Interview with Michael Gilkes

Bermuda’s Royal Gazette interviewed Guyanese scholar and writer Michael Gilkes about a theatre workshop he is currently offering at the Berkeley Institute under the sponsorship of the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs. In it, Gilkes argues for theater as “the answer to some of society’s ills, including youth violence.” Gilkes, who recently produced a film about Dominican-born writer Jean Rhys, has lived in Bermuda since his marriage to writer Angela Barry a few years ago. Here are some excerpts.

“Every time I go on stage I feel nervous beyond belief,” he said. “I can’t believe I am going out there and facing these people.” But he said, with self-discipline, you get over the butterflies. “When it works, when you feel the audience with you, you feel validated,” he said. “That is what young people need. There is no need for violence to prove who you are. You can do it on the stage, or as a singer or actor.” He said that no society can develop fully without the arts.

“The arts are too often neglected. One could have the richest society in the world, but with no art — no sense of film, theatre, the beauty in the world — Bermuda wouldn’t be the same.”

Dr. Gilkes started in theatre in his native Guyana when he was about 12 years old. “I began working in school theatre,” he said. “Most of us do. I liked it. It seemed to me you could experiment in a way you couldn’t normally.” He then became involved with the Theatre Guild of Guyana. “Guyana had one of the most progressive theatre movements in the Caribbean,” he said. “We had a senior theatre guild and a junior theatre guild. We were able to use the adults who were pretty expert at what they were doing with the younger people coming up. This is the best thing that could have happened.”

Dr. Gilkes has taught for 40 years at a number of universities in the Caribbean, Canada and the United Kingdom. He taught at the University of the West Indies for 18 years. “I found teaching is also a form of theatre,” he said. “You are, as a teacher, an actor of sorts. You have to be aware of your audience. You have to know how to catch their interest and focus their imagination and draw them out.”

Dr. Gilkes believed that everyone has an artistic flair within themselves. “Develop that instead of developing the external things,” he said. “What we look like is hardly important. What we think, feel and can inspire people with is what is important. All of that is part of the theatre workshop. We unblock people.”

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