– Theatre old-timer Ron Robinson
VETERAN broadcaster, actor and director Ron Robinson believes that the National Drama Festival could become “a glorified piece of mediocrity” if changes are not made in the way it is functioning at the moment.
The festival started three years ago under the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, and is run by a panel.
Following the results of this year’s drama festival a few weeks ago, much criticism was heaped on former Chief Judge Al Creighton and the rest of the judges for decisions that were deemed faulty and biased.
But Creighton, accused by many of micromanaging the festival, has since sought to defend such. He later resigned from the post, citing his inability to endure “assaults” on his ability and integrity.
The Chronicle recently spoke with Robinson who is pushing some 60 years in the field of theatre at his National Communications Network (NCN) office on Homestretch Avenue, and although he is happy his ‘Miriamy’ team won, he stressed that certain changes needed to be made to make the festival more appealing.
First off, Robinson drew attention to the fact that the attention span of everyone, including adults, was limited. Hence, when the judges have to review several plays in one night, they get tired and cannot devote as much attention to each one.
“The judges are expected to judge some nights three or four plays and I don’t think that it’s right to have two one-act plays followed by a full length play. After a certain time, they cannot humanly judge the last play when they are getting tired; so the last play is going to be judged on a different level,” said Robinson during the interview.
The rules need to be changed, he feels, so that no one is allowed in more than two plays, perhaps one being a full-length play and the other in a different category, like a one-act play or a short play. “It shouldn’t be three, four, five entries. That, to me, smacks of not what theatre is all about. I can’t think of any director, and I have worked with some of the greats, capable of directing so many plays or acting in so many plays. Some will suffer; it’s humanly impossible.”
As such, the festival committee would need to recognize that for the sake of the art, they have to insist on standards and quality. “And you can’t get that if you allow people to enter as many productions as they wish. People think when they enter a lot, it increases their chances of winning but being in the festival is not [about] winning, or getting money; it’s about giving the public the highest quality drama.”
Reflecting on this year’s festival, Robinson observed that there were a number of plays which fell down badly but still made it to the final, prompting many to question how. “I think that if Caribbean dramatists had come to judge, the results would have been quite different; an independent panel who knew no one. Maybe even Miriamy would not have won.
“The panel needs to be independent. Nobody on the Guyana National School of Theatre Arts and Drama should be part of the judging because the whole festival is coming from students at that same school. You get to know people so well and they (the judges) could be subconsciously influenced by persons in a production.”
Continuing to highlight the importance of an independent panel, Robinson said: “We can compare it with a beauty pageant. You don’t have to be a fashion designer to be a judge in a beauty contest. You are independent. Everyone has a different opinion, the judges’ scores are added up, tallied the very night and that’s it. The moment you have a lot of discussion and so on, yeah but this and but that; judge what you see, mark it then, add it up, that’s it. If two or three productions have the same marks, then you need to have discussions and consultations with the same judges.
“We feel that the judges can be influenced no matter how strong-willed they are. They can be influenced by the remarks made by anyone after a production. If you want to make those remarks, make yourselves available to the team after the judging. Talk to them and say what you thought was wrong; but the marks are already in, they are already tallied and that can’t change.”
Robinson is hoping that the issues surrounding the festival will be addressed forthwith and that those in charge will listen and pay heed to the suggestions of others. “The festival can be improved tremendously. I know it can, and I am hoping that the directors of the festival will listen and make whatever changes they know are necessary for a better festival.”
If not, he said those experienced in theatre will drop out of the festival and the younger ones entering will not have the benefit of such experience.