Imagine yourself, a young person, visiting another country and experiencing for the first time, not one, but several nations’ cultures, in an ‘other-worldly’ environment of original artistic expression, exchange and community. It would surely be life-changing, even more so if the reason you’re there is to represent your country!
Such was the experience of the group of ten young thespians who represented Jamaica at the Tin Forest Theatre Festival this summer during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. Their participation was through Manifesto Jamaica – the four-year-old not-for-profit that has been using art and culture to connect youth, and keep them focused on a positive educational path, for personal and community development.
“I was surprised that I actually got the chance to visit another country at the age of 16,” said Renee Jones, the youngest, who hails from Trench Town.
Manifesto Jamaica Managing Director Lesley-ann Welsh said, “We are committed to employing innovative approaches to education that inspire youth, one by one, to mature into nation-builders.” Her organization believes that this should include travel and international exchange.
After months of rehearsal, backed by passionate, faith-filled pursuit of funding, the group dubbed ‘Team Tin Forest Jamaica’ made it to Glasgow to perform their piece, entitled ‘SomeNoWhere’, thanks to the support of scores of individual donors, the Tourism Enhancement Fund, RISE Life Management Services, British Airways, Total Travel Services, the Institute of Jamaica, GraceKennedy Foods, Lithographic Printers, Anubis Communications and patrons of their debut home performance.There were multiple dimensions of learning along the way. The most crucial extended beyond theatre.
Differences and Similarities
Upon reaching Glasgow on July 20, the group immediately immersed themselves in the intense schedule organized by the National Theatre of Scotland. They also managed to carve out time to do a little exploration of Scottish heritage on their own.
“From the moment we arrived, it was amazing. I was surprised to know that people are so crazy over Jamaicans. Being a Jamaican is a blessing,” said Paula-Gaye Donaldson, who is from Fletcher’s land.
At the centre of their 10-day visit were living quarters (literally located on Jamaica Street) shared with youth theatre practitioners from Bangladesh, England, Malta, India, Scotland and New Zealand. The arrangement ensured that each participant lived, dined and worked side-by-side with representatives from other territories. The Jamaicans quickly drew close to the Indians, after having a dance off with them at the opening ceremony, and the Maltese, who thrived amidst all the energy.
Shedon Kelly, an outstanding rubgy player from Fletcher’s land, says that his self-worth has grown. Although he voluntarily helps out with the sports programme at his alma mater, St. George’s, he really didn’t think of himself as much before. “My perception of everything has changed,” he said. The idea is now rooted in him that “even though you’re just one person, you can effect a change, so you should open up more to the possibilities, to the environment and to people.” The Bangladeshi’s taught him that “to not open up, is to let your spirit die.”
“I am definitely changed,’ said Jones. “I’ve spent all my life relating to people in my family and community. I’ve never had to relate to new people before. I found that I learned a lot about myself and I grew. Before, I would tend to judge a book by its cover… It’s not about the exterior anymore. It’s about the interior.”
“We all came to realize that we have more in common than we do differences between us,” said Renard Anderson, another team member from Trench Town. “The same issues are being faced everywhere,” noted Donaldson. Jodean Tapper, an Edna Manley College graduate originating from Portland, added, “We got a chance to see how others dealt with them.”
And so, the differences became fascinating. From the living statues across the city of Glasgow to the full scale theatrical performances at the South Rotunda, the young Jamaicans were moved by how people, worldwide, use the arts as a means of self-discovery, storytelling and even escape. As Tapper put it, the arts are “tools which help us to communicate with each other”.
The theatre groups were all required to deliver day-time workshops on aspects of their country’s culture. Manifesto Jamaica’s workshops were oversubscribed.
Most of the festival goers were persons from eastern parts of the world. They were thrilled to get hands on experience of Jamaica’s language, dance and food. “Imagine a person from Malta, saying ‘Mi love mi breadfruit’ and doing dub poetry. They’ve never seen a breadfruit before, but they’re dubbing on key, and in rhythm,” exclaimed Drysdale. Both he and his co-director, Randy McLaren, are award-winning dub and spoken word poets.
During their preparations, the group had consulted with Frederick ‘Tippa’ Moncrieffe on the connections between traditional Jamaican dance forms and contemporary dancehall moves, and their general approach to delivering the workshops. “They were so interested, so engaged in the dancing! It was all fun,” Drysdale added, as he recalled the reactions.
The attendees just couldn’t get their fill of traditional Jamaican snacks either. Even after the workshops, Team Tin Forest Jamaica was being cornered for banana chips.
The excitement culminated with the performance of ‘SomeNoWhere’ at the South Rotunda on July 27. The production was the team’s interpretation of the Tin Forest theme, ‘From Nowhere to Somewhere’.
Drysdale reflected how, right up to the final rehearsal, he digged deep to “get everyone into a spiritual space, where it was no longer about remembering lines or standing in the right place, it was about connecting with each other.” McLaren added more context at the beginning, in keeping with suggestions received back home.
It worked. The South Rotunda was totally enthralled and clearly able to navigate through the patois. At one point, a lighting technician, mesmerized by the performance, missed his cue for the first and only time and, at the curtain call, the Jamaicans received a thunderous, multi-national standing ovation.
“I thank Shaun for leading us to finding so much in us that we didn’t even know was there,” says Tapper. “The process was really what meant so much. It was everything that we went through to reach our final product that made it so interesting and exciting.”
Shaneil Orr, herself a graduate of Edna Manley College and Portland native, says her most memorable moment was just before she went on stage. “I came to the realization that theatre is my ‘somewhere’,” she said.
Donaldson, who played Orr’s imaginary sister in the production, believes that her ‘somewhere’ is social work. “I’m going to see how best I can fit what I’ve learned from this entire experience into my studies,”she said.
SomeNoWhere for Jamaica
Manifesto Jamaica is eager for more development partners serious about innovative approaches to education to come on board to support a series of local performances of ‘SomeNoWhere’. The 50-minute playlet seeks to encourage a greater level of regard for orphans and to motivate all young people to stand confidently in the heritage of their ancestors and diligently pursue their goals. Project Manager Natalia Welsh indicated that the cast and crew are especially eager to perform for schools and children’s homes.
Let’s hope that corporate Jamaica will take Kelly’s words to heart when he says the key lesson he took away from Glasgow was – “evolution and revolution”.
Kelly warns, “Don’t stay dormant, because things and times will change, so your mind has to change as well. It’s up to you to evolve and revolutionize your thoughts, and the way you do things.”
This article was published in the Jamaica Gleaner on October 5, 2014.
Manifesto Jamaica’s mission is to develop and attract opportunities for young people that inspire creativity, productivity and elevated consciousness, by harnessing the talents of nation builders.
BE A PART OF IT!