully as possible.
Stickfighting is however, primarily a male activity, although women do become part of the gayelle as well (Mc Williams). Moreover, the idea of the circle stood out for me since it is associated with unity, equality, wholeness, and infinity. Circles have no beginning nor end, its features are absent of sides or corners and it is often seen as a protective symbol. The structure of the space for the Calinda presents a space where a people could commune with each other beyond the superficiality of ‘hellos’ and ‘how you doing’? Therefore, by not breaking the circle we are keeping the communion with each other alive, and we make it easier to empathise with each other. Thereby creating a closer knit community and by extension society. I see the circle as representative of a healthy society.
“Doh Soca the Lavway”, this principle refers to keeping the original form of the song. This lends to an idea of appreciating and preserving traditions for what they are and the meanings they carry. Additionally, some lavways are sung with a mournful tone which carries with it the call for strength from both the stickfighter and his family in accepting the possible outcome of a fight, an example of this is the lavway:
Yuh son in the grave a’ready
Yuh son in the grave a’ready
Take a towel and ban yuh belly!
Yuh son in the grave a’ready
Yuh son in the grave a’ready
Take a towel and ban yuh belly!
Although some lavways are supported with a more pulsing tempo, which is used together with the rhythm of the drums to release the energies of the fighters as they exchange blows, ‘Soca the lavway’ refers to changing the structure of the song to a contemporary happy-go-lucky rhythm that does not embody or have relevance to its original meanings. This concept extends beyond the ideas of applying a style of singing to a stage performance, it asks for an understanding of histories and their meanings instead of thoughtlessly imposing perceptions onto it.
The third principle discovered in this workshop is, ‘Doh Back’. If a stick fighter enters the gayelle without determination, especially against a more skilled opponent – his indecision could cost him much more than a finger or an eye. Likewise, in life we can cause a number of problems for ourselves and others if we consciously refuse to take responsibility for our actions. Moreover, indecision could cost the lives of people. If perchance your profession is that of a medical doctor, backing from your job can result in the loss of life. More importantly, the inability to take responsibility for your actions could cause pain for yourself and others. This concept calls for the ability to respect the decisions you make and having the courage to follow through with these decisions while also taking responsibility for your actions. This principle could be used to build and resolve tensions between characters in a play.
The fourth principle is ‘Any Boisman could Cut any Boisman’, this means that one should not underestimate or disrespect his opponent or fellow boisman. No matter how skilled you are or how much skill the other person lacks anyone could be injured during a contest of strength, will, skill and spirit. This principle calls for mutual respect, it reminds us of the golden rule or ethic of reciprocity (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you). Discussing this virtue in relation to our everyday lives is redundant. However, in relation to the theatre, if Augusto Boal’s interpretation of Aristotle’s declaration that “art imitates nature” (Art shows what nature ‘should be’ rather than ‘what it is’) is to be accepted, then this principle helps the playwright to promote the virtue of mutual respect between characters and by extension individuals within society.
The fifth and final principle is “doh squeeze your own bamsie”, this concept brings to the fore the issue of self-praise. In Trinidad as a people we have a tendency to inflate our own egos, especially at the cost of others. Additionally, we have an inclination to make ourselves appear greater than we really are. Whether it be through lying about negative results of an exam or simply deceiving others into thinking we are better than them. Regardless of the intention, feeding one’s own ego, carries with it meanings which denote ideas of superiority and seeing others as inferior. Therefore, it is not an activity that should be condoned; it is destructive and can lead to our own downfall. Self-praise is different from self-confidence, it is really the opposite, since self-confidence does not connote meanings of superiority of self, while simultaneously promoting negative perceptions of others.
Therefore, the value of the workshop lies in the discovery of the five principles: ‘Doh break the circle’, ‘Doh Soca the Lavway’, ‘Doh Back’, ‘Any Boisman could cut any Boisman’ and ‘Doh squeeze your own Bamsie’. These concepts can be applied beyond the context of the Calinda and everyday life. They can be used in the analysis of, and in the creation of Trinbagonian and by extension Caribbean theatre.
