Ken Corsbie
Ken Corsbie in a dance sequence some decades ago, displaying his dancing talent
Ken Corsbie in a dance sequence some decades ago, displaying his dancing talent

The Caribbean’s quintessential theatre celebrity

By Francis Quamina Farrier

YESTERDAY, March 27, nations around the world observed “World Theatre Day.” This annual event was established in 1962 by the International Theatre Institute (ITI) and is supported by UNESCO. In this article, I am pleased to throw the spotlight on veteran Guyanese dramatist Ken Corsbie, who has been in the theatre arts for over seven decades. Now in his early 90s, Ken Corsbie has been a member of the Theatre Guild of Guyana from its inception. However, his initial activities with theatre arts actually began at the Taitt’s Yard, now known as Cara Lodge on Quamina Street, previously Murray street. Ken Corsbie was also involved in athletics, especially in the areas of track and field as well as basketball. In fact, it is believed that it was Ken Corsbie who introduced basketball to Guyana.

Ken Corsbie as Sir Thomas More in the Theatre Guild production of “A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS” by Robert Bolt. The other two TG actors were from the UK

It is easy to classify Ken Corsbie among the greatest dramatists and theatre and radio personalities of Guyana. He was presented with the National Award of The Golden Arrow of Achievement (AA) many years ago. Many other accolades followed, but there were some occasions when he had to prove his ‘metal’ so to speak. There was the occasion when the stage staff of a production at the Theatre Guild, in which he was the lead actor, decided to pull a prank on the celebrated actor. It was the last night of a very successful run of a play. ‘Things’ sometimes happen at the last performances.

There was a scene in which Corsbie had to take a few sips of ‘rum.’ Of course, it was fake rum – well, until that final performance. On that night, two members of the stage staff replaced the fake rum with genuine 5-year-old XM. The pranksters stood in the wings backstage giggling as the scene approached for Ken Corsbie to sip what was supposed to be fake rum. As the actor took the first sip, he immediately realised that it was in fact genuine XM 5-year-old, so he continued, not just with sips, but took mini gulps.

The pranksters backstage became terrified with fear of what would be the result if Corsbie consumed too much of that genuine alcohol on stage, while performing for a live audience. But Corsbie adjusted his focus and carried on to the very end as if he hadn’t a single drop of alcohol in his system. At the end of the play, along with the other performers, Corsbie took the curtain call, bowing to the audience in classical theatre style, as they applauded with gusto. It was yet another great performance by the master. When the curtain closed, Corsbie laughed at the stage crew, saying, “You all think I would get drunk, eh?” He even drove home safely in his pumpkin-coloured Volkswagen Beetle car.

Very much an innovator, some years ago Corsbie produced and directed a show entitled, “My Name is Slave” at the Playhouse. It was a unique show with various skits ‘stitched’ together to make a perfect ‘quilt’ which the audience enjoyed. I was one of the actors. In fact, that production had all of the racial groups of Guyana, and that in itself sent a message of the country’s National Motto, “One People, One Nation, One Destiny.” In later years, Ken Corsbie would say in his “He One” and other stage productions, that he is “Half European. Half African. Half Portuguese. Half Chinese. Half Indian and half Amerindian.” What a Guyanese!

I got to know Ken Corsbie on a more personal level when he responded in a positive way to an invitation by the Agricola Youth Club of the day. As a member, I suggested to my colleagues to invite that shining star at the British Guiana Theatre Guild to visit with us and share some of his knowledge about theatre arts. Our invitation was accepted and Ken Corsbie spent over an hour with the group, delivering what was a most inspiring and informative talk on Theatre Arts.

The Ken Corsbie production “My Name is Slave” at the Theatre Guild Playhouse. Note the various races; Farrier is at top, right

During the early years of Guyana’s independence, there have been many very talented Guyanese actors and actresses attached to the Theatre Guild. They include Ken Corsbie, Carlotta Croal, Wilbert Holder, Vidnauth Mohabeer, Clairmonte Taitt, Ricardo Smith, Eileen MacAndrew, Mark Matthews, Robert Naraine, John Agard, Lorna Lampkin, Lawrence Thompson, Claude Vieira, Aileen Morgan, Patricia Gomes, Maurice Braithwaite, Patricia Cameron, Eugene Williams, Henry Muttoo, Beverley Rodrigues, and Pauline Thomas, who recently celebrated her 100th. birthday in Canada. Ken Corsbie was involved with all of them in an array of plays over the years. During its heyday, there were as many as six major productions staged at the Playhouse annually.

These productions were arguably of the standard of Broadway in New York or the West End in London, England. It is apt to mention that some were from other Caribbean countries, the USA, Canada, and the UK, who were members of the Theatre Guild of the day. One of the most respected and beloved, was Englishman Frank Thomasson who worked on many of the productions in which Ken Corsbie was also involved. Corsbie is multi-talented as an actor, storyteller, dancer, director, set designer, writer, producer, organiser, and broadcaster. Not forgetting his early years as a sportsman. In fact, many fans both at home and abroad who know him and his Theatre track record of over 70 years, consider Ken Corsbie as Guyana and the Caribbean’s quintessential veteran theatre celebrity, with broadcasting and sports as the icing on the cake of his body of work.


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