The International Conference on Caribbean Culture and performance takes place at the Harquail Studio Theatre June 12 to 14. The conference is in honour of the 50th anniversary of Trinidadian playwright Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl. A number of eminent scholars and theatre practitioners are participating in the conference organised by the Cayman National Cultural Foundation. Here we highlight the profiles of those making presentations at the conference.
Researcher & District Court Judge – Alaska’ USA
Presentation 1: ‘Moon On A Rainbow Shawl’: A Play for All Seasons & Regions
Presentation 2: The life of Errol John
ABSTRACT 1 – Moon On A rainbow Shawl: A Play for All Seasons & Regions
Raymond Funk’s presentation details the play’s enormous popularity over the past fifty years. Drawing on theatre records and reviews, the talk gives a first look at the play’s history of performances all over the world.
Since it first won the Observer Prize in England in 1957, the play has been performed on British radio, television and at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Revived in productions on the London stage in the Eighties, it was directed by the author in one production and Maya Angelou in another.
It had a recent successful revival by Eclipse Theatre and toured the country. In the United States, there was a prize-winning production Off Broadway in 1962 with the great James Earl Jones in the starring role and his father, Robert Earl Jones playing ‘Charlie’.
Since then it has repeatedly been done all over the Caribbean, the United States and has also been performed in Brazil, Iceland, Australia, India, Czechoslovakia and New Zealand.
ABSTRACT 2 – The Life of Errol John
An overview of John’s professional career as playwright and actor from his first days as a member of the Whitehall Players, Trinidad’ & Tobago’s first important theatre group, until his death in 1988.
While he is best remembered for his seminal play, ‘Moon on a Rainbow Shawl’, John’s professional career was as much as an actor as a writer. Though little recognised he was the first Trinidadian actor to have a substantial acting career in British theatre, radio, television as well as film.
His movie career included both British and American films with many of the leading actors of his time from Audrey Hepburn, Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, and Richard Attenborough. He performed in many different television dramas and starred in the first British TV series starring a black actor. Throughout his acting career he continued to write and had articles and screenplays published, scripts produced for television and had written a number of unpublished pieces.
Professional Storyteller and Theatre Practitioner
Topic: The Yards Next Door: Imagination and Creativity.
The action of ‘Moon On A Rainbow Shawl’ unfolds in a sort of generic representation of particular yards found throughout the Caribbean. Ken Corsbie explores the relationships between people living and interacting in various types of yards that neighbour each other; and looks at literary, theatrical and anecdotal differences and similarities. He explores YARD as locus for social interaction, imagination and creativity.
Director: Centre for Communication Studies, University of Guyana
Topic: ‘Moon Phases’: Playwrights Process and the Construction of Errol John’s, ‘Moon on a Rainbow Shawl’
Paloma Mohamed’s presentation takes a practical playwrights perspective in examining the construction of ‘Moon on a Rainbow Shawl ‘ as text. Based upon the premise that a script involves many choices which are rational, deliberate and structurally similar, several versions and drafts of ‘Moon’ will be examined. An attempt to re-construct the playwright’s process and intent will be made. This will be achieved through an analysis of the changes and choices John made in the production of the final text. From the earliest ‘Moon Too High to Reach’ to ‘Small Island Moon’ the analysis indicates five possible phases in the construction of ‘Moon on a Rainbow Shawl’.
Educator, Playwright , Theatre Practitioner & Regionalist
Snr. Lecturer: University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago
Keynote Address: ‘Yard As Cultural Nexus’
Errol John’s celebrated interpretation of working class life in pre-Independence Trinidad brings into focus the barrack-yard where his characters struggle. The yard, ‘nigger yard’, has been the place of primary significance in the making of Caribbean drama and literature. This is amply evidenced in the work of CLR James, Roger Mais, Martin Carter, Kamau Brathwaite, et al – including Cayman’s Frank McField. This paper theorizes ‘yard’ in a Caribbean cultural framework, allowing, perhaps, another gaze at ‘Moon’.
Centre for Creative & Festival Arts, UWI Trinidad & Tobago
Topic: ‘Moon on a Rainbow Shawl’: From Page to Stage in the Classroom
Louis McWilliams’ presentation seeks to highlight the value of the play ‘Moon on a Rainbow Shawl’ as a teaching text for directing students. It is based on practical work done over a period of years at the Department of Creative and Festival Arts, University of the West Indies, St Augustine. In this course of study, students are introduced to the foundation skills required to stage a play with emphasis on analysis, visualization and the creation of stage action. This process of moving the work from page to stage requires an understanding of communication of both meaning and feeling together with Visual and Aural Fundamentals. ‘Moon on a Rainbow Shawl’ provides all of the above possibilities and is able to endear students of all nationalities to the art of directing.
