Arts & Culture

Theatre practitioners share secrets

By Richard Johnson
Observer senior reporter

Sunday, October 29, 2017

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'A Successful Career in Theatre' was at the heart of a special panel discussion to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of Jamaican stage and screen luminary the late Ranny Williams, more popularly known as Maas Ran.

Held at the Little Theatre in St Andrew last Thursday, the event brought together six renowned theatre practitioners, writer Paul O Beale, actor Oliver Samuels, and writers/directors Fabian Thomas, Patrick Brown, Dr Brian Heap and Michael Holgate, to discuss their personal ideas of success in local theatre as well as share pathways to achieve optimal results in the industry.

For Holgate, his map to success involved seeking mentors to guide him through the maze of the theatre world. He named personalities such as Joseph Robinson, Cathy Levy, Paulette Bellamy, Earl Warner and Brian Heap, all of whom he said were able to offer him pearls of wisdom throughout his career and be the sounding board he needed at critical moments.

However, he stressed that theatre producers must define the business model they are willing to undertake to get their product to market and be sustainable.

“There are a few models which are operating in Jamaica right now. There is the Jambiz producers model and they pride themselves on being the foremost theatre house in Jamaica. The truth is they have a show that is running almost every single night of the week — from Tuesday to Sunday. And that is success. If you go there, the theatre is full. A lot of the times that has to do with selling a benefit wherein you sell the house to a church, school or organisation and they are responsible for selling tickets... it is a model that works.

“Ashe has a model that is community-driven. It involves selling your products and services to donor organisations who will then become your primary facilitator as you go into communities and various spaces to work with the youth, assisting disenfranchised youth, vulnerable youth, vulnerable populations — but all this is paid for by an organisation,” he continued.

Holgate also pointed to the philanthropic model, as practised by Father Ho Lung and Friends, as another type being used here in Jamaica. This, he said, taps into the spirit of giving and works well.

There is also the roots theatre model, with Shebada for example. Shebada is a brand, not just in Jamaica, and when he travels overseas the spaces are packed . There are various models working in Jamaica at this time. It is for us to tap into them and expand them not only as writers, producers and creative artists, but also on a policy level, said Holgate.

Heap, however, noted that work must be done to not only develop these models, but make them sustainable.

“A lot of the theatre abroad — United States, United Kingdom and Europe — is heavily subsidised by government, they dont just rely on box office. We need to pay attention to the economics of theatre . Look at a production like Wicked on Broadway, the investment that was needed for that show. It had to play in a theatre with 2,500 seats, eight shows per week for two years, to break even. We need to pay attention to the costs and outlays versus the receipts,” said Heap.




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