A Home for the Trinidad Theatre Workshop

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It was a birthday celebration with a difference. Members of Trinidad Theatre Workshop surprised managing and artistic director Albert Laveau with a 80th birthday lime on July 4 at the Workshop’s 23, Jerningham Avenue, Belmont home, Trinidad and Tobagi’s Newsday, reports.

The soiree saw friends, family and guests celebrating the man and his work with an evening that started off with dinner theatre and a dance performance by Sonja Dumas and dancers from her company, Continuum. And then really, the surprise birthday celebration, complete with cake and drinks, and celebratory speeches by friends and family as well as reminiscences by Laveau himself about his life in the theatre of which he is an orginal founding member.

It was a fitting birthday tribute to Laveau, especially more so as the event was also a fundraiser for the TTW to finally acquire a permanent home — at its Belmont location. Attendees at the event were all asked — as a gift to Laveau — to contrinute to the Workshop’s Indiegogo campaign through which it members are trying to raise US$300,000 to buy the building which its currently rents to establish a permanent home, not only for the TTW but for the arts in Trinidad and Tobago.

The Belmont location, a 100-plus-year landmark in Belmont, has been home to the TTW since 2004. Founded in 1959 by Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott and a group of Trinbagonian actors, the Workshop’s original home was the Little Carib Theatre where after-work Friday evenings sessions were held for actors and practitioners to learn about the practice of theatre. The TTW has had various other temporary homes before landing at its current Belmont location.

Laveau, who joined the TTW in 1962, reminisced at his birthday soiree about the Workshop’s itinerant ways.

“When I moved to Port-of-Spain from South, Joyce Kirton, my mentor and friend, contacted Errol Jones and asked him to take care of me. At that time Jean Herbert was directing Rose Slip with Company of Players and I was cast in the lead. Errol Jones, who was not in the production, but attended its showing, saw my performance and invited me to come and meet Derek Walcott — that was 1962.

“So I did and immediately I joined the work that was taking place, a production of Krapp’s Last Tape. I wasn’t in the production but I was part of the team by that time.

“At this time the company was called the Little Carib Theatre Workshop. Beryl Mc Burnie had a vision of an institution in which all of the arts would be under one large institution. She called it “a marriage of the arts”. But there seemed to be some administrative difficulties in sharing the responsibilities of maintaining the centre from which we operated (the Little Carib Theatre), which eventually led to the break up between Derek and Beryl and the separation of the two companies.

“We came the Friday evening and Beryl was securing a padlock on the back door and asked …allyuh eh hear about the bonga ronga? Doh worry allyuh will hear about it. Look allyuh bench there.

“And this was the manner Trinidad Theatre Workshop lost its first home.

“For a long time we never knew what was the subject of the bonga ronga, it was only years later we found it was about an unpaid electricity bill.

“We then shifted from place to place, including the Basement Theatre at Bretton Hall until eventually we settled at the Old Fire Station in 1989. And was there for almost 10 years, leaving in 1998.

“We were in St Lucia doing Ti Jean and His Brothers directed by John Isaacs, with Wendell Manwarren in the lead role, when we were issued our walking papers. So by the time we came back to Trinidad the move was already well underway. We had a little office in Rust Street, from which we operated for a few years until we settled into this space here in Belmont in 2004. And it’s here we’ve been ever since.”

Today, though it’s still paying rent, the TTW can boast of being the longest running theatre company in the Caribbean, numbering among its alumni many of Trinidad’s foremost actors as well as having trained students at home and across the region.

Jamaican cultural icon, Professor Rex Nettleford, called the TTW the flagship of the theatre movement in the Caribbean.

The TTW, at its home in the small building in Belmont, runs camps and workshops for actors and technicians of all ages, from eight upwards, as part of its School for the Arts programme founded in 1991. This is complemented by its Theatre in Education programme started in 1992 — the Workshop travels to schools around the country staging productions of plays and novels that feature on the English literature syllabus taught in the nation’s schools. The company also stages productions featuring casts that have been trained at the Workshop itself.

Even with the lack of permanent home, TTW has performed not only locally, but regionally and internationally, listing among its notable accomplishments its first official production in December 1959 — six scenes from classic plays, Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, and an adaptation of a story by Trinidadian writer, Sam Selvon.

And of course, the Workshop has produced various works by Walcott — Joker of Selville, Pantomime, Dream on Monkey Mountain, Steel and Beef, No Chicken.

In 1992, when Walcott won the Nobel Prize for English Literature, TTW celebrated by staging Walcott’s Ti Jean and his Brothers with La Veau memorably playing the role of the devil.

But the TTW knows that with a permanent home, much more is possible in preserving this strong legacy of theatre arts in the Caribbean. Members are hoping that its online Indiegogo campaign will encourage the public to help raise the funds to make this possible, and to also share in the perks of this labour of love — in “helping to uphold a major cultural institution, strengthen a historic tradition”, the TTW offers donors a “a piece of our priceless legacy as a token of our thanks” — limited edition posters from various productions, signed copies of classic Caribbean plays, archival photographs from the Workshop’s early days, t-shirts, recordings of past productions, and more.

Marcia Seales Rodney, Operations Manager at TTW, in a brief interview on Friday, said the going was a little slow for the Indiegogo campaign now, that the Workshop has so far only raised one percent of the amount needed be able to buy the Belmont building and finally have a home to call its own. She did note that the public was rallying to the TTW’s call in terms of supporting events and programmes — its children theatre camp for the July-August holidays, Camp Anansi, was well supported, as was a teachers’ training session and a new actors workshop.

Registration was underway for the TTW regular programmes – the Children’s Theatre Workshop, a Teen Theatre Studio and the New Actors Workshop, she added.

But most urgently now is the need for the Indiegogo campaign to gather steam, she said.

For the original report go to http://www.newsday.co.tt/features/0,214035.html

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