‘Caribbean intellectuals have continuously theorized and given meaning to the experiences and prospects of living in/as a region.’ Discussion on Benitez Rojo’s introduction to The Repeating Island.
Several Caribbean and non-Caribbean intellectuals have established a determined and cognizant effort to redefine the very notion of ‘Caribbeanness’. Benítez-Rojo in the introduction to his book named The Repeating Island, attempted to redefine the Caribbean by drawing on several fields of study including cultural anthropology, economics, history, literary theory, psychoanalysis, nonlinear mathematics, and sociology. He suggested that the ‘time has come for postindustrial society to conduct a rereading of the Caribbean.’ He asserts that the Caribbean basin is one of the least known regions of the modern world in the discourse of the Social Sciences. He suggested therefore, that this rereading begin with a look at chaos theory and its relevance to the Caribbean as a complex space. Benítez-Rojo argues that within the apparent disorder of the Caribbean the area’s discontinuous landmasses, its different colonial histories, languages, ethnic groups, politics, and traditions there emerges an ‘island’ of paradoxes that ‘repeats’ itself and gives shape to an unexpected and complex sociocultural archipelago. This is important since scholars often judged the region with the framework of preconceived notions, and based their analysis on models that are arguably applicable only in Europe.
It is noteworthy that Benítez-Rojo’s approach in interdisciplinary, since in defining the Caribbean one would meet several stumbling blocks, “this region where boundaries are notoriously fuzzy…neither center or periphery.” (Trouillot 19) In terms of Wallerstein’s world systems theory it does not fit the theory. It is neither centre, nor semi-periphery or periphery with “The swift genocide of the aboriginal populations, the early integration of the region into the international circuit of capital, the forced migrations of enslaved African and indentured laborers, and the abolition of slavery by emancipation or revolution, the Caribbean would not conform within the emerging divisions of Western Academia” (Trouillot 21).
Another reason defining the Caribbean is difficult is because definitions of the Caribbean are always contested. For some people the Caribbean includes parts of the Americas, for others it is largely defined as the island Caribbean. For others it is about language, the Spanish speaking Caribbean, the Dutch speaking Caribbean, the French speaking Caribbean and the English-speaking Caribbean, some view it as somewhere to go on holiday, palm trees and white sandy beaches. Benítez-Rojo claimed that the main obstacles to any global study of Caribbean society are the things scholars cite as evidence to define the area: The region’s fragmentation, instability, reciprocal isolation, uprootedness, syncretism and so forth. As well as the habit of defining the Caribbean in terms of its resistance to different methods which served them in the analysis of European society.
He also postulates that this designation of Caribbeanness might serve a foreign purpose-the great powers’ need to recodify the world’s territory better to know, to dominate it-as well as a local one, self-referential, directed toward fixing the furtive image of collective Being. Whatever its motive, this urge to systematize the region’s political, economic, social, and anthropological dynamics is a very recent thing. (Benítez-Rojo 1) Chimamanda Adichie in a lecture on “The danger of a single story” stated that, “our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories.” In the lecture she tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.” Hence Benítez-Rojo’s interdisciplinary approach is a commendable effort.
The body of the introduction to The Repeating Island Benítez-Rojo discusses four ideas which he used to describe the Caribbean experience. These ideas examined from what he called Columbus’ machine to the sugar-making machine, from the apocalypse to chaos, from rhythm to polyrhythm, and from literature to carnival. He gave the Caribbean the label of ‘meta-archipelago’ and justified it with the references to the role the Caribbean played in Europe’s movement from Mechantalist Revolution to its Industrial Revolution. He likened Columbus’ machine to that of a ‘bricolage’, a ‘medieval vacuum cleaner’. “The flow of nature on the island was interrupted by the suction of an iron mouth, taken thence through a transatlantic tube to be deposited and redistributed in Spain.” (Benítez-Rojo 5) This machine produced gold, silver, pearls and many more precious stones.
