Frustration. That's how performing arts students applying for government help to study abroad describe their feeling when they're told that they can't get funding. They feel it's shameful that even though people with the skills they want to acquire are needed in the arts sector, an investment is not being made in people who want to come back and build up T&T.
They ask: if young people don't feel that their country values them enough to invest in them, will they come back?There is a wealth of untapped talent in T&T, as evidenced by young people being chosen for exceptional educational opportunities abroad by schools famous for their quality.
One such young person is Raguel Gabriel, who was chosen, out of 800 applicants from across the world, as one of 15 to attend a three-year conservatory programme at the prestigious Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City. On Gabriel's audition, president and artistic director Tom Oppenheim wrote: "It was a great pleasure seeing you audition. The competition was intense. We very much enjoyed your work and sense of passion for acting, theater and life."
Having been accepted, Gabriel now has to raise funds for tuition and other expenses. Tuition amounts to US$7,500 a semester, of which there are six in his expected course of study. He said while there will be opportunities for scholarships and grants at the school, these will only be offered based on performance.
Gabriel first approached the Ministry of the Arts and was told that since the programme was a conservatory style one, he could not get tuition. He then went to the Arts and Culture Fund at the Prime Minister's Office, who told him that the institution would have to be accredited by the Accreditation Council of T&T (ACTT) before he could access any funding.
After weeks had passed, the ACTT declined to give this accreditation, leaving Gabriel to move forward with raising funds on his own. He said he was flabbergasted by the decision of the council as the school is renowned worldwide.
He will be having a concert, titled Prologue, at Queen's Hall on August 21. In addition to Gabriel, Aurora Tardieu, Marvin Smith, Caroline Taylor and others will give musical and dramatic performances in the show.
Gabriel said he's extremely excited to attend the acting studio, which is known for its prodigious, rigorous and all-encompassing programme. He said the school's motto, that growth as an actor and growth as a human being are synonymous, is exactly what he loves about acting.
Gabriel said he had an "OMG" ("oh my God") moment when he attended a two-week acting intensive at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art last year.
"What I was most surprised by was how serious everybody was about it. Acting in T&T is seen as a side thing, because not everyone wants to act and it's not a real job prospect, but at the academy, it's almost as though you're at a university and learning chemistry or business; they're extremely serious about it and it's the same career as a doctor or a lawyer. You're treated as a professional.
"We had a lot of master classes–on the acting side, the business side, how to promote yourself–with ten-hour days. It was quite intense because you have all these emotional things they want to work on you with, but they insisted on it because, as an actor, you have to be able to take that pressure and still hold some part of you together no matter what.
"By the time I graduated I think I was somebody else. I came back here with a will to become a better actor than a singer."
Gabriel describes himself as a singing/actor who fell into acting because his singing roles demanded it. His stage credits include Tony in West Side Story, Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid and Remendado in Bizet's Carmen.
As part of the Young Artist Collective of the Classical Music Development Foundation of T&T, he has sung the roles of Black Teapot in Ravel's L'enfant et les sortileges, Tamino in Mozart's Die Zauberflote, Aeneas in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Frank in Mozart's The Impresario (also performed in Barbados at the 100 Voices project), and Alfred in Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus. He was last seen on stage as Marius in Les Miserables, in the acclaimed staging by The Marionettes Chorale at Queen's Hall in 2014 and 2015.
�2 Tickets for Prologue cost $200. Interested people can also donate to Raguel Gabriel at Republic Bank Account# 870120565531.