Bringing the ‘GT Spice’ to T&T

‘GT Boy’ Nickose Layne (centre) during the Ti-Jean and Brothers production in Trinidad and Tobago

– Guyanese artist on a mission to use his talent to fuel conversation on societal issues

FOR some, theatre is just a means that fulfills some leisure time. But for others, like 27-year-old Nickose Layne, theatre is a powerful and unorthodox tool that can effectively explain (and maybe even solve!) some of the issues that plague society.

“I want to find out why these things happen and it is my job to make people think and open people’s eyes to things they don’t know,” Layne said. “I have to add my voice to the conversation.”

And it is this innate desire that pushed him to hone his skills in theatre, after initially overlooking the power this tool yielded.

Layne had a passion for theatre since he was much younger, but he highlighted that it was only when he attended Sixth Form, studying Law, that he became truly enthused. It wasn’t that he studied theatre, or even took part in any plays at the time; instead, it was because that school was located opposite the Theatre Guild Playhouse in Kingston.

He recalls vividly that his Psychology classes would end at 19:00hrs, which was the same time plays at “The Guild” would begin. Then, however, he still felt that theatre and plays were, well, ‘just play.’

“I asked myself often, why would grown people be doing theatre after school?,” the young man told this magazine. That question was left unanswered for a few years, as he began working at the National Communications Network (NCN) and studying Marketing, but eventually, he found himself right back at the Playhouse.

Since 2011, he has been involved in theatre professionally. And notably, he was among the first batch of graduates from the National School of Theatre Arts and Drama in Guyana.

During that time, the Thespian was recognised nationally for his work in directing and used his winnings garnered to go to the culturally alive twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Some might say that visiting Trinidad was all part and parcel of a much grander scheme at work, but it was only in 2015 when he went to the premier Caribbean Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA) in Haiti that these pieces started to make sense.

At that festival, Layne met a Bajan who was heading to Trinidad to study theatre. The seed had been sown and needed the right amount of nurturing to grow. That nurturing came the following year at the Olympics in Brazil, when Nickose saw that people of the creatives around him were similar– i.e., they followed the beat of their own drums. The difference was that they had their Bachelor’s Degrees, while he had his two diplomas.

“At the time, [being more qualified] felt like it was the key to my world,” the Thespian said, explaining: “That experience made me feel like I could promote theatre in Guyana and the Caribbean, but I wasn’t an ‘expert’ in what I was passionate about. I felt like a degree would give me more experience and expertise.” Years later, he would come to believe that his perception of “expertise” was quite subjective, because expertise isn’t garnered only from academic qualifications, but at the time that was his belief. And so, with the seed sown and subsequently, nurtured, he applied to the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad and Tobago and began his journey there.

His degree is a very practical one, which means that he has been able to immerse himself in the life of a true Thespian, garnering a wealth of knowledge along the way.

“My experience in theatre at home [in Guyana], made me realise how much I know and how talented I am and can be and how talented people back home are,” the Thespian said, adding: “But on the flip side, it showed me how much that I don’t know.”

Layne also shared that this past July/August vacation, he decided to stay in Trinidad so that he could get a ‘feel’ of the culture scene outside of his academic pursuits. And what better time to garner that experience than when Carifesta was being hosted in the country?

While he was doing that, he was recognised as one of the top six students of his ‘Directing One’ course, which meant that he had the opportunity to move onto ‘Directing Two’. For a Theatre Arts major, this is no ordinary feat. The UWI Department of Creative and Festival Arts (DCFA) selects six university students to direct plays for ‘The New Directors Forum: A Festival of Plays,’ which is part of the Annual Student theatre production.

The news that he was among the top six came at around the same time he was engaging in his first professional undertaking in Trinidad, outside of school; he had successfully auditioned for a role in Derek Walcott’s beloved Ti-Jean and Brothers.

“My process for Directing Two started later than everyone else in the class, because I was in TI-Jean, so while the course started at the beginning in September, I had no time because I was getting professional experience on with that,” Layne explained.

Ti-Jean in itself was quite a rewarding experience for him, since it boosted his professional development but also served to reinforce just how much better Guyanese theatre can be on the technical production front. For him, there is no shortage of outstanding talent in Guyana, but there is a dearth of specialised technical capacities due to the limited scope for development in this area.

Nevertheless, he contended, “I kind of feel like UWI has helped me to develop/ identify my style a little more, both in directing and as a Thespian.” As such, he believes that he can be more articulate in explaining his art and style to persons back home, while hopefully introducing local Thespians to the different approaches and styles he has learnt.

And this isn’t a far-fetched hope since he already used a bit of what he learnt at UWI to put on a play in Guyana alongside Rae Wiltshire that sought to put the spotlight on Domestic Violence, quite the topical issue in Guyana. That event also sought to highlight the work of female actresses and photographers, while facilitating a discussion on the topic subsequent to the production.

The 27-year-old emphasised that these are the type of productions that he wants to be involved in; it is his desire to use his platform to fuel conversation on societal issues, even if it may be uncomfortable to talk about.

His next ‘big idea’ is to engage in a devised theatre production, where there will be no script but the group involved will pool ideas and create a masterpiece on the topic of men and masculinity.

“I want to ask the question what is it that causes a man to be abusive and kill a woman,” Nickose said. ”

In the meantime, however, he still has to complete his degree and well, make the best of the opportunity afforded him in Directing Two. So far, he has integrated himself quite well into the directing course and on November 23, he will direct “Final Chapter” on the UWI stage.

This play is a fantasy, which, according to Layne, gives it an added layer of complexity that demands his skills more. But what is especially noteworthy is that Final Chapter is written by Guyana’s own Clinton Duncan; this is just a testament of Nickose striving to promote the Guyanese flavour.

In Trinidad, Nickose is known for his very “Guyaneseness,” but it is particularly important for him to do justice to this production, since he believes it is an outright representation of Guyana and Guyanese culture. Getting this right, and well, doing well in his degree is also particularly important to him since he is aiming to encourage more Guyanese to endeavour in this field.

“I’m hoping that I can fill that void, you know? I hope that people could see this ‘lil’ boy come and do it, and if he could do it, anybody could do it,” Nickose mused.