Theatre is my therapy


Theatre is my therapy

Sakina Deer uses theatre to deal with her own depression

Observer senior reporter

Sunday, May 24, 2020

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Sakina Deer likes keeping herself busy. Many recognise her as an actress from her countless characters on the local theatre stage, as well as in film. For others it's her face on local television as a presenter for ER (Entertainment Report) as well as the morning magazine programme Weekend Smile on Television Jamaica on a Saturday. But Deer also fancies herself a singer, make-up artist, as well as perhaps what is her most important role, that of mother.

However, COVID-19 and its implications have forced her into a more relaxed pace, and in the midst of the lockdown, which has directly had an impact on theatre, she still manages to have incredible moments.

Two weeks ago Deer copped her second Actor Boy Award, winning in the category Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her brilliant portrayal of Shonda, the off-the-wall character in Patrick Brown's comedy Straight Jacket.

She won her first Actor Boy in the same category back in 2014 as Etta in If There's A Will There's A Wife.

She noted that the two wins are for characters that truly stretched her to abilities she did not know she had.

“Oh boy, Shonda took me to places, she stretched me in the same way that Etta did. So I've realised that it is the characters that take me past my limits that I win awards for, which is great. I was very happy that in playing Shonda I had the opportunity to shed light on the topic of mental illness. Yes, it was done with humour, but sometimes we have to do that with a serious topic in order to make it easier for audiences to swallow. A heavy topic done in a strict, mundane way can be difficult for the public,” she said.

What audiences didn't realise was that the Shonda character also struck a personal chord with Deer. She revealed to the Jamaica Observer that she has struggled with depression over the years, and therefore bringing mental illness to the fore in theatre is playing her part to defang the stigma attached to similar conditions.

“My depression is not something new for me, I've dealt with it ever since I was a teenager. It is something many Jamaicans have been encouraged to keep under wraps and just deal with without sharing. For me, sharing helps the other person who may be experiencing something similar realise that they are not alone. Working on Shonda resulted in me digging past a lot of the stigma and really becoming open and raw. I had to do this every night. It was certainly a unique experience, but it was difficult because I had to work so hard to shake the character at the end of the night only to have to do it all over again next performance.”

“But what the character taught me was that everybody struggles in one way or the other. You just have to find ways to cope. For Shonda it was leaning on this family. In this time of COVID-19 there are so many people who are struggling; trying to deal with confinement, the lack of personal interaction, loss of income. We have to ensure that we do whatever we can to be there for those who need help,” she shared.

In her own moments of need Deer finds therapy in the theatre and draws comfort in a tight circle of friends and family.

“Theatre is the escape. I get to become a whole other person. It is cathartic. There is supportive group of people who I know I can rely on. They fit into different tiers and each has their own specific level of support that they provide. My partner is so amazing. He is understanding and supportive. Then there is my daughter, who can quickly bring me back to centre.”

In 2016 Deer made her film début in Dope Fiend, a feature shot in the United States. Ever since she has longed for more work in this medium. It has been a slow burn in this area, but things are looking up.

“Ever since that first taste of working on film I was like, 'Yeah... mi like dis.' I had the opportunity to work on Storm Saulter's Sprinter and that was great. Then recently, in November last year, I did a short film Grace love in three Acts, which was another fantastic experience.”

Grace love in three Acts is executive produced by Emmy Award winner Lena Waithe, and Deer plays the younger self of the female lead. Co-directed by Joshua Kissi and Leah Natasha Thomas, who both have Jamaican connections, the short tells the story of a woman who leaves her children in Jamaica to go to the United States in search of a better life. A string of events forces her to return home and she is faced with a whole set of challenges.

“The idea is to develop this from a short into a feature-length film, and I would really love to be part of that. I am so grateful when these opportunities come my way. A nuff talent out deh, so when I get chosen I have no choice but to give thanks,” noted Deer.

She makes no bones of the fact that she is a big dreamer, so when asked where she would want her career to take her... Hollywood, Broadway, Emmy?... it is not surprising that Deer wants it all.

“EGOT (winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) why not get all of them. I want to be an EGOT, baby,” she declared amidst peals of laughter.

“One is not enough. I'm a firm believer that if you aim for the stars, should you miss, you will be among the clouds, so I never limit my dreams. If it is out there I am going after it. I am not going to rest on my laurels, I will work for it, but I definitely believe in dreaming big.”

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