The state of theatre and culture in Guyana

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Ron Robinson as Pa Ben in 'Old Story Time'

“HAVING been in theatre now just over 60 years, I remember the theatre of years ago – the Theatre Guild, in particular, where many of the Caribbean’s leading performers such as Wilbert Holder, Ken Corsbie, Clairmont Tait, and so many others got their start-Maggie Lawrence, myself – so many,” said Mr Ron Robinson.

The renowned local director and actor went on to say that as he looked back at Theatre Guild and theatre in those days, it certainly was of a very, very high standard and yet people were not paid like they are today, but the standards were very high, the dedication was there and certainly there was a theatre that could have gone anywhere in the world and was heralded or accepted. However, today the standards, in many respects, have dropped. He stated that some still try to maintain a standard, but unfortunately, what has also happened is the type of theatre; the type of play that we have today is one which attracts a particular audience and that is what is spilling theatre nowadays.

“So if you try to do like I tried to do two years ago at the drama festival with a terrific world-renowned South African plan, by the time the play was finished most of the audience had gotten up and walked out and that kind of theatre is suffering and producers are afraid to produce the strong, tried and proven, tested, good plays, because people are not going to come,” Ron said.

“Those who would appreciate it [theatre] have gotten so accustomed over the years to ‘slap-stick’, and theatre that is not quite of a standard that it was before. I am not saying all, there are some directors who are very, very good and produce very good work. However, I am afraid I have to say that theatre today has lost some of its lustre and professionalism.”

Margaret Lawrence and Ron Robinson in ‘Driving Miss Daisy’

RATING THE ACTORS
Mr. Robinson expressed the view that, “there are actors and there are actors, and there are actors.” He said that there is a handful of actors that Guyana can be proud of, and that this handful of actors and actresses give their all whenever they go on stage. They really are professionals; they are serious and they do give good performances.

He further advanced the view that there are a couple of directors who are also very good and in saying this, he said that he had to single out Sharon Cadogan-Taylor. “I think Sharon is very, very strong as a director; she continues to be directing plays of a very high standard, so we do have in that mix some very professional, strong directors and performers, yes we do!” Ron said.

NATIONAL SCHOOL FOR THEATRE, ARTS AND DRAMA (NSTAD)
It is Mr Robinson’s view that the National School for Theatre, Arts and Drama (NSTAD) has brought a lot of people out of the ‘wood-work’. There are more Guyanese-written plays, Guyanese playwrights, and even Guyanese actors coming out as a result of the school, which, Ron said, is a good sign and something he is very pleased with.

He added, that in the years to come, if NSTAD is given the support, which he said it doesn’t have at this time, then the school would move culture in this country to a very high level.

“Because there is a need for the authorities; whatever government is in power, there is a need for them to recognise that culture is an amazingly important- very, very important part of any country’s development,” Mr Robinson stressed.

CUBA, JAMAICA, OUR CULTURE
He said that the culture in Cuba glows, as well as the culture in Jamaica, in which they really have powerful movements and believes that if that were to be taken away from these countries, they could die. At the same time, Ron believes that Guyana is not yet putting enough effort into theatre and drama and culture on the whole.

Mr Robinson said that the children for example – from primary to secondary school do not know about the culture of Guyana. “Oh, they know we had Indigenous peoples here, the first thousandsof years ago and so on, but they don’t know about the mari, mari dance; some of them don’t know what a matapee is; they don’t know what makes the Indigenous person click…how come they have been here for centuries and centuries and they are still very powerful, strong people –they have their culture,” he said.

Ron Robinson and Angela Rose in ‘Same Time Next Year’

He went on to question how many children know about the Legend of Kaieteur; about the Kanaima; how many of them know even about our own Cuffy; how many of them know about Smith and who saved the slaves; how many of them know about Nigeria and the West Coast of Africa, where our ancestors came from – how many of them really understand; how much of that is taught in the schools. How many teachers know about that culture, because if they don’t, they can’t teach it, he asserted.

STRONGEST CULTURE IN THE REGION
Mr Robinson declared that Guyanese, as a people, are not brave enough, as yet, to be able to go anywhere in the world and say, “I am a Guyanese, from a country with a massive culture, where there are so many different ethnic groups making up our people.” He affirmed that this country should possess one of the strongest cultures in the region because of the make-up of the people – our six races – now about 10, because of the various mixed races, he said.

He contended that while a certain amount of the Indian culture has been kept alive and a little of the others, there is much more to be done to keep the culture alive in Guyana, while noting that different games; special dishes; the teaching on slavery, and much more should be taught to the young people so that they may have a greater understanding of their culture. (mercilinburke2017@gmail.com)