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Holgate Holds Fast to Culture
Michael Holgate is a man of many hats. The PhD candidate, novelist, director and award-winning choreographer is also a prolific playwright, and his latest production Ded Leff is currently underway at The Vibes Theatre featuring the Ashe Company.
Susumba caught up with Holgate to explore the art of reggae theatre, the role of the stage in cultural restoration, and his own personal legacy.
SUSUMBA: The premise of Ded Leff is that of a son fulfilling the terms of his mother’s will in order to earn his inheritance. What inspired you to take that concept and apply it to the local setting?
MICHAEL HOLGATE: I originally wrote this play when I was working with a brilliant group of young people at the University of the West Indies on a University Dramatic Arts Society season of performance in 2010. When I decided to do it at ASHE I did some serious rewriting and changed one of the lead characters to a male. So the Ashe Company has also influenced and inspired this most recent rewrite.
S: How is reggae theatre, a term that suggests more than the sum of its parts, different from the garden-variety musical?
MH: Reggae Theatre is a concept based on a desire to create a production that capitalizes on the strength of two of Jamaica’s strong cultural forms – Jamaican Theatre and Jamaican popular music. Jamaican Reggae has always been revolutionary, not just musically but also in terms of the creative genius of placing hard-hitting socially conscious lyrics next to a laid back vibe. Hopefully, Reggae Theatre can be just as inspiring, using drama and humour to reinterpret Jamaican music through a story that reinforces and re-presents the positive values within our culture.
S: Ded Leff sounds like the type of play that could restore interest in Jamaican folk culture by making it relatable to a new generation – kind of like Aston Cooke’s Jonkanoo Jamboree which you directed two years ago. What do you think about the role of theatre in recapturing these aspects of our society?
MH: Theatre needs a revamp in Jamaica. We are losing audiences. I believe that as theatre practitioners we have to keep experimenting and finding ways to connect even while pushing the envelope. It’s a delicate balance and nobody hits it all the time but as artists we have to keep working at it if we love and believe in what we do. Artists breathe life, joy and meaning into an otherwise drab world. Theatre gives us a fulfilling way to hold on to who we are as a people and productions like Ded Leff and Jonkanoo Jamboree help us reflect on our culture on multiple levels.
S: You’ve mentioned before that you only love directing musicals. What draws you to this particular form of theatre?
MH: My exposure to musicals came from my days at Wolmer’s Boys when I performed in a production for School’s Drama Festival. Soon after I directed a production in the Little People and Teen Player’s Club, a musical adaptation of Rumpelstilskin. It was baptism by fire that started my lifelong passion for musical theatre. Later in The Ashe Caribbean Performing Arts Ensemble, I came to realise that I didn’t want to just dance, or act, or sing, I loved doing all three. Ashe’s Artistic Director Joseph E. Robinson insisted on taking us to Broadway musicals every time the group travelled so from early days we were seeing shows on Broadway such as Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Miss Saigon, and Rent among others. I’m fascinated by the way music, dance and drama can come together with all the other production elements to create a story that rings true.
S: How do you feel about the body of work you’re creating as an artist? What kind of legacy would you like to leave behind?
MH: I am grateful that I am able to do work in the world of dance, the world of music and the world of drama and film. I’m grateful for the University of the West Indies which allows me to do creative work and to take risks and experiment in theatre. I’m grateful for growing up in ASHE and for my ability to do work that hopefully empowers and educates others. That’s how I feel: grateful. As for legacy, what I really want is for who I am now to serve me now. I want people to say about me, now, that I am inspiring, encouraging and empowering creative people from all walks of life to express themselves as artists; become artists; take risks; push the envelope; become arts professionals. I want people to say I reached people and touched lives with my art and in my professional and personal life.
Ded Leff is running every Friday to Sunday until March at The Vibes Theatre on 8 Cargill Avenue.