All Woman

Dahlia Harris' evolution

By NADINE WILSON All Woman writer wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, February 13, 2012    

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YOU could easily say she has nine lives, but Dahlia Harris will probably tell you she just has a firm belief in maximising her potential. The former festival queen transitions from being an actress, playwright, director and producer to a television personality, public relations consultant, student and friend fairly easily.

"The key is time management and being able to separate each job for what it is. I never bring theatre to TV and I never bring TV to the theatre, I always try to make sure that I give every job the kind of focus that it needs," she said.

"Even at the theatre, I have to separate Dahlia the actress from Dahlia the producer, from Dahlia the director from Dahlia the writer," she noted.

Her latest venture has seen her writing her own plays. In just one year, she has managed to put out three which have generated quite a lot of interest.

"A lot of it is just inspired by real life. I will sit and talk with people or I would come upon situations that I think cause me to stop and think about the way I do things or the way life is and I just feel compelled to share it," she said when asked what inspired her to pen her scripts.

The first play Judgment which opened in December 2010, evaluates friendships and highlights the consequences of bad decisions. Her second play, God's Way, was her foray into Christian theatre and explored the value of faith in God.

Her most recent play Back-A-Yaad opened last December and is aimed at providing a bit of comic relief for her audience.

Although Harris doesn't have a personal favourite, she admits that God's Way has elicited the most reaction from the patrons who supported the play in droves.

"People cursed, they cried. When we did the show at Ranny Williams, people were speaking in tongues and getting into spirit," she said.

But the actor doesn't mind this reaction.

"I did it to kind of fill the need of the church, because there are people who go to church who love theatre, but they don't go because they are not comfortable with some of the content, so I created that play specifically for them," she said.

Harris said she tries to vary the themes within her plays, however, she has been forced to contend with the fact that she has not always managed to do so 100 per cent of the time.

"I think as a female writer, I think maybe one of the things that I have done unconsciously — because I wouldn't say I've gone out of my way to do it — is to capture the things that women do and say and why they do it. There are a lot of characters in my plays that women have said to me, 'yeah man ah same way my girlfriend would say'," she pointed out.

She said, too, that she generally strives to bring out the "raw and the real".

"I don't try to pretty up anything or sanitise anything, I give it to you the way that it is," the actress said in her deep throaty tone that viewers have grown accustomed to over the years.

But being so involved does come at a cost, and Harris was readily able to identify the price she had to pay for her current success.

"I have no social life," she said.

Having taken part and directed several plays, it was not challenging for her colleagues to accept her as the talented playwright she is, but she said finances is a major challenge as a play usually takes a period of time before breaking even.

Harris is not daunted, however. Instead, she is determined to continue to make an impact on the theatrical scene in Jamaica, much as those who have set the stage for her such as her mentor Miss Lou.

"Now we have the benefit of more exposure as it relates to Literature, but in her time, to be able to use the language of the masses and to communicate some of the complex things that she did and even though the work seemed simple, the writing of it was in fact a very complex thing," she said.

Harris is currently pursuing a Masters of Philosophy in English at the University of West Indies, Mona, and while she is sometimes sidetracked, she is bent on completing it soon. That aside, the only other role left for her is to start her family.

"I thought I would have already had one. Certainly for me, I am not getting any younger, so hopefully it is sooner than later," she said.

"I approach it like everything else, I have to plan it out, make sure everything is in place and is being done properly. So by early next year," she said.

She also wants to venture into singing, hopefully producing an album and also to establish a heritage foundation in Portmore, St Catherine.

"For me, the thing is to try to utilise all the skills that I have. I like to push the envelope and to see just how far I can go or what the things that I can do are," she said.

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