He went on to discuss Pedro Menéndez de Avilés’ machine which was a combination of many machines. The ‘flota’ (fleet) a convoy system which was made up of a mixture of cargo ships, warships and light craft for convoys. This meant that all trade was now supported by this system to ward off efficiency issues with delivery of goods including that of piracy and privateering. From here he went on to discuss the movement to a more efficient machine which he called the ‘plantation’. This machine in particular “repeats itself continuously” (Benítez-Rojo 8) The point of his examination of these machines was to enforce the idea of the Caribbean as a meta-archipelago and to introduce the idea of the Caribbean as a ‘historico-economic sea’.
In defining of the Caribbean in the discussion of ‘apocalypse to chaos’ Benítez-Rojo stated that, “the Caribbean is the natural and indispensable realm of marine currents, of waves, of folds and double folds, of fluidity and sinuosity.” (Benítez-Rojo 11) Peter Minshall the great masman in a lecture at the University of The West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, said: “the islands have the license to me magical”. He also looks at the mystic in his attempt at defining Caribbean culture. He spoke of ‘supersyncretism’ and the people as being a “certain kind of way” who can conjure away the doom of apocalypse of the Cuban nuclear crisis with merely by being a “certain kind of way” which is something remote that reproduces itself and carries the desire to sublimates apocalypse and violence, which separates the onlooker from the participant. (Benítez-Rojo 16) Beyond the mentality of the people he discussed the formation of this culture or the Caribbean cuture and the chaos one would meet in determining the logistics of how it has come to be.
In discussing his point on rhythm to polyrhythm, he defined the Caribbean rhythm as a
metarhythm arrived at through signs like that of dance, music, language and so forth. It is a polyrhythm which presupposed a central rhythm. He gave importance to the use of improvisation and locates the aesthetic experience of the Caribbean people within the framework of rituals and representations of a collective, ahistoriacal and improvisary nature. He concludes this point by highlighting the role polyrhythm could play in the development of Caribbean people in areas like music, song, dance and even boxing.
All Benitez-Rojo’s arguments are related, and the ideas of the machine, chaos, polyrhythm, improvisation and being a “certain kind of way” comes together in his discussion on ‘From Literature to Carnival’. He argued that Literature is one of the most exhibitionist expressions of the world. He relates the relationship between the performer and the text and the way that a reader makes a text his own. He exams the authenticity of the existence of a Caribbean Literature. He mentioned the multi-ethnic nature of Caribbean literature as a representation of the society on which it floats, which has no choice but to speak of its fragmentation and instability. The impossibility to find a stable identity means that the Caribbean text must transcend, must avail it self of previous models. He also spoke of the Caribbean person as unable to keep the text to himself and as a consummate performer uses Carnival as the avenue to express Caribbean literature.
A rereading of the Caribbean is definitely necessary for post industrial society. Benitez-Rojo does not out rightly define the Caribbean but discusses avenues and processes which can be explored in the attempt to define Caribbean. He proposed a rereading and planted the seeds that can be used to as a point of departure. He highlighted the variety and chaos that results from merely being Caribbean and introduces points of focus which were never before discussed in the ways that he placed his arguments. This reading therefore, is a significant place to began a rereading of the Caribbean.
Adichie, Chimamanda N. “The Danger of a Single Story.” TEDTalks. 29 July 2009. Lecture.
Benitez-Rojo, Antonio. The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and Post-Modern Perspective. Durham: Duke Unversity Press, 1992.Print.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks, Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press, 1967.Print.
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. “The Caribbean Region:An Open Frontier in Anthropological Theory.” Annual Review of Anthropology, 21(1):19. Annual Review Inc, Oct. 1992. Web. 26 Apr. 2013.
“THE INSPECTOR” (2016) written by Simeon Chris Moodoo and produced by Naparima College for the Secondary Schools’ Drama Festival. Where he won the The Victor Edwards Award for Directing; The Zeno Constance Award For Most Original Script; The James Leewah Award for Outstanding Production. In total, the Cast and Crew collected nine (9) special awards.
“MANIACS” (2012) written by Victor Edwards and produced for the purposed of the “Festival of Scenes” at The Department of the Creative and Festival Arts, at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad.
“THE INSPECTOR” written and performed between October to November, 2016, for the Secondary Schools’ Drama Festival 2016, where it won nine (9) special awards, Inclusive of The Zeno Constance Award For Most Original Script.
