Middle Class Gets Voice In Theatre

“Here’s dramatic irony for you. In his essay ‘A Century of Theatre in Jamaica’, written for the Actor Boy Awards magazine of March 2000, theatre historian Wycliffe Bennett writes “the theatre remained well into the 20th century the almost exclusive preserve of the predominantly white but numerically small element of the Jamaican society”. And he adds a few paragraphs later: “It was an Englishman, Orford St John, who in establishing his group, the Repertory Players [in 1957], first specifically used the term ‘inter-racial company’.”[more…]

The vast majority of the plays staged in Jamaica during the first half of the 20th century were non-Jamaican. But even after black Jamaicans began taking over the theatre in the second half as producers, actors and writers and our playwrights started turning out comedies (in the main, for comedy is the most popular theatrical genre) those comedies were not the equivalent of the British drawing-room comedy.

That last term, originating way back in the 1880s, refers to “a light, sophisticated comedy typically set in a drawing room with characters drawn from polite society.” The form was extremely popular.

The characters in the Jamaican comedies (and plays, generally) written since the 1950s have largely been drawn from rural or inner-city areas and, in fact, our comedies have been mainly of the ‘roots’ variety.

That means Jamaica’s middle class has been under-represented, theatrically. But things seem to have changed.

The plays of Dahlia Harris and David Tulloch over the last few years indicate that the middle class has found not one, but two new voices. They are strong, insightful voices and they speak with verisimilitude.

Both Harris and Tulloch have plays now running. Harris’ Thicker Than Water is at the Stages Theatreplex on Knutsford Boulevard, and Tulloch’s Paternal Instinct is at The Pantry Playhouse. In this two-part article, I’ll focus first on Tulloch’s work.

21 years in theatre

Though only 32 years old, Tulloch has been in theatre for more than 21 years. He was six years old when producer-playwright Aston Cooke cast him in his first play, but it was with the Jamaica Junior Theatre (JJT) that he started regularly performing. From 1984, the JJT has been producing annual musicals at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, University of the West Indies, Mona campus.

Tulloch’s early interest in theatre sprang, he said, from “a strong drama club and choir background at school”. Then, when his friends urged him to audition for a JJT production in 1996 and he saw the many attractive girls in the group (whose productions usually involve more than 60 children), he “found it hard not to be interested”.

The JJT sparked his interest in playwriting, specifically when he wrote an original script for the group some 13 years ago . It was accepted and, on production, well received by the audience.

“I kept writing after that,” Tulloch said.

A multitalented artiste, Tulloch, since launching into theatre commercially in April 2000, has been involved in acting (in more than 40 plays in Jamaica and the USA), singing, writing, directing (some two dozen productions), composing (for seven shows), designing (both costumes and lighting), and producing.

He has produced some 20 shows through his company, Probemaster Entertainment. A resident of western Jamaica, he was artistic director of Montego Bay’s Fairfield Theatre from 2005 to 2010.

Source: Further reading Jamaica Gleaner

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