Heading for the Mountains on World Theatre Day – by Francis Quamina Farrier

Heading for the Mountains on World Theatre Day

– by Francis Quamina Farrier

Since this is the Lenten Season on the Christian calendar, I feel compelled to emulate the great Apostle, St. Paul, and tell of the things which I do not like to boast about. For example, St. Paul said that he would not boast about being Shipwrecked or being thrown into prison innocently.

So I will not boast about writing over thirty plays, of having won the FIRST and THIRD prizes at the Official playwriting competition at Guyana’s Independence in 1966, and of writing Guyana’s first ever Radio Soap Opera, “The Tides of Susanburg”. Neither would I care to boast about winning the Best Actor Award at the British Guiana National Drama Festival of 1965, with the great Derek Walcott being the Adjudicator.       

It is important for mention to be made that the First National Drama Festival in British Guiana (Guyana), was held in June 1959, and NOT in 2012, as someone is trying unsuccessfully, to rewrite that aspect of Guyana’s Theatre history. It is also apt to mention that there used to be the Sugar Estates Drama Festivals during the 1960s and 1970s.

What I would like to focus on in this article is a few of the less known Theatre activities in British Guiana/Guyana, over the decades, which really goes back to the nineteenth century when Strolling Players from abroad toured the Colony of British Guiana. There were also plays written by locals and expatriates, which used to be staged at the Assembly Rooms, which was located in Georgetown where the Bank of Guyana now stands. Those plays were all about life in the colony; but not necessarily about the underbelly of the society and with absolutely no uplifting themes as is so prevalent with many of the more recent plays being staged at the National Cultural Centre.

One of the premier Theatre Groups In Georgetown during the 1950s and 1960s, was the Georgetown Dramatic Club which was located at what is now The Critchlow Labour College on Woolford Avenue. Their productions were mainly plays written by Caribbean playwrights. That group no longer exists, but one of its long-standing members who is still alive, is Vibert Parvatan, a former Minister of Government. On the Essequibo Coast there was the dynamic Rainbow Drama Group, which also produced many well-written local plays, and was always involved in GUYFESTA of the 1970s and 1980s.

Much earlier at Linden, there was the very active Gray’s Dramatic Group which had a membership of locals, which also staged many Caribbean plays – most of them published by the University of the West Indies. There was also another Theatre group at Mackenzie which had members of the Canadian managerial staff of the Demerara Bauxite Company (DEMBA).

What must be stated in this Feature Article, is that back in the day, plays staged in British Guiana were always with substance; whether Shakespeare or Sadeek; the latter, Guyanese Sheik Sadeek, wrote about the ordinary folks who were reaching for a better life, and never about characters who were wallowing in the gutter and who had no way out of life’s challenges, except by suicide, as is now so popular in some recently written plays. In one such play, a young girl who was gang raped, places a gun to her head and pulls the trigger. She drops dead, and the play ends on that note. There is never any reference to The Guyana Suicide Hot Line in any of the recent plays in which so many characters commit suicide.

Two of Sheik Sadeek’s popular plays, were his Prize-winning “PORK KNOCKERS” which was based on the exploits of two real, larger-than-life pork-knockers, Sultan and Tengar, whose images are painted in the dome of the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry on Water Street, Georgetown. Sadeek’s other play was “BLACK BUSH”, which highlighted the farming community located on the Corentyne Coast.

Poet and Playwright Rajkumarie Singh wrote a play entitled, “THE SOUND OF HER BELLS”, which dramatized an aspect of Guyanese Indian Culture. Another such play by Rajkumari Singh was “NAMASTE”. Victor Forsythe wrote his most popular play, “HASSA CURRY”, which depicted the social cohesion of the pre-independence era of British Guiana.

Writing plays with a classical African backdrop during the 1940s and 1950s, was Professor Norman Cameron, who was born in New Amsterdam on January 26, 1903. One of his most celebrated plays during the colonial era was “ADONIZA”, which was set in an African metropolis somewhat like the recent Hollywood Movie blockbuster, “Black Panther”. So, one can say that Guyanese Professor Norman Cameron was way ahead of Hollywood, and a playwright which the current Guyanese playwrights can emulate, by taking the settings of their plays out of the gutter and onto a shining city on a hill.

With the introduction of GUYFESTA in 1975, many playwrights based in the rural and hinterland areas got the opportunity to have their plays staged before large audiences. A memorable one from the South Rupununi, was “KANAIMA AT SUN MOUNTAIN” by Basil Rodrigues. That play about a segment of the Indigenous culture, was staged at the Lethem Guyfesta Centre in 1975. GUYFESTA, in fact, gave many playwrights the opportunity to showcase their ethnic cultures.

In concluding this feature article, let’s return to St. Paul and not boasting; I will not boast about the mega play “SOLDIER BOY”, which I wrote and produced at the National Park in Georgetown as part of the ninth anniversary celebrations of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). Hector Stoute who was a member of the GDF at the time, was in a leading role, supported by over two dozen GDF soldiers. The play focused on the Guyana Defence Force as protectors of Guyana’s western border and the agricultural pursuits of the GDF at many of their locations in the country.

Neither would I boast about writing and directing a play entitled, “THE TRUMPETER” at the National Cultural Centre, in 1985. It was a play based on the real life story of the historic Angel Gabriel riots in Georgetown in 1853. The play featured Paloma Mohamed and Sean Bhola, who were students in High School at the time, and almost 200 other students from over twenty schools in and around Georgetown.

The Trumpeter was John Orr aka Angel Gabriel, who was the son of a Scottish father and an African mother who lived in Queenstown, Georgetown, and who was so anti-Catholic, that he caused a deadly riot in Georgetown and the lower East Coast Demerara, during the early months of 1853. The play also touched on the early migration of Chinese to Demerara, with then teenager, Nicholas Chuck-a-Sang, playing one of the Chinese migrants who was seeking an African bride.

Have you ever wondered why there are some Guyanese of African heritage who have Chinese last names? The historic information I found, is that for the first ten years, only MALE Chinese migrated to British Guiana, and that was shown in my play, “THE TRUMPETER”.

With the proliferation of plays with themes almost exclusive to DOMESTIC VIOLENCE and in some cases, raw vulgarity and with no solution offered, the wish of most serious Guyanese theatre lovers, is that there will be a new set of plays which are set not in the gutter, but on the summit of hills and mountains, so to speak, in this land of hills and mountains. As that popular patriotic Guyanese song states; “Born in the Land of the Mighty Roraima”; which is a high, unapologetic, patriotic mountain boast. So let’s stop wallowing in the gutter and head for the Hills and Mountains on World Theatre Day 2019 and beyond.

Song of Guyana’s Children – Success Elementary School – 2014

Success Elementary School Choir 2014 – Guyana

A scene from the play “THE HEALING” from Pakuri (formally, St. Cuthbert’s Mission) on the Upper Mahaica River, Region #4. (Photo by Francis Q. Farrier)

Ulric (Peter Bradford) is given a warm welcome by his Aunt Clarabella (Averil Farrier Watson) on his return from the National Service at Kimbia, in the FQF play, JOURNEY TO FREEDOM at the TG Playhouse, 1976.

A scene from “Benjie Darling” by Paloma Mohamed, with Simone Dowding and Clinton Duncan in the title role. (Photo by Francis Q. Farrier)

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