We argue almost every day about culture and Caymanian culture in particular, but in the final analysis, little more than little has ever been done to support the artist.
There has been so much of a disconnect between the different generations, especially here in Cayman. The status quo in the arts is a far cry from the days of Geoff Cresswell, an Englishman who made us all feel good about being Caribbean in the broader sense, and Caymanian in particular. Mrs. Helen Harquail generously gave the money to build the theatre, but Geoff ungrudgingly gave his soul.
I recently returned from Nassau, Bahamas, where I viewed for the first time a CNCF’s production of my play One White One Black. The play had been performed at the last Carifesta in Guyana, but never opened to the public here, so I assumed that if I wanted to see this play, I would have to see it in another man’s country.
The CNCF had planned to show One White One Black as their 25th anniversary production and I wanted to see what I might be in for if it appeared here. The fact that an artist must be so afraid of his expressions destroys the possibility of true expressions and therefore art. This has been the condition for the artist in Cayman at least since the early years of public artistic consciousness and expressions.
In the Bahamas I was surprised that the audiences were entertained by the condition my characters were trapped in and at the same time could understand and accept the seriousness of my dialogue with myself and society. Good theatre is theatre that entertains while it enlightens.
Viewing my play I recognize how serious I have been and why I was never allowed to play the role I should have played in cultural development in Cayman; in fact I had to switch over to politics, where truth is seen as lies and lies as truth.
One White One Black is for mature audiences because I wrote it the way it is, not changing the language for those that want to know but not to listen. Language is the sole of dramatic expression and when language cannot be used honestly without inhibitions, the experiment fails to be genuine and people will one day recognize the insincerity of the author.
But in a small society like Cayman truth is hard to find because it is hidden from all of us, by all of us. And being an artist in Cayman is like being a fly on a dinner table.
Some have argued that my work is not reflective of Caymanian culture and this is part of the reason I have not been readily accepted by my peers. To me culture is neither Caymanian, German, Jamaican nor English; it is a feeling. The product only expresses a feeling of being, which is culture to me.
In Nassau I saw a few people walk out of the each of the performances I attended. They may not have expected the play to have been so revealing or maybe they just expected the type of play that are written by most of our Caribbean writers who feel that writing for theatre is writing to survive economically, so they write farce and encourage poor black people to make fun of the intelligence of even poorer black people. This was never an option to me.
Plays are not about the audiences and we go to theatre to learn. Learning connects us where we might have been disconnected from other people’s feelings and experiences. A play should therefore not be censored or seen as not being worth the money needed to produce it simply because some who attend will not find the subject matter appealing especially after being spoon feed cultural manure all their theatre-going lives.
I am therefore happy that after almost 20 years the CNCF has the courage to stage my play. I know where I live, and I know the level of intolerance of my country, but I want this play played for me to see my people more than for them to see me. This play was the last play I wrote and I stopped writing in regret, disgust and defeat after being told some eighteen years ago this play would not go on. In fact I was not wanted around the Harquail Theatre, which had become a place of administrative conceit rather than theatrical love endeavours.
I certainly joined those attending the CNCF 25th anniversary is congratulating Helen Harquail for her generous gift, but what is a theatre without the writer, director and actor; but a building. Worshipping buildings and putting down people that are not part of our new cooperate morality is so characteristic of our progress that a person like Geoff Cresswell is easily forgotten far at the back of beyond.
I take this opportunity to thank Mr. Cresswell and all of those persons that helped the Inn Theatre and the Cayman National Theatre Company give birth to Caymanian theatre.
Perhaps it is time again for me to state what I stated many years ago, that the Harquail Theatre set Cayman theatre culture back 20 years, if not forever. Now that 20 years have passed let us begin anew to build Caymanian theatre, not as a building, but as a cultural movement so that this setback is not forever.
I call for the re-emergence of our interest and love for the performing arts, which should place our youth at the centre of everything.
There are so many of them with great theatrical skills, but only willing to perform in discos or side streets. They are talented and we must now enlist them in this new phase of cultural discovery and development.
Progress is not just building homes, schoolhouses and office buildings; true progress is building consciousness, which is the heart and soul of the individual and nation.