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Guyana prepares for Caribbean performing arts teaching network

President Donald Ramotar with graduates, lecturers and tutors of the National School of Theatre Arts and Drama (GINA photo)

Guyana is gearing up to be part of a regional network to teach the performing arts at the level of Caribbean examinations as well as push drama as a money-making enterprise.

The announcement was made at the inaugural convocation of the newly-established National School of Theatre Arts and Drama held Tuesday night at the National Cultural Centre.

Director of Studies, Al Creighton said the school is offering a Certificate in Theatre Arts after one year of study and a second year Diploma in Theatre Arts and Drama as stepping stones to pursuing an Associate Degree or a Bachelors Degree at the University of Guyana (UG).

“The plan is that a degree programme will open up at the University of Guyana and both a demand and a supply of qualified persons in drama are being created,” he said in his report.

Graduates of the National School of Theatre Arts and Drama, he said, would be added to the Ministry of Education’s register of teachers. “The National School of Drama, therefore, fits into a brand new Caribbean network in which there is a CXC programme, a CAPE performing arts programme which is about to begin.”

He noted that persons are already being trained to degree levels in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados.  Institutions in those countries include the Jamaica School of Drama, the University of the West Indies (UWI) Department of Creative and Festival Arts in  Trinidad and the Errol Barrow Centre at the UWI in Barbados.

Earning cash

Among the courses taught by the National School of Theatre Arts and Drama is one on
Enterprise and Entrepreneurship aimed at gearing graduates to make money from the Arts. “Students were exposed to turning the artistic product into earning and career potential…putting economic value to the performing arts and being able to market and earn money from their arts,” he said.

CARICOM’s Programme Manager for Culture and Community Development, Dr. Hilary Brown welcomed the decision by Guyana to include the business element in the School’s curriculum because that is one of the requirements of the Regional Development Strategy and Action Plan for the development of the cultural industries. “Certainly, I was very happy to hear that this component was already included in this programme in what sounds like a very comprehensive and demanding curriculum,” she said.

Figures, she said, show that the creative and cultural industries have been increasingly contributing to Caribbean economies, employment and social cohesion.

Key constraint to be addressed

Shortly after the Director of the National School of Theatre Arts and Drama identified the absence of classroom facilities as a major constraint facing the one year old institution, the Assistant Director of Culture at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, Linden Ross announced the efforts were underway to provide premises.

The National School has been holding theoretical and practical sessions at the National Cultural Centre (NCC). Creighton said although the public theatre was a “virtual laboratory” the NCC was always in great demand and the relevant facilities were not always available for student use.

“While there were vast areas of space in the huge building, there is still a need for classroom facilities suitable for a drama school,” he said.

Another constraint identified was the near absence of “properly trained” persons to serve as lecturers. “Persons with formal training at the level of university in the disciplines of theatre are fairly rare.This poses a problem for the school which has to make use of experienced practitioners as tutors and demonstrators to assist lecturers in running the courses,” he said.

The National School of Theatre, Arts and Drama was established by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport in 2012 and was officially launched on January 29, 2013- the first time a specialised tertiary institution of this kind has been established in Guyana.

The school opened for classes on February 11, 2013 on the premises of the National Cultural Centre under the management of the Director of Drama within the Ministry of Culture Youth and Sport, Collette Jones-Chin.

The report shows that only 12 of the 26 enrolled students have completed the programme, representing a high drop-out rate. Statistics show that 14 or more than 50 percent failed courses,, did not turn earn enough credits to graduate, dropped out in the middle of the semester or officially withdrew. The graduates are They are Teneka Calderia and Mark Luke Edwards who graduated with Distinction, Lisa Adams, Natasha Azeez, Nirmala Narine and Melinda Primo-Solomon who attained credit and Mikel Andrews, Keron Bruce, Latoya Kellman, Nikose Layne, Marissa Primo and Rae Wiltshire who earned passes.

Creighton reported that the playwrights have written five new Guyanese play which will be directed by the directing class for the 2013 National Drama Festival. Others are working as actors, stage managers and various areas of production in many other plays for the festival.

The National School of Theatre Arts and Drama is also supplying mentors to schools, youth clubs and church groups to help them produce plays for the National Drama Festival.

Lecturers, tutors and demonstrators for the programme were drawn from a core of professionals in the country’s performing arts. Among them, Professor Al Creighton, Russel Lancaster, Ron Robinson, Vivienne Daniels, Godfrey Naughton, Gem Madhoo-Nascimento and Margaret Lawrence