“UNDER THE MANGO TREES written initially for the purposes of the playwriting course at UWI, it was then produced by Halqa Productions in November, 2014. It has then been re-written in 2016.
Played: Father & Pundit in Ayinde’s Chalkboard’s ” THE DOLLS’ HOUSE” (2015), written and directed by Jabari Tait and Kaithlyn De Gazon.
Played: Pa Joe in “WE STORIES” (2015), written and directed by Iezora Edwards, in part fullfilment of her Phd in Cultural Studies.
Played: Moonia in “SUNDAR” (2015), written and directed by Victor Edwards and produced by Iere Theatre Productions Ltd.
Played: Christian & Prakish in “MORE LOVE” (2014), written by Wendell Manwarren and Penelope Spencer, directed by Wendell Manwarren and produced by 3 Canal.
Played: The Commissioner in “LYSISTRATA” (2013), written by Aristophanes and directed by Candace Sturge-Dunbar at the New Directors’ Forum, hosted by The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus.
Played: Gokool in “FREEDOM ROAD” (2013), written by Willi Chen and directed by Belinda Barnes, produced by the Academy for the Performing Arts (APA) of The University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT).
Played: Chama in “MARIA ANTONIA” (2013), a 1967 Cuban classic written by Eugenio Hernandez Espinosa, translated and directed by Dr. Jorge Morejon, produced by the Department of the Creative and Festival Arts, at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad.
THEATRE (PRODUCTION /STAGE MANAGEMENT)
Production /Stage Manager of the BV Theatre Project’s “BITTER CASSAVA” (September 2016), written and directed by Dr. Lester Efebo Wilkinson.
Assistant Production /Stage Manager of the BV Theatre Project’s “BITTER CASSAVA” (June 2016), written and directed by Dr. Lester Efebo Wilkinson.
Stage Manager of “TWIGHLIGHT CAFÉ” (2015) written by Tony Hall and directed by Antonia Thomas for the New Directors’ Forum, hosted by The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus.
Production Manager of “UNDER THE MANGO TREES” (2014), wriiten by Simeon Chris Moodoo and directed by Marcus Waldron. Produced by HALQA PRODUCTIONS.
Point Fortin West Secondary, Naparima College, The BV Theatre Project, Halqa Productions, 3 Canal, Iere Theatre Productions Limited, Playwrights Workshop Trinbago, Arts in Action, Playwrights’ Circle – UWI 2014, Defense Lab, Bois Academy, and Map Brule Players.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING
DIRECTORS’ WORKSHOP | COMPLETED 2016 | SECONDARY SCHOOLS’ DRAMA ASSOCIATION.
The workshop was geared towards drama/theatre arts teachers needing refresher courses specific to Directing, Playwriting and Improvisation.
Facilitators: Kurtis Gross and DMAD Company.
TEACHERS TRAINING WORKSHOP | COMPLETED 2015 | THE TRINIDAD THEATRE WORKSHOP, BELMONT.
For theatre and film practitioners and actors interested in passing on their craft, as well as educators interested in learning to use the dramatic arts to expand their teaching methods.
Related coursework: Teaching Acting through Text, Emotion and Movement.
THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES, DEPARTMENT OF CREATIVE AND FESTIVAL ARTS, ST. AUGUSTINE CAMPUS TRINIDAD.
BA THEATRE (First Class Honours) – July 2014
Studies include: Playwriting, Directing, Caribbean and European Performance Theory, Caribbean Drama, Western Theatre History, Modern Theatre, Asian and African Theatre, Theory and Practice of Educative Theatre/ Community Drama/ Street Theatre, Caribbean Festivals, Drama and Society, Theatre Production and Contemporary Theatre.
