Tony Hall: Farewell to a Jouvay giant

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An obituary from Trinidad’s Express.

In the tide of the Caribbean Sea Tony Hall was the pool of still water that ran deep. Self-effacing and understated almost to a fault, Hall was an artist of quiet feet, watchful eyes and dramatic interiority.

In the hours since he died of a heart attack, the word most used to describe him has been “humble”. He was the man behind the scenes —a playwright who breathed life into his characters, a director who created a stage for his cast, and a guide who led generations of students through Caribbean culture and the theatre arts.

All of these came together in what Hall called the Jouvay Popular Theatre Process. The idea, as he described it, was “to find a universal performance model to facilitate ways to re-inject the essence of mas creation into the community, in a time when nascent capitalism is rapidly changing the modes of making and presenting the mas.” The search came out of Hall’s own quest to break free of his own plantation programming to reconnect with his instinctive self.

In a journey extending back to the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) and through the long stream of Caribbean revolutions, he found his answer in Emancipation as an organising principle which made sense of Caribbean society. That was Hall’s “Jouvay”, his moment of awakening, as he described it in a presentation at Toronto’s York University in 2008. “From then on, anytime I am lost, unable to figure out where I am, or what to do, or where I am going, all I have to do is to meditate on the word ‘emancipation’ and my awareness deepens into a new consciousness of ‘seeing freedom and bearing witness to freedom’, the essence of ‘emancipation’.”

Being located in his own truth gave Hall a compass that directed his path into popular theatre, working with community organisations to bring before us the dramas that have shaped T&T society but which have languished from the neglect, denial and de-legitimisation that mark colonial society. He put the 1903 Water Riots on stage with Red House….Fire Fire!; he dramatised the birth and development of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union in Monster March and he put the 1937 Labour Riots right where it belonged—on the streets of Fyzabad.

In Miss Miles he resurrected the beaten-down body of Gene Miles and gave her a platform from which to confront us with our sordid story of corrupt power. In Jean and Dinah, he upended the Mighty Sparrow’s machismo to make the maligned women of the street the protagonists of their own story. With the production team of Banyan and Gayelle The Channel he ventured into film and television, nurturing an indigenous capability for telling our own stories.

Although his was a sometimes lonely journey, Tony Hall was not alone. He drew on a Caribbean lineage dedicated to the reparation of Caribbean humanity from the detritus of its horrific past. He was dazzled by the possibility of the new world he spied in us and saw art as the medium for the recovery of self.

Forsaking all others, he surrendered himself to the work of showing us as he saw us. Our condolences to his family and loved ones.

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