The Story of the Little Theatre
(Published in the Sunday Gleaner, July 1, 1973)
The whole idea of the LTM began in 1941 with the Pantomime and other LTM productions in various Kingston locations including the Ward Theatre and the Rainbow Theatre at Half-Way-Tree.
It was not until 1957 at a meeting of the Kingston and St. Andrew Parish Library that Mr. Russell LeWars mentioned that the KSAC had purchased land in order to put in a bypass road and that some land would be available and could be used by the Library and the Little Theatre Movement. At that time also, the idea of a cultural centre was being conceived.
Mr. LeWars and Mr. Henry Fowler pioneered through the bush and jungle of the site to look the land over. To their dismay, the only piece of land available was a small plot now being used as the parking lot at the present Library. So the LeWars and Fowler team approached the then War department (the land was owned by Camp) to purchase more land adjoining the small available lot. The flame of a cultural centre was still flickering - enough land was purchased for the Library and the proposed Little Theatre on Tom Redcam Drive.
The Library was the first building to go up in 1957 and later the stage area of the LTM's Rainbow Theatre was moved and erected on the present site on Tom Redcam Drive. In 1958, G. Arthur Brown suggested to the Hon. Norman Manley and the Government at the time that a grant of five thousand pounds should be made available to erect the Rehearsal Room was a gully, later filled in and built upon because the land area for the proposed Little Theatre needed to be kept clear for the day when a theatre would actually be built. The Rehearsal Room was opened in 1958 by the late Hon. Norman Manley.
The growing pains of the LTM were now very evident. A group of Jamaican community leaders got together to organise the financing of the Little Theatre's structure. Designs for the theatre were being accepted and finally a design by Gilbert Pratley was chosen. Mr. Pratley and the late Sir Noel Coward then had detailed discussions and the final design was approved by the LTM. Lady Foot, wife of Jamaica's Governor Sir Hugh Foot (now Lord Caradon) was also very interested in the LTM and she was instrumental in getting Sir Noel involved with the theatre.
In 1961, the Little Theatre was officially opened by Sir Kenneth Blackbourne with Mr. Florizel Glasspole as the main speaker. At the time of its opening, the Little Theatre invited a group of prominent personalities in both theatre and public life to be Honorary Members. This list included Sir John Gielgud, Marian Anderson, Nat King Cole, Noel Coward (not yet knighted), Oscar Hammerstein, Louis Armstrong, Hon and Mrs. Norman Manley, and Sir Alexander Bustamante. (Opening of Little Theatre)
The Little Theatre Movement, founded in 1941 by Greta Fowler set out to foster the development of Drama in the island and to raise funds to provide a Little Theatre for Jamaica. In 1961, this dream was realised. It's slogan "Drama – the art where all arts meet" is a constant reminder of the high cultural and educational function of the theatre.
Now in 1973, the Little Theatre has come a long way. Still headed by Henry and Greta Fowler, the compounds of the theatre are as busy as ever. The National Pantomime the mainstay of the LTM, has never missed a year for the past 33 years and continues to thrill thousands who attend yearly productions. The Drama School which became a reality in 1969 is constantly expanded to meet the demands of interested students of the theatre.
A recent new addition is "The Studio" It provides space for classes, workshop and also an intimate garden theatre for poetry readings, experimental productions and dance recitals. Co-ordinator, Thom Cross and his host of tutors instruct nearly fifty students in the various courses offered. Currently a production of Roger Mais' novel "Brother Man" is being prepared for opening soon.
Last year, the need for the roofing and air-conditioning of the Little Theatre became necessary due to the constant demand on the facility.
A committee headed by Mr. Maurice Facey and including the Friends of the Little Theatre went to work to raise the $86,000 that was needed. To date $57,000 has been received and one year later, the Little Theatre is roofed and air-conditioned and with other improvements which now makes the theatre usable year round regardless of the weather.
It is still a great challenge to the organisers that in order to keep the theatre rental within the reach of all, it has to be subsidised, along with the Theatre School, by the proceeds from the National Pantomime and donations received from various companies and organizations. It is with this faith in the continual help from the community that the needed improvements were added to the Little Theatre.
Countless groups use the Little Theatre yearly. The NDTC holds its annual recitals there. Festival groups from all over the island congregate at the Little Theatre to take part in the finals of their regional events. Some years, tents were erected to provide extra backstage space.
The theatre is used by the Jamaica Amateur Operatic Society, the Secondary Schools Drama Festival, in preparations and rehearsal for the annual Panto, various schools of dance including Eddy Thomas Dancers visiting companies from Britain, France, Germany, USA and other West Indian islands including the Derek Walcott theatre group which is due in July this year. The theatre is also used by over 300 other groups and organisations which contribute to the cultural life of Jamaica.
The Little Theatre added a "Fly Tower" in 1998 as an improvement to the backstage facilities. This was also funded by fellow users of the theatre, the general public and from proceeds of the annual Pantomime. The Rehearsal Room has since been upgraded to a studio style theatre "The Little-Little Theatre" where various smaller productions are staged. It is also the rehearsal space for the Pantomime Company as they work on the annual production. With the expansion of the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts, The Studio is now used as a spill-over area when the Backstage Area is insufficient.
The Little Theatre Movement is currently chaired by Hon. Barbara Gloudon O.J. and Annual General Meetings are held each year where members of the LTM (drawn from the public and members of the Pantomime Company) are apprised of the status and activities of the non-profit organization.
Current users of the theatre include: National Dance Theatre Company, Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (Festival of Performing Arts), Stella Maris Dance Troupe, Wolmer's Dance Troupe, Movements Dance, Dance Theatre Xaymaca, and the Jamaica Folk Singers.