IN A recent article, titled “Benefits of National Drama Festival Resound Beyond the Stage,” published in the Stabroek News, Mr. Al Creighton pointed out the fact that the National Drama Festival of Guyana (NDF), despite its success and importance to Guyana has become defunct and that “the nation’s dramatists seem to have accepted its absence as normal and appear comfortable with it.” These words registered and resonated with me, particularly because of an incident where, when I once approached a government official with questions about scholarships in the arts, particularly with regards to Creative Writing, I was informed that no such scholarships were available because, in part, no one had lobbied for scholarships in this field, nor had the relevant persons within of this area in the arts had indicated that such scholarships were a necessity.
Once my anger and distress had worn off, I realised that the official was right – in that if no one speaks up – hell, if no shouts it out loud from rooftops – the relevant authority will not become aware of the essentials that artists seek. Coming out of that moment, I told myself that I would always speak up about the things that are important and vital within the arts and culture. Whether I have stuck steadfastly to that promise since then is a bit up in the air, but Creighton’s article has presented me – us – with the opportunity to ensure that our voices are heard, a chance for us to clamour and let our voices ring through the entire Department of Culture until the individuals in charge understand that theatre is an element of Guyanese culture; until they know that theatre is bursting with vibrancy and power. Until they can recognise that theatre is fueled by the talent and creativity of many writers, directors, playwrights, dancers, actors, and designers – all of whom are being scorned and disrespected by the government that has discontinued the NDF and denied it the chance of remaining as a mainstay of cultural exhibition in Guyana. This has been done by the same government that calls upon the talents of we, the theatre people, whenever they need the country to be represented at cultural events and initiatives, such as CARIFESTA, the same government that relies on theatre folks to create and lead activities like the National Poetry Slam or the World Storytelling Day activities, the same government that takes months and months to pay theatre practitioners for their hard work. That government has cut one of the last threads that connected them to local artists by refusing to hold the NDF after a whole two years. Well, I truly do believe I speak on behalf of all of the theatre practitioners in Guyana when I say that although the government may have failed to recognise it, the National Drama Festival is a profoundly important cultural entity and milestone, and it must be brought back to the forefront of Guyanese consciousness.
This festival was one of the few meaningful ways that the Department of Culture expressed any particular interest in local theatre and by allowing it to not be maintained, this department has shown that it does not care about local creatives and local culture. It is damning move, at this point in the Guyanese timeline for the government to not be promoting and maintaining superior displays of local talent that one could have relied on the NDF for in the past. The failure to uphold the NDF is a decision that the administration will indeed come to regret, especially when one takes into consideration that the bar was not very high in the first place with regards to the previous administration’s treatment of culture and the arts – but to let a whole festival, a whole stream of artistic talent, upon which artists depended on for money, for exposure, for the opportunity to create – to let this die out is something that cannot be overlooked.
To make matters worse, I do not believe that anyone from the Department of Culture or the governing administration has, thus far, had the moral fortitude or the courage to allow the people of Guyana know what has become of the festival. Is it a case of silence will ensure that the whole thing will be a forgotten? Is it cowardice revealing itself to Guyana? Worse yet, do they not believe that the people and the artists of this country are deserving of some sort of explanation? The administration and the Department of Culture is making a mess of things, for those of us in the arts, but also for themselves. The artist’s are being denied many resources that we rely on for theatre, and this raises the question of: why would they not see drama as important? The assumptions and speculation must begin, since the evaporation of the festival comes with no official word from the relevant department or ministry.
It is indeed interesting that while theatre seems to have been severed, literature in the form of the (discontinuation of the) Guyana Prize has been severed, pulverised and tossed into the ocean, and with it, any trust that local writers had in the current administration.