Theatre Comes of Age
(Message from Henry and Greta Fowler
On the occasion of the opening of the Little Theatre, September 21, 1961)
On the occasion of the opening of the Little Theatre we celebrate twenty years of consistent pioneer effort and experiment - starting with no funds, an indifferent public, and little or no tradition of indigenous theatre. In the twenty years of unceasing struggle, a delicate balance has had to be maintained. Theatrical standards had to be achieved,as had, by trial and error, discovery of the right type of play, and giving the right type of opportunity and experience to our untrained but potential talent. At the same time, limitations imposed by our initial lack of funds had to be recognized - our obligation to create savings for the erection of this Little Theatre, the lack of subsidies, the lack of personnel for training, reliance on voluntary work in all departments of our organisation and the migration of our best local talent. In addition, until recently there was the total absence of any concept of the powerful force which theatre exerts on the intellectual, emotional and cultural life of a community. Few took to heart the comment of Bernard Shaw when he visited Jamaica in the early twenties, "What! No dramatists in Jamaica? Then no civilisation here."
We are proud of the fact that in spite of all these early vicissitudes - tossed from pillar to post with no place to rehearse, and at times with no theatre in which to perform - we managed to maintain continuity of purpose and effort. We are also proud that we were able to erect first a temporary Little Theatre on leased premises, then to erect (with a donation of £5,000 from the Government in 1958) a Rehearsal Room, and now with generous assistance from the public, to open this Little Theatre itself.
We are proud too, of the fact that our survival has encouraged over the years the development of many dramatic societies and the emergence of Jamaican dramatists. Indigenous Theatre in Jamaica is no longer a sporadic flash in the dark, sparked by some transient brilliance, but is becoming a steady and continuous light illuminating our Jamaican way of life.
The great improvements recently carried out at the Ward Theatre by Government and the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation are a fine and practical proof of the fact that our present Government recognises the profound importance of this cultural development which is taking place. It has always been clear that Jamaica needs both a large theatre for the community and a Little Theatre which can act as a nursery of talent and a feeder for the Municipal Theatre. We are confident that the old days of cultural frustration are over, and that Theatre is now equipped to play its part in the national life.
This development of the medium if the Wet Indian musical is an event of deep and profound importance as we found when the Government of Jamaica sent our "Busha Bluebeard" to Trinidad for performances at the opening of the Federal Parliament in 1958. The enthusiasm of West Indians there from many territories completely transcended any barriers of insular allegiance. As one spectator conscious of the universal acclaim put it, "I wanted that night to wear a label "I come from the island that produced Busha Bluebeard"! The mere act of bringing together such divergent groups, the fact that audiences found themselves night after night in happy and instant communion with artists who came from all the islands for their pleasure and profit were revealing experiences in themselves. The Festival was a vivid confirmation of the truth that it is through the arts and particularly through the performing arts, that people can talk to people in that place of communion which is the theatre.
The theatre stretched across the boundaries of space, custom, politics and religion to