Gloudon explains continued involvement in pantomime

Veteran writer addresses criticisms, tells why production focuses on Jamaican folklore

BY VERNON DAVIDSON Executive editor publications

Saturday, December 26, 2015

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Put it down to fate that Barbara Gloudon would start writing scripts for the annual pantomime staged by Little Theatre Movement (LTM).

Only that can explain why Greta Fowler, who with her husband Henry founded the LTM in 1941, challenged the then young
Gleaner reporter Barbara Goodison to write a script.

Fowler, like legendary
Gleaner Editor Theodore Sealy, had seen in the young reporter a talent for capturing and relaying to readers the magic and intricate details of theatre.

After all, she had mastered the beat by not merely sitting in the audience and reporting on the happenings on the boards, but by going backstage and getting to know the cast, crew and producers.

The quality of her work led to her being invited by the British Government to travel to England and cover, for almost a month, a revolution of sorts in the arts.

Gloudon recalls that on her return to Jamaica she continued working the arts beat, getting to know more people in the business and capturing the imagination of the pubic and individuals in the sector.

In July 1969, the United States etched its name in the book of human history with one of the world’s greatest achievements ever. It landed a man on the moon.

The epic accomplishment left people wide-eyed and O-mouthed and won the Americans global admiration and respect.

Maybe here in Jamaica Fowler was moved by that achievement to take the pantomime to another level. We may never know. However, the woman who was known for her great love of the arts threw open the challenge to the young writer, setting her on a path that she has trod since then.

"Mrs Fowler called me and said to me, ‘You have a clear talent for theatre, but yet you’re not doing theatre. I am going to give you a challenge — you’re going to do your first pantomime; you choose what you want to do’," Gloudon recalled in an interview with the
Jamaica Observer last week.

"I decided to land a man on the moon, because the Americans had just done it," she continued.

The result was
Moonshine Anancy, in which Gloudon explained legendary Jamaican actress and folklorist Louise Bennett-Coverley, better known as ‘Miss Lou’, played a policewoman.

Also featured was another legendary Jamaican actor, Ranny Williams, who at the time collaborated with Miss Lou to inject Jamaican culture into the pantomime.

Before that, Gloudon recalled, the production was more British. Williams, having been associated with Marcus Garvey, and Miss Lou, who had recently returned from studies in England, were a bit disturbed that the cast was always pale-skinned.

"It was not like they were quarrelling about race prejudice; they were wondering why we not in it; we sing, we born singing," Gloudon explained.

She related a story of a director who, in one of the pantomimes, had the cast singing a famous English Hymn

"And did those feet in ancient time walk on England’s mountain green," Gloudon recited the lyrics.

"The poor people would stand up and sing it for the finale, and Louise said ‘No, yuh can’t do that — that no mek no sense to we’," Gloudon recalled. "So Louise began to introduce Anancy and Bredda Bluebeard."

Moonshine Anancy "caught on with people. We got the best choreographers," Gloudon said, naming Eddy Thomas, a co-founder of the National Dance Theatre Company.

That introduction to writing for the stage opened up a new world for Gloudon but, most importantly, taught her humility.

"Louise would say to me ‘Goodison, that part needs fixing’. And I would see her add to it and colour it," Gloudon told the
Sunday Observer.

That experience helped her to write her second pantomime and others since.

She couldn’t say immediately how many she had written. And admitted that she does not keep count.

That’s probably because while working with Sealy she came to adopt his view that when you’re done doing something, that’s it.

"Move on. Don’t stand there looking and saying look how nice I wrote it. Crap! Go and find out what you’re going to do the next time. So I came from that era when, when it done, it done," Gloudon said.

She’s aware, though, of the criticism levelled at her for her annual involvement in the production.

Gloudon explained that that results from the fact that people who submit scripts each year in response to the LTM’s invitation, do not take the time to learn what is needed for the production.

The submissions, she said, do not come to her. They are handled by a panel.

"Some of them were copies of what I had done before; some of them were people who start to write things and they don’t know where it is going, because they don’t know the theatre art to know that you are writing for a specific purpose," she said.

"You have to know, for instance, there’s something called the front of curtain, which is very important. When do you introduce a front of curtain, why you do it, so that backstage can change the set.

"It’s a convention developed by Louise who was told by the director in one of the pantomimes, when something didn’t go as planned, to go to the front and speak to the audience," Gloudon explained.

"So, I learnt by learning. I’ve never got up yet and said I’m going to write a script because mi big and broad. Mi nuh do it," she emphasised.

While Gloudon can’t remember how many pantomimes she has written, she recalled that
Baggaraggs in 1997 was written by the Taylor brothers — Jeremy, Mark and Michael.

She remembers that one year the criticism of her involvement was so harsh that her family had to say to her: "Just keep your eyes down and do what you have to do."

"I’m a person that takes editing, maybe that’s why I’ve lasted," she said. "The director will say ‘Mrs G, that can’t work’, and I will do over one scene 10 times if it means that that is the way it is to work.

"So part of the thing is, in that kind of theatre, ego don’t help you. You [must] have the integrity to do what you do, and if it do wrong, do it over. Louise taught me that," said Gloudon.

Asked why she continues to do it, given that she is not paid, Gloudon said: "Because it is important. My greatest joy is to see poor people pickney come to pantomime, because that way you take them into a world that is out of the hardness of their lives."

Asked to respond to criticism that the story is predictable and the production leans too much on Jamaican folklore, Gloudon said:

"You can never play too much to your own, what belongs to you. We have no need to go take an American thing and do it. There are other people who do that, and we don’t want to take away from that, but this company was founded by someone who pledged that we would always lift up our culture, and even now today, if you’re not careful you may not see our stuff."

"And some people say ‘oh, but it’s predictable, it always ends happily ever after’, mi neva hear nobody complain bout fairy tale [and] fairy tales are predictable."

"So, sometimes it’s been very cruel, the things they say about me, but if your heart is pure nobody can’t beat you."

This year’s pantomime, the 75th,
Runeesha and the Birds opened yesterday at the Little Theatre.

NEXT: The story behind this year’s pantomime... and more

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