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Shining a Light Through the Decay: KOTE and The Ward Theatre

Cat Coore, Kerry-Ann Henry, Luis Felipe Bellorin, Randy McClaren and Jean Small

The 2014 staging of Kingston on the Edge (KOTE), a nine-day event spread across 22 venues and featuring 26 events, is currently underway. This year’s theme is Balance and as a result, imbedded in the art and artistry being showcased in  is an attempt to bring attention to sites of imbalance, one of which is The Ward Theatre.

Despite the general acknowledgement of the cultural and historical value of The Ward Theatre in Downtown Kingston, the theatre, continues to languish in disrepair. To that end, the 2014 staging of KOTE include, The Ward Project.

Complete repair of The Ward theatre, which is an officially declared heritage site, with take approximately US$7 million. However, executive member of the Ward Theatre Foundation, Dr. Jonathan Greenland, explains events such as KOTE’s The Ward Project, will help the theatre to move forward by tackling its problems in small bites, rather than waiting for huge chucks of funding. He notes, that one of the important things is to get the theatre back as a working space. The Ward Project draws attention to that.

The Alpha Boys School Band opens the performance with likely SkaThe Ward Project, a two part event, culminated on Sunday, June 22, 2014 with a diverse array of theatrical arts taking over the stage.  However, before the performances of music, dub and performance poetry, dance and drama, the space had to be made habitable. So step one, was a cleaning of The Ward, so that despite the numerous broken chairs, marked by ribbons, the space could house an audience for an evening of entertaining and engaging theatre.

The evening opened with ska and popular music from The Alpha Boys School, who opened the concert with a lively set. They were followed to the stage by the Moder-Ashbourne Gang featuring husband and wife team Peter Ashbourne and Rosina Moder and two of their sons Jeremy and Joel Ashbourne. This musical family, playing in duets, trios and as a full quartet, delivered an engaging and varied set including folk, reggae and jazz. Rosina Moder and Jeremy Ashbourne

Venezuela’s Luis Felipe Bellorin brought an enjoyable serving of Venezuelan folk and contemporary music while Randy McClaren delivered energetic dub poetry touching on the social conscious in ‘Armadale: Children on Fire’ and the comic in ‘Mi Love Mi Breadfruit’.

A dynamic and refreshing dance set was presented by the combined efforts of Kerry-Ann Henry, Bullet Proof Clique and Street Meets Studio. Drama came from Jean Small who delivered a one-woman play ‘Relationships’ with assistance from the voice of Andrew Brodber and the musical talents of percussionist Mbala.

Several of the evening’s performers made sure to point out that the performance was intended to surpass momentary entertainment and bring attention to the need to fix The Ward. 

“I wonder how we failed her so,” said actor, director, facilitator and poet Fabian Thomas, confessing that he was actually heartbroken to see the current state of The Ward, which is over 100 years old. 

“Let this not just be a performance you came to,” Thomas urged. “Let this be a call to action. We must resuscitate The Ward,” he said.

Cat Coore who ended the evening’s performance with wonderful renditions on the cello, displayed a similar sentiment. His performance seemed bent on inspiring the audience. His set included The National School Song ‘I Pledge My Heart’, ‘Forever Young’ and ‘Redemption Song’.

“The urban decay in Kingston is very depressing,” Coore said noting that the Ward had been an influential part of his development. “The Ward was a huge inspiration to me as kid and I want it to be around when I’m gone,” Coore said.

Kingston on the Edge 2014 began on Friday, June 20, 2014 and continues through to Sunday, June 29, 2014. Venues include The National Gallery of Jamaica, Bolivar Gallery, Red Bones the Blues Cafe, and The Spanish Court Hotel.