Ken Corsbie, Dem Two, and Caribbean Theatrical Traditions

Corsbie-2(1)

Al Creighton’s article “Recreating the Past” (Stabroek News, September 20, 2009) recounts the history of contemporary Caribbean dramatic traditions and, in particular, the influence of the innovative performing team Dem Two, “whose performance concept created a tradition at the cutting edge of regional theatre.” Creighton considers Dem Two as one of the most important contributions to the development of Caribbean theatre in the 1970s. Based in Guyana, this group created a significant tradition that expanded the boundaries of performance on the Caribbean stage. The importance of Den Two, he writes, was highlighted more than once by Kamau Brathwaite “who was struck by their unique style and dramatic innovation, paying them tribute in a publication titled ‘From Rodney to Dem Two.’” 

Formed by two actors, Ken Corsbie and Marc Matthews, Dem Two expanded to include John Agard, Henry Moottoo, Eddie Hooper, and Cammo Williams to become a team of six called All Ah We. The author details the achievements and success of each one of these performers throughout the years, thus providing a trajectory of the Caribbean stage traditions that were propelled by Dem Two and All Ah We, including performance poetry, oral tradition, dramatic dialogue, storytelling, improvisation, the uses of music and rhythms as well as a brand of stand-up comedy. The members of these seminal groups have now dispersed and are living in England, the Cayman Islands, St. Lucia, Barbados, and the U.S., taking their performance disciplines, literary interests, and theatrical skills in many directions.

Creighton uses this historical framework to describe what he sees as an attempt to recreate this theatrical past in Ken Corsbie’s recent performance of This Mango Sweet (produced by GEMS Theatre at the Theatre Guild Playhouse in Guyana) where he tries to recapture “the essence of the famous Dem Two tradition.” Corsbie restages dramatic performance pieces out of varied selections of poems, prose extracts, calypso, folktales, folklore, and various oral traditions, relying on nostalgia and an audience “who would have come to the theatre to hear about past local customs, old familiar stories and jokes from a cultural landscape that has faded.”  He explains that although This Mango Sweet was only a shadow of the dynamic tradition it meant to reproduce, it sets a very important record and provides a sample of a current and new theatre in the Caribbean that draws strength from that powerful “Dem Two” heritage.

For full article, see http://www.stabroeknews.com/2009/features/sunday/09/20/recreating-the-past/

Photo of his recent solo performance at the Cornelia Street Café (in New York), from http://www.corneliastreetcafe.com/list.asp?from_cal=0&sdate=5/31/2009

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