After spending a few years away from the spotlight, Cacique award-winning actress Eunice Alleyne mounted the stage once more on Emancipation Day to perform in Pearl Eintou Springer's short play Freedom Morning Come. In it, Alleyne played the role of Ma Sandrin, a Yoruba elder and one of the many enslaved Africans who gathered outside the Treasury Building, Port-of-Spain, to hear Governor George Fitzgerald Hill read the Emancipation Proclamation in 1834.
While Friday's national celebrations commemorated the abolition of slavery and honoured the enslaved Africans who suffered through it, Alleyne was among the living figures honoured by the Emancipation Support Committee with a Spirit of Emancipation Award for her contributions to local theatre.
In an interview with the Sunday Guardian yesterday at her home in Santa Cruz, Alleyne recounted some of the highlights of her career as an actress and as a public servant.
She was born in Venezuela, where her parents got married, before moving to Trinidad at the age of two. After studying at St Joseph's Convent Port-of-Spain, she began a career in the public service that would span 36 years.
She worked for a number of years in both radio and television on what was then known as the Government Broadcasting Unit before becoming director of information at the office of the prime minster. "From broadcasting at Trinidad House, I went over to White Hall to work with Eric Williams. That was a scary time I would say. He was such a big, dynamic figure. As a young girl leaving Trinidad House to go work with the prime minister, it must be something scary. Despite that, I settled in there well."
It was while working there that she received a government scholarship to study mass communications at Boston University. While most of her working career was spent in the public service, Alleyne told the Sunday Guardian that she was always involved in the theatre and spent lots of time developing her craft.
"Even while at St Joseph's Convent, I remember Mother Francis Xavier saw me, analysed my voice and said that I could do something in theatre. I competed with the Catholic Youth Organisation. I did choral speaking, and I remember winning the islandwide prose and verse competition. Ever since then, I've been in theatre."
Throughout her career, she worked closely with playwright and poet Derek Walcott. In 1998 she won the Cacique award for Best Actress for her performance in his play Remembrance. She was among the founding members of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW) which Walcott founded along with Errol Jones, Beryl Mc Burnie and Stanley Marshall.
"Around 1959 we started with a little thatch-roofed structure down at the Little Carib Theatre. It wasn't as it is now. We worked there, we had our workshops, our improvisations. You were not stars at first. You had to work and train very hard to get onstage, and you would have workshops for like two years before you got onstage."
Asked her thoughts on the training of young local thespians, she said: "People rush onstage too quickly. They see the lights and the stage and they are prima donnas before actually doing the hard work. Theatre is craft that you continue to work on and hone. Many people think it's a hobby or a gift. Yes, you can have the gift of a good voice but theatre demands hard work."
Among the younger actresses who stand out in her view are Evelyn Caesar Munroe and Cecilia Salazar.
Over the last three weeks, she has had the opportunity to work with young, promising performers including Tishanna Williams, Camille Quamina and Muhammad Muwakil while preparing for Springer's Freedom Morning Come.
Alleyne is the last surviving female foundation member of the TTW and she remains one of its board members. In 2003 she won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Drama Association of T&T.
It wasn't the first time she acted in the Emancipation Day play–she did it in 2011 and was contacted again this year by Springer to play the role of Ma Sandrin.
Describing the role, she said, "Ma Sandrin is a Yoruba elder and as an elder, she has gone through the mill of pain, degradation, beatings and rape. Playing the role was quite a painful experience. As the character recounts all these things, you realise all that she has endured. Some in the audience cried and even I was brought to tears."
She said each rehearsal for the play presented an opportunity for her to learn something from Springer, who she describes as a "storehouse of information on African history."
Alleyne was surprised to learn that she was one of this year's recipients of the Spirit of Emancipation Award which the ESC gives to living persons whose work and talent "uplift generations of African peoples everywhere."
She said she recognised the value of the award adding that "part of emancipation is celebrating the accomplishments.
There is too much invisibility of black accomplishment. That is where we need to be emancipated. We need to recognise and accept how much we have contributed and accomplished."