Belinda Barnes (Assistant Professor in Acting at The University of Trinidad and Tobago, Academy for the Performing Arts and Interim Director at National Theatre Arts Company of Trinidad and Tobago) | email@example.com (Email)
Dr. Lester Efebo Wilkinson (Lecturer at The University of the West Indies, Creative and Festival Arts, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad) | firstname.lastname@example.org (Email)
Dr. Dani Lindersay (Lecturer at The University of The West Indies, Creative and Festival Arts, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad) | email@example.com (Email)
Proscenium Theatre Company’s “Moon on a Rainbow Shawl“ is a must see! I was initially hesitant to view this production; during my theatre programme at UWI DCFA, I spent an entire semester interpreting and viewing various interpretations of every scene, so I know it relatively well and was conscious that I may be predisposed to my own bias. Still, I attended their opening night performance on Thursday 11th June 2015 at the Little Carib Theatre and while It was not a perfect show, it was an enjoyable performance and I imagine that it can only get better. There were amazing, emotionally captivating moments that had you on the edge of your seat, but there were also those that left you wishing that more was done. Incidentally, there were aspects of the performance that made it easy to ‘suspend your disbelief’ and there were aspects that made it more difficult to remain in the world of theplay.
• Karian Forde as “Rosa” • Jordan Penco-Marshall as “Esther” • Glenn Davis as “Old Mack” • Cecilia Salazar as “Sophia” • Zion Henry as “Young Murray” • Keino S. Swamber as “Ketch” • Kemlon Nero as “Mavis” • Gervon Bj Abraham as “Prince” • Stefan Simmons as “Charlie” • Andrew Hall as “Ephraim” • Stephen Hadeed Jr. as the “American Soldier” • Charles Reid. as the “American Sailor”
ABOUT THE PLAY:
“…John’s play shows us a world of limited opportunities and economic hardship. His setting is a rundown backyard owned by a dandified lech, Old Mack, who likes to enjoy seigneurial rights over the female occupants. The main focus, however, is on two of the male tenants. Ephraim is a trolleybus driver who plans to escape to England in spite of the demands of his girlfriend, Rosa. Meanwhile his neighbour Charlie, a former fast bowler who was a victim of the snobberies of pre-war West Indian cricket, is a hopeless dreamer heavily dependent on his truculent, seamstress wife…”
Proscenium Theatre Company could not have found a better actor/actress to play “Sophia”, veteran Cecilia Salazar had a refreshing presence, whenever the energy of the play was beginning to wane her presence resuscitated it and brought renewed life to the action. UTT’s Academy for the Performing Arts should be proud of its graduates, Karian Forde and Kemlon Nero. Forde did justice to “Rosa”, so much so that I expect that she is going to be a ‘much in demand’ actress in the near future (if she isn’t already). Nero (one of my favourite upcoming actresses/actors) was a crowd pleaser, but I felt as if it was not her best work. Stefan Simmons‘ characterization of “Charlie” was well done, his voice was pleasing to hear, but he mumbled his lines from time to time (something to work on). Keino S. Swamber‘s performance of “Ketch” was delightful, I couldn’t think of a better way to play the character. Visually Andrew Hall made a very interesting “Ephraim” but I felt as if I needed more from him in relation to an understanding of motivation for action. If he accomplishes this the play will improve significantly. Finally, the other actors did well, I only wish that “Esther’s” speech was a little less eloquent, and more indicative of one born to the barrack-yard.
The lighting worked well, but the costuming was not always period specific, with the exception of “Sophia” and I had issues with that. For impoverished people struggling to survive and living in a ‘barrack-yard’ they possessed some ‘pretty nice clothes’ and shoes (maybe some aging is necessary), and I wished thatthemore ofthe ‘vocal’ sound effects were live rather than pre-recorded, but other than these issues the technical aspects were ‘suspension of disbelief’ worthy.
While the director put together a good ‘moment to moment’ movement of the action, I have a few critiques to express in relation to Mervyn de Goeas‘ interpretation of “Moon on a Rainbow Shawl”. Firstly, I am not yet convinced that playing Mavis’ scenes farcically was the right choice, I thought that those scenes were too contrasting from the realism that drove the rest of the play. Those scenes could have still been comical without obviously playing for laughs. Additionally, a bit more work might be needed to make the tensions that usually exists in a barrack-yard setting become more visible. However, the work is ‘good’ and shows potential to be ‘great’ by the last run.
Moon on a Rainbow Shawl continues at the Little Carib Theatre
• Thurs. 11th -Sat. 13th at 8pm • Sun. 14th at 5pm