The Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW) launched its first theatre company of actors in nearly a decade on April 11 at a casual cocktail viewing party at the theatre's workspace on Jerningham Avenue in Belmont.
Media, partners and friends of the theatre spent time mingling at the bar, discussing displays on the theatre's past work and history before going into the black box theatre for a viewing of excerpts the company's first production, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Albert Laveau, the theatre's longtime creative director, spoke first to attendees about TTW's rich history and why he believes it's still relevant today.
The TTW was started 53 years ago by Derek Walcott and other iconic artists like dancer Beryl McBurnie, and has performed some of the most important theatre T&T has seen.
"Our country needs institutions, and this is one of them. And I think we need to preserve it and I invite you all to contribute," Laveau concluded. He then introduced Timmia Hearn Feldman, his assistant creative director and director for TTW's new acting company of seven actors.
Feldman is particularly excited about performing Midsummer, which opened on April 18, not just because she's wanted to direct this play for ages, she said at the launch. But the company took several bold decisions in the staging of this play. Firstly, its seven actors play a total of 20 characters, an exhausting prospect, but potentially brilliant if done well.
Secondly, they've chosen to set the play in contemporary Trinidadian Carnival society, which Feldman says is the best parallel to Shakespeare's rendering of the Bacchanalian May Day celebrations in Midsummer that she's ever come across.
"This is a celebration of flowers and paint and powder, about fertility and drinking, music and dancing. Sound familiar? We are exploring the text through our own lens," Feldman said.
During the two excerpts of the play performed during the launch, the audience saw Shakespeare's Titania and her fairies styled as mischievous Pretty Devils (Jab Jabs). And King Oberon, played by music band Gyazette frontman Nickolai Salecedi, takes on the unmistakably aggressive movements and grimaces of the Blue Devil.
Feldman said she's been getting some negative feedback about this staging of Midsummer from several different sources, which puzzles her. TTW's company is not changing Shakespeare's dialogue, she explained, but the actors will be saying their lines in their own accents, which actually works really well to render the language clearer if the excerpts are anything to judge by.
"Why should a Trinidadian theatre company perform poetry in accents that are not our own? Why should we try and be something else than Trinidadian? Trinidadian English Creole is a beautiful language, it understands metaphor better than contemporary British English. So I feel that we are being more authentic to the text in our own lilting accents than a clipped British accent could do. Let alone an American accent."
And since this staging of Midsummer is part of TTW's reinvigorated theatre-in-education programme and will be touring secondary schools around the country to help CXC Literature students understand the text that they must analyse for their exams, the Carnival-inspired staging will add that extra layer that makes theatre goers not just get a play, but identify with the messages it embodies.
"We are not directly using Carnival characters. We are playing with archetype. But those characters themselves come from a wealth of other traditions. Kind Oberon sports horns, which the traditional Jab Jab does not. Queen Titania has a walk that one would never see in a blue devil band. There is inspiration and the exploration to create a world of our own. Just as Shakespeare took inspiration from Ancient Athens and created his own world. It is poetry," Feldman said.
A Midsummer Night's Dream continues from April 25 to 28 at TTW.