Cooke hailed as giant

BY BRIAN BONITTO
Associate Editor —
Auto & Entertainment
bonittob@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, February 23, 2019

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JAMAICA'S theatre fraternity is still reeling from the untimely passing of renowned playwright/director/producer/actor Aston Cooke.

Details on Cooke's cause of death were not ascertained. However, he was found dead in his St Andrew home yesterday. He is believed to be in his late 50s.

Playwright/director/producer/actor David Tulloch described Cooke's passing was “a major loss” to Jamaica's arts community.

“He was not only a playwright, he was a producer, actor, and director. He founded the Jamaica Youth Theatre (JYT) and that has moulded a lot of great talent...his passing has hit me suddenly,” Tulloch told the Jamaica Observer.

Founded in 2004, JYT comprises young thespians from across the island recruited from the annual Caribbean Secondary Schools' Drama Festival. JYT creates theatre targeting young people as a means of social change, with a commitment to using Jamaican indigenous forms and popular culture to engage its audience.

Tulloch, who has several Actor Boy Awards (ABA) to his credit, said his introduction to theatre is attributed to Cooke.

“He put me in theatre at six years old. He cast me in the play Snow White. While I was attending Wolmer's (Boy's) our paths crossed again, as he was there for me again. He was my mentor,” said Tulloch, whose play Not My Child won five ABAs in 2017.

Tulloch said he had the privilege of working with Cooke on several projects.

“I directed Internal Affairs for him, and for the 2016 Actor Boy Awards I co-produced it with him and Weston Haughton,” he said.

The Actor Boy Awards recognises excellence in local theatre.

Tulloch said he last spoke to his mentor last week.

“I called him to congratulate him, as three of his plays are being done by three different overseas producers. These are Single Entry, Country Duppy and Concubine. He said: 'Thank you'.

“When I think of him, I just think about greatness. He was a good person.”

Olivia “Babsy” Grange, minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport, said his passing was a “big blow”.

“Our culture was his life. He displayed a level of commitment to his culture that must be emulated and admired,” said Grange.

Cooke, a former chairman of the Commissioners of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission,was hailed by current Chairperson Mexine Bissasor.

“Aston Cooke was a quiet giant who contributed to Jamaica's culture, and specifically theatre, without fuss or clamour. He did what he felt was his duty to country and culture, regardless of any hindrances,” she said.

“His legacy is one that speaks to love, passion and honour. His deep love for the artform saw him being a part of all the veins of the heart of the industry. He has served the commission three different times up to the day of his death; he also served at its highest level, having been chairman for the period 2013-2016.”

Cooke, co-franchise holder of the Miss Jamaica World pagent, had nine national Actor Boy Awards to his credit.


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