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Tallawah Drama Festival: A Beacon of Possibility for Caribbean Theatre

Maya Wilkinson's The Heist, Tallawah 2014

When the curtains came down on the 2014 edition of the tertiary drama festival Tallawah, Maya Wilkinson’s hilarious comedy The Heist had snatched up five of the trophies including that for Best Production. The play, an art heist parody, follows in a long line of some of the best theatre no one ever sees. For those with the stamina to make it through all the nights, Tallawah has consistently produced some fantastic theatre, and yes, some fabulously bad pieces as well. 

The 2014 Best of Tallawah Awards ceremony, now under the direction of Michael Holgate, seems to be trying to shake off its reputation as Caribbean theatre’s best kept secret. Yet secret or no, the festival has been a barely tapped resource for finding the next generation of writing, directorial and acting talent. Tallawah has been particularly striking for providing a space for experimentation  and it has provided succour for some of the most intriguing creatives who are emerging in the region. 

Chantelle Smith and Darian Reid in Matthew Murrell's HeadwomanWilkinson (who also directed The Heist) is decidedly well on her way to being one of the Jamaica’s young playwrights to watch. Indeed, the play also benefitted from a fantastic cast, allowing it to snag awards for Best New Play, Best Actor (Desmond Dennis), Best Supporting Actor (Darian Reid) as well as Best Set. The Heist also racked up an impressive tally of high commendations, receiving nods for Stage Properties, Direction and Best Actor (David Crosgill). Crosgill certainly delivered one of the best performances of his career and Dennis is an enigmatic performer throbbing with potential. 

The festival also brought attention to the work of Matthew Murrell (Barbados). His play, Headwoman an involving drama surrounding a Lolita-esque heroine also earned much of the judge’s attention receiving several nominations and eventually taking the award for Best Director (Joylene Alexander). The two-hander also received high commendations for its cast (Chantelle Smith and Darian Reid). 

Honica Brown and Akeem Mignott in Patrick Brown's Final GameBoth Murrell and Wilkson had previously had successful outings at Tallawah. Indeed, Wilkson’s play Vessel had earned the Best New Play award in 2013 while Murrell’s Hell Hath No Fury Like a Scorn Woman was also well received.

For the first time, both Murrell and Wilkinson have also benefited from the broader gaze of commercial theatre, with Head Woman and The Heist both being included in the a night of short plays staged by the Jambiz International at the Centre Stage Theatre.  Though often accused of pandering to the lowest common denominator showed great foresight in staging the event also presented two pieces by Patrick Brown, Final Game and Bucket List. Final Game had also been a part of the 2014 roster of plays at Tallawah.

“The lifeblood of any industry is the material and talents at its disposal” said Jambiz Director Lenford Salmon in a press release regarding the Jambiz night of short plays. “Producers need a talented pool from which to draw actors to people the productions and the audience wants to see new exciting faces coming to the fore. Tonight’s show was all about providing a platform for these young artistes to showcase their talents.” Writer and director Maya Wilkson accepts an award from playwright David Tulloch

The night of short plays (held November 24, 2014), which reportedly played to a capacity audience, was a much needed step to for the continued development of theatre in the region. Caribbean theatre requires not only a space for great experimentation, but different and daring work needs to find its way to larger and more diverse audiences. A striking poetic mash-up 'Sisters at War'

Notably, it was also not Jambiz’ first attempt at lending its stage to experimental theatre. Indeed, the company had launched the Centerstage space with a theatre festival, including a month of Sunday morning readings, and later staged a night of short plays featuring talent from the Centerstage Theatre Workshop. 

Of course, Tallawah 2014 had other commendable pieces which may likely never find its way to a larger audience. The piece ‘Sisters at War’ an absolutely fabulous poetic mash-up was particularly striking. The piece pits nuns against witches without erasing the haunting truths of the words of Martin Carter and Claude McKay. The performance earned three awards for Best Group Poetry, Best Costumes and Best Off the Page. Michael Lewis vibrant and engaging storytelling was also a noteworthy feature as was a visceral rendition of Richard 'Dingo' Dingwall's 'Closets' which earned the award for Best Male Monologue.

Though they each won only one award, the productions Final Game and Miracle on Maami Lane reaped several high commendations. Final Game received the high commendation trophies for Production, Direction, Set, Sound, and Use of Music. Miracle on Maami Lane received four high commendations for Production, New Play, Make up and Costuming. 

The 2014 awards also paid well-deserved homage to the contributions of two of theatre’s stalwarts, delivering special awards to costume designer Quindell Ferguson and actor Glen Campbell for their contributions to the development of theatre.Excelsior Community College performs 'Barber Shop Blues'

The 2014 Tallawah drama festival was held at the Philip Sherlock Centre, University of the West Indies, Mona November 4-7. The Best of Tallawah event was staged on Sunday, November 9, 2014 and ably hosted by actors Shanique Brown and Andre Bernard also featured guest appearances by Aston Cooke, Nadean Rawlins, David Tulloch, and Nomaddz.

Full List of Awardees:

Best Production - The Heist

Best Director - Headwoman

Best New Play - The Heist

Best Actor - Desmond Dennis (The Heist)

Best Actress - LaTanya Hall (Precious)

Best Supporting Actor - Darian Reid (The Heist)

Best Supporting Actress - X - A Life of Running

Best Set - The Heist

Best Lighting - Final Game

Best Costumes - 'Sisters at War'

Best Makeup - Beautiful Ugly

Best Use of Sound - X - A Life of Running

Best Use of Music - Miracle in Maami Lane

Best Use of Stage Properties - 'Push Back'

Best Use of Multimedia - Mama’s Boy

Best Male Monologue -  'Closets'

Best Female Monologue - 'Push Back'

Best Male Poetry - 'Letter to Hilary'

Best Group Poetry - 'Sisters at War'

Best Dub Poetry - 'Barber Shop Blues'

Best Male Storyteller - 'How Sorrel Got Its Name'

Best Off the Page - 'Sisters at War'