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Anancy Gets Athletic in Winners Circle

Melissa Halliman as Anancy

One of Jamaica’s most celebrated folk heroes, Anancy, is joining forces with the country’s contemporary heroes, our athletes and musicians when Winners Circle, the third installment of the Anancy Chaptaz hits the stage. While Anancy could never be mistaken for Usain Bolt, it should be interesting to see the conflation of these two ideals - strength and training versus cunning and guile.

Winners Circle, written by Sabrena McDonald and directed by Damion Radcliffe, is produced by The Independent Actors Movement. The Anancy Chaptaz are a part an intriguing growth of children’s productions on the Jamaican theatrical landscape. Along with the Anancy Chaptaz, the Edna Manley College has for the past few years presented a children’s theatre production, while the National Pantomime has returned closer to its roots and become more children’s theatre than family entertainment. Last year the Greatness Exists in Me (GEM) Movement children’s pantomime also joined the landscape.

An interesting element of the Anancy Chaptaz is that it is a serialized annual production. Of course, it is by no means the first annual Anancy dramas as the Pantomime have had two distinct Anancy periods where each annual show surrounded the character.

Damion Radcliffe gived directions to Sabrena McDonaldHowever, the Anancy Chaptaz, as is expressed in the title, is more deliberate in those intentions of focusing on Anancy. Yet, Anancy is not always the main protagonist of these stories. As Radcliffe points out that, there are Anancy stories which focus on Anancy’s exploits and others where he is more peripheral to the action, but at the end you learned how he caused it - the ‘Anancy mek it’ type stories.

“I think when we reach the fifth year of doing it, there is discussion of going back to the beginning and amping it up,” says Radcliffe noting that the fourth production, Monkey Business, was already announced.

Radcliffe explains that the central point of the play is reaching for a goal and finding your inner winner. “The story shows that there is a winner in you and so you should never give up,” he says.

Winners Circle, slated to open May 25, 2013 at the Dennis Scott Studio Theatre,  is a take on the Olympic Games but also adds in a musical component. Winners Circle surrounds the Storyland Games which are contested by the Cat Clan, the Fur Clan, the Bird Clan and the Mixed Clan who all contest for superiority.

The games have been dominated by the Cat Clan for the past ten years while the Mixed Clan, who hail from the worst parts of Storyland are looked down on and never expected to win. However, this year, the Mixed Clan are joined by Anancy who longs to become an international recording star via the recording contract that is one of the prizes of the Storyland Games.
The cast of Winners circle
As with the previous productions, Winner’s Circle’s cast comprises mainly children with a few adult incursions including McDonald who returns in the recurring role of Tella and Tesfa Edwards who plays the rolling calf, Mad Moo. This year Anancy is played by Melissa Halliman who is no stranger to the Anancy Chaptaz series.

Fifteen year-old Halliman, played the recurring role of Royal in the ridiculously engaging duo Royal and Big Head. The characters have been so intriguing that along with Anancy and Tella, they are the only characters who have appeared in each installment. Halliman admits that there is some pressure as she has the shoes of her Anancy predecessors to fill and she has a difficult transition to make in the type of character.

“The first character I had to be more of the joker,” she says of her role as Royal. “Now I have be more of a trickster, and it’s hard,” Halliman explains. The Campion College student however expresses great confidence in the production.

"I'm very confident that it will be a good production,” she says. “I've never feared when I'm working with Mr. Radcliff or Sabrena. They're very good directors and producers."

Halliman isn’t the only member of the cast who returns this year. Other recurring members of the cast include Alanis Blake, Jared Johnson, Amani Cooke and Asmahani-Aza Cooke.

“One of the positives of the production is that it really develops the self esteem of the actors,” says Radcliffe. He remarks that some of the students who were intensely shy and didn't know they could move or sing, have learnt that they can. Wendy McLean Cooke, mother of Amani and Asmahani-Aza Cooke agrees.

“I think for Amani it has been about coming into her own, getting more confident and putting herself out there,” McLean Cooke explains. “She started off just hiding behind everybody to now being able to say, I think I can do that part and wanting to do that part.

Choreographer Paula Shaw watches as the cast go through the movementShe explains that Asmahani, the younger of the two girls, has also grown in confidence as well and so believes that participation in the three Anancy Chaptaz has been important to their development, both for improving specific skills such as projection and singing, but also with their personal growth.

“They get to see that there are other kids doing this and I think that's good,” she says. “They find acceptance.”

And where better to find such acceptance than in the exploration of our myths and legends be they of the folk or contemporary sort.