2011 a dramatic year for stage performers on Grand Cayman

On Tuesday 11th January 2011, the members of the Cayman Drama Society were forced to elect what would be essentially a new executive committee to take the society forward. Very active executive members Penny Phillips who had been chairman for some time, and her husband Peter Phillips, theatre manager, stepped down. The new executive committee featured a very young, and yes it can be said, inexperienced membership, but one determined to continue the careful management of the Prospect Playhouse. Incoming Chairman Richard Johnson and Treasurer Niamh Hutchinson had great experience in obtaining props for use in plays. New Theatre Manager Paul de Freitas had been assistant to Peter Phillips for a number of years but recognised that there was much to learn. Other members of the new committee brought strengths in various areas which would be useful to the society. New secretary Debbie Hand ran Wigglypen – the advertising and marketing agency. Karie Bergstrom had directed numerous children’s productions. Chris Mann had appeared in many productions and Sheree Ebanks had been CDS secretary for some years. Productions committee chair Neil Rooney brings years of singing and acting experience and was one of the persons behind the amazing set for Little Shop Of Horrors (2010) along with Tracy Moore who is the assistant theatre manager and fundraising chair. Local comedic actor Michael McLaughlin was invited to attend executive meetings to provide an additional focus from the performer’s point of view. Bill Mervyn has stepped in to manage the playhouse bar and also act as an assistant theatre manager.

Supporting schools

Cayman Drama Society has always supported Cayman’s schools. The first action of the new committee was to contact those schools that had used the facilities to assure them of continued support. As it turned out, the first events at the Prospect Playhouse in 2011 were Cayman Prep and High School examination rehearsals and John Gray high school mock examinations in late February with Cayman Prep exams following in mid-March. Clifton Hunter High School took advantage of the facilities in mid-April with John Gray High School exams falling at the end of April. Cayman Drama Society personnel worked with the students of both schools when asked in order to provide practical experience and answers.

In May, our neighbour, Lighthouse School, made use of the playhouse to allow GIS to make a video of the award-winning dramatic skit performed by school members. Later, the parents of Lighthouse students attended an event at which the students performed. The playhouse was adapted for wheelchair access to ensure that wheelchairs could be accommodated for a performance at short notice.

In May, the Playhouse was also the venue for the extraordinarily successful La Vida Loca event produced in association with and for the charitable works of Acts Of Random Kindness. A nightclub setting with entertainment provided by multiple bands and performers was enjoyed by everyone and significant sums raised by ARK.

The Cayman Drama Society cannot survive without its sponsors and friends. Amongst these, Butterfield Bank, First Caribbean Bank, Deloitte, Walkers, Cayman National Bank, Conyers, Vigoro, Every Blooming Thing, Cayman 27 and Cayman Free Press have all stepped up and given financial or facilities assistance.

Lorca magic

On the dramatic side, Director Nick Dereza (The Importance of Being Earnest/2010) had heard that the playhouse had an opening for a production in late May due to a cancellation, and proposed the staging of a double bill by Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca – Blood Wedding and The House Of Bernarda Alba. Strong casting and vivid direction led to full houses for the run of the show despite what was referred to as their deep and heavy content. Blood Wedding was performed as theatre-in-the-round, and in fact the audience participated in the wedding dance scene. At the interval, the stage was quickly re-configured into a large Spanish hacienda while the audience, now in the bar or seated, watched. Cayman Drama Society will continue to promote dramatic works that move the boundaries and set new standards for professionalism. This means that not every production may be profitable. The executive committee continues its historic role in providing a wide-reaching theatre experience with high quality of presentation and performance.

Auditions for an ambitious new September production of Godspell, to be directed by Teri Quappe, experienced actor but treading the boards as director for the first time, took place in late June. The conceptualisation of Godspell, set in a nightclub where the Jesus figure is a bartender and the disciples are patrons, was a first-of-its-kind for the musical and audiences were thrilled by the climactic ascension of Jesus. Godspell featured both new and experienced talent and was backed by musicians more normally associated with Sea’n’B. In a contrast to the complex staging of Blood Wedding and The House of Bernarda Alba, Godspell required only a bar, a table and a couple of chairs and wooden boxes. Lighting, smoke and music created the rest of the imagery. It is easy to fail with Godspell but the Cayman Drama Society prides itself on the outstanding talent, both local, resident and en-passant, which is available to it to ensure that its productions reach professional standards. Teri Quappe has a great future with CDS, which is looking forward to her next proposal with interest.

Youth productions

Besides the work which Cayman Drama Society does with schools, a youth production is staged every year. Alisa Bowen, a director with experience in children’s theatre and coaching suggested staging William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, edited for length and content and presented on a small Caribbean island. The Godspell bandstand became a base for a beachside cabana and a very simple but effective set including blue muslin sea transformed the stage. Fairies consisted of both the traditional type and those of the sea including a blue iguana, jellyfish and stingray together with flower fairies. Wonderful performances were put in by the cast ranging from three to 17 years of age as they displayed a polished performance from the opening night in late November. Theatre provides a number of things just not available within the school context and comments from the young cast reinforced the view that money spent on getting kids and the arts together is money well spent.

In August, Centrepointe Dance staged an end-of-season performance for parents of students at that commercial dance academy. This was followed in late November by examinations for the American Academy of Dance for the students of Centrepointe Dance. On November 15th, the world premiere of Phil Eckstien’s indie movie, Duppies, was held at the Prospect Playhouse, now equipped with a drop down rear projection screen and projector.

Computerised sounds

All sounds are now computerised, from house music to show sounds. And light shows are now backed up to computer although the traditional lighting board is still used for the sensitivity that it provides to changing conditions on stage. Props and costumes rooms have been fully categorised and will be catalogued and computerised in 2012. An office has been added and equipped so that management operations can be supported by technology. In-house members-only Wi-Fi has also been added.

Reinforcing the multiple-use nature of the Prospect Playhouse, auditions were held in early November for the 2012 productions of CayTubeLive – late January, and Hairspray – early March. It is a testament to the operations of the theatre that two major productions were in rehearsal at the same time as A Midsummer Night’s Dream was being staged. This is in part due to refurbishing of the upper rehearsal area and a willingness by producers and directors of staff to cooperate in ensuring that unreasonable demands are not made to deny stage use to rehearsal productions during the actual run of major events.

Community benefits

An amateur dramatic society can only thrive if it reaches out and provides benefits to the community. To avoid unnecessary costs, it will self-help as much as possible. And it will organise systems that support day-to-day operations and targeted growth within the context of the volunteer labour available.

No one at the Prospect Playhouse is paid with the exception of contractors providing necessary services such as security monitoring and equipment maintenance and replacement. All of those adult and youth members that work and perform are providing theatre for love and the good of the community – there is no better reward. There is a quote that puts everything in context – from the mouth of a male cast member of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who said “Auditioning for this play has changed my life”. During 2012, the Cayman Drama Society intends to go on as the premier provider of the dramatic arts in the Cayman Islands – a task made easier by the founders and generations of executive committee members who have ensured that the operations of the theatre are managed professionally based upon sensible rules and that the mission statement of CDS is first and foremost in everyone’s minds – The Cayman Drama Society is committed to providing quality live theatre to educate, enrich and entertain, while providing lifelong learning opportunities and fostering creative expression.

Particularly those who will share their time, talent, or treasure. Send an email to [email protected] or check out the society’s webpage (www.cds.ky) for more details. For a more personal involvement, call theatre manager Paul de Freitas on 916-6331 for a frank and helpful discussion on what you can do for CDS and what Cayman Drama Society and the Prospect Playhouse will do for you or your school or company.