Another scene in The Ward's drama

Another scene in The Ward's drama


Friday, December 06, 2019

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The grand old lady of downtown Kingston is back in the news again — the great Ward theatre continues its struggle to get back in use. A tour of the theatre led by Kingston Mayor Delroy Williams was held earlier this week at which stakeholders and interested individuals were able to see the work in progress.

It was revealed that some major changes were being implemented. The latest news has been the non-1inclusion of the orchestra pit in the renovated auditorium. Noted musician and composer Peter Ashbourne did not hold back his disappointment. In a Gleaner article he is quoted as saying: “Why take out the orchestra pit? Now these blasted bhuttus have taken over the thing, and they're going to turn it into bathroom tiles and Formica.” What's the big deal? What is an orchestra pit? An orchestra pit is a designated area where musicians can perform live, usually at the front of the stage.

At The Ward theatre the orchestra pit was not a very large space, accommodating maybe 12 musicians and their instruments and allowing for the band and the performers to remain in contact with each other. Perhaps the planners never saw the importance of the orchestra pit — what with more people performing from recorded tracks, rather than a live band. For a musician or supporter of the arts, the inclusion of a live band adds a different flavour and experience. The chance to see musicians taking command of their instruments, working in conjunction with actors, singers, and dancers to bring to life a stage production, is a wonder to behold. At least, it always has been for me. In some theatres, the orchestra pit can be covered over when the need arises allowing for different types of productions to be staged in the space. Rather than limit the types of productions which may once again be staged at The Ward theatre, why not explore that option.

I've written many times about the glorious history of The Ward theatre. I'm hoping that as we start on a new decade things will be different. We continue to struggle with the real value that the arts has to our people and our country. Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett speaking at a function recently spoke of the wish to have entertainment play a more vital role in the tourism product. Gone are the days when tourists were happy with a quaint performance of Yellow Bird plucked out on an out-of-tune guitar. Our hotels are offering top-class rooms and amenities; the attractions and other ingredients of a worthwhile holiday experience must keep pace.

The level of attractions and entertainment options for the tourist industry has grown over the years. Tourists want more than sun, sea, and sand. They want to feel the heartbeat of our country. Our music and performing arts have to be included in the mix. Over the past few years, many trained performers have been actively working the entertainment circuit along the north coast, but there is still a long way to go.

Even as we dream of The Ward theatre being restored and used to its full potential, there is still a need for purpose-built spaces in other areas of the island. We Jamaicans are noted for “tunning wi hand fi mek fashion”. School halls, church auditoriums, and football fields have been pressed into service and transformed for events, but that cannot be the real solution.

Let's face it, our gold mine closed some years ago and, despite prospecting and exploration, it doesn't seem likely that we'll be finding millions of barrels of oil — plus we really need to embrace cleaner energy options. While we play “ketchy-shubby” and try to figure out how to make the most of the green gold of ganja, we will have to look elsewhere for the next cash cow. Sugar, banana, and bauxite are comatose. If the talent of our people may be the answer, then we need to put things in place to facilitate its growth. We are a creative and talented people. There are opportunities out there; let's explore them.

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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