Director, Designer, Theatre Practitioner, Arts Manager
Artistic Director – Cayman National Cultural Foundation
Topic: Essentialising ‘Moon’ – A Designer’s/Director’s Approach
The Scenographer’s and director’s art , though listed as separate disciplines in theatre practice, employ the same basic ‘software’ – through the use line, shape, colour, texture, position, balance, scale, proportion, words, images, lighting and sound. His presentation proffers his own approach to designing and directing with particular reference to his work with the University of South Florida’s production of Errol John’s ‘Moon on a Rainbow Shawl. Mr. Muttoo follows the development of his fascination with the play as someone who was born and raised in practically the same physical and social environment created by John and attempt to show how the conditioning he received within this environment was critical to the development of a conceptual approach.
Professor Emeritus [English] University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago Associate provost, University of Trinidad and Tobago
Topic: ‘Moon’ Discourse: Politics & Caribbean Aesthetic
In his presentation, Dr. Kenneth Ramchand looks at the language of ‘Moon on a Rainbow Shawl’, the characters and the social issues and he will relate these to the literature of the yard in Trinidad and the physical structure of the Port of Spain yards. The conscious and unconscious connections between the social phenomenon of the yard and the form and content of ‘Moon on a Rainbow Shawl’ will be speculated upon.
University of South Florida
Topic: Theatrical Space and a Sense of Place in Errol John’s ‘Moon on a Rainbow Shawl’
Errol John’s play makes effective use of the tension between inside and outside dramatic space, revealing complex interrelationships between private living quarters, the indoor/outdoor dialectic of the yard, and the world outside. Patrick Finelli’s presentation is a critical analysis of theatrical space that examines the conceptualization of fictional place as defined and described in the dramatic text and the physical aspects of scenic space perceived by the audience in production. The mode of inquiry involves three interrelated spatial concepts categorized as theatrical, architectural and dramatic. The dramaturgical and scenographic approach considers the characters in the play, the space they inhabit and their own sense of what that place means to them. The space resonates with proscribed social systems, expressed attitudes, and embedded ideology. Additionally, the playwright creates turbulence through the representations of dramatic space, the positioning of living spaces in relation to sexuality and the theatricalization of the relations between men and women, foregrounding issues of gender and power. This study investigates and explores these contexts by associating gender roles with events that occur inside and outside of the yard, indicating the nature of the relationship between the sexes and the relative place of man and woman in this society.
PAULA GRACE ANDERSON
Professor [Language & Literatures in English]
University College of the Cayman Islands
Topic: Power and Personhood: An analysis of gender relationships in Errol John’s ‘Moon on a Rainbow Shawl’.
Paula Anderson’s paper approaches Errol John’s ‘MOON’ as an intuitive work, which analyzes gender relationships, in terms of power and powerlessness, on many levels, defining the male-female, and female-female relationships as statements of values, change and transition, within a context of essential powerlessness. These relationships are seen as microcosms of the socio-economic context of post-colonial abuse, in the Caribbean.
Educator, Director, Designer
Director of Studies
School of Drama – Edna Manley College of the Arts
Topic: The Annancy Technique – A Doorway to Caribbean Performance
In this presentation Eugene Williams probes the performance dynamics of this in-body technique, by peeling back the frame of a metaphor/stratagem identified by Guyanese novelist and philosopher Wilson Harris, which he describes as a ‘renascence of a new corpus of sensibility that could translate and accommodate African and other legacies within a new architecture of cultures'(1999) Through Harris’ conflation of the myth of the Limbo dance and the Masquerade dancer, his presentation explores a technique for Caribbean performance in which rhythm, shape and the mimetic muscularity of the performer/actor unlocks cultural meanings in the oral and visual text as well as opens a critical doorway to Caribbean performance. He gives a brief demonstration of this exploration by using two scenes from ‘Moon’, which is also a sort of indulgence in cultural memory as well as a tribute to Marc Matthews and Errol John, two inimitable icons of the Caribbean theatre.
Professor [Acting & Voice]
University of South Florida
Topic: Crossing The Cultural Divide: Creating Sophia in Errol John’s ‘Moon on a Rainbow Shawl’
Fanni Green is a USF Theatre department alumna, a USF faculty member for ten years and native of St. Petersburg, Florida. In addition to USF, she has taught on the voice faculties of The Actor’s Centre in NY, the Yale School of Drama and the Juilliard School.
At the USF School of Theatre and Dance, she directed The Trojan Women; For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf and last season’s hit, Crumbs from the Table of Joy.
Also a playwright, Green’s work’s Tillers and The Gilded Sixpence have been produced at New York Theatre Workshop and the Ensemble Studio Theatre in NY. The USF theatre community has seen her on stage as Ma Rainey in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and most recently as Sophia in Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, directed by Henry Muttoo. In additional to extensive regional theatre credits, Green’s professional work includes Mule Bone (Broadway) with musician Taj Mahal; Antony and Cleopatra (Off- Broadway) with Vanessa Redgrave; Law & Order (television); and the film, The Object of My Affection with Jennifer Ann