The Cayman Drama Society celebrates its 40th anniversary having grown to become one of Cayman’s premier organisations for promoting the theatrical arts.
Despite not having a permanent home until 1990 and then having that shredded by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the society bounced back, rebuilding Prospect Playhouse in Red Bay. It has produced more than 160 productions since it was formed in 1970.
The quality of society’s work has been recognised by successive governments as playing a valuable role in enriching the social life of the Cayman Islands.
The main aims of the volunteer theatre, which became a non-profit organisation in 1973, are to promote the culture of the dramatic, musical and allied arts and to organise for the benefit for the public the production of dramatic and other forms of entertainment. Over the years, Cayman Drama Society has staged international and regional productions including light comedy, musicals, drama performances and is widely viewed as a leading light in Cayman’s small but lively performing arts sector.
According to committee member Paul de Freitas, “The Cayman Drama Society has been the sole continuous provider of theatrical entertainment in Grand Cayman since 1970 when the play See How They Run was performed with great success by a group including Stanley Panton, John and Valarie Morgan, John Maples, Peter Phillips and John Furze, amongst others.”
He sees that its role as the provider of community theatre has encouraged “a spirit of volunteerism” since the drama society does not pay crew or actors.
Not being beholden to strictly commercial considerations, he says, has led to the Society’s “ability to present the classics, which should be seen by a Cayman audience for completeness, but which will not necessarily bring in any significant revenue”.
The freedom from purely fiscal constraints, despite being on a fairly tight budget, has meant that the drama society has been able to stage a wide variety of shows including several Shakespearian plays, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest, and Miriamy, the classic West Indian comedy by Frank Pilgrim.
The drama society can also provide a test bed for new plays, such as Colin Wilson’s Magna Carta – The Musical Trial of King John, The Judith Code, and Watler’s War.
In his role as the Society’s youth liaison chairman, Mr. de Freitas is involved with the push to extend “volunteerism into the schools, providing early access by students to a real theatre with all of the basic components one would find in any off-Broadway scenario”.
Bringing theatre to students and fostering the next generation of Cayman Drama Society members is a mission that the Cayman Drama Society executive committee takes seriously. This concept has been embraced by all members, who appreciate that volunteer theatre needs fresh blood to survive.
“Over the next three months, John Gray High School drama students will be exposed to stage make-up techniques demonstrated by CDS member Jimmy DeLoach who brings experience from theatre, TV and film and whose art was seen in the recent smash hit Toad Of Toad Hall,” Mr. de Freitas says.
As part of this initiative, he presents sessions on sound and lighting including new computerised techniques now being used at Prospect Playhouse. And all Cayman Drama Society productions reserve crew positions for John Gray students selected jointly by Mr. de Freitas and the school’s drama teacher Charlene Jarrett.
“Toad of Toad Hall featured a student in the role of assistant director and the entire cast and crew was comprised of students with just a couple of experienced adult members to provide guidance and advice as needed,” he explains.
“In the current production, Little Shop Of Horrors, one of the finest productions ever witnessed in Grand Cayman, students are involved nightly in front-of-house ushering duties, on sound and on follow spots.”
Recently, 50 John Gray High School students took a guided tour of the Playhouse led by Mr. de Freitas. For some of the students, it was their first visit to a working theatre. During the visit, the group made notes for all that they saw and heard.
Cayman Drama Society members say wider interaction with the community is as vital a part of their work as the staging of productions. As well as offering insights into the workings of amateur theatre, the programme’s impact spreads out across the entire population as students who earn production jobs during Playhouse productions tend to encourage family members and friends to attend.
The society’s productions often reflect the broad spectrum of people living on the Islands from born Caymanians to expats.
Penny Phillips, chairman of the drama society, has likewise taken on various board and acting responsibilities over the years.
“There are so many benefits to community theatre, from so many aspects. First, those of us who are involved tend to involve their families, so most of the time parents and children can have fun pursuing their hobby together,” she said.
“Then there are the newcomers to the Island who join the Society to meet people and end up finding that they love amateur dramatics for itself, not just for the social side of it.”
Mrs. Phillips adds, “We have always prided ourselves on putting on very professional amateur productions… OK, sometimes we get the odd play here and there… where it doesn’t quite come off as well or as polished as it might have done; however, that’s all part and parcel of the nature of am-dram and I actually know a member of our audience who prefers it when things go wrong, like bits of scenery collapsing during a dramatic or romantic scene! It takes all kinds, I guess.”
The Cayman Drama Society welcomes new members. Visit the society’s web page at www.cds.ky or Facebook or Twitter for its late breaking news. Cayman Drama Society’s newsletter, Masque Mail, is also available via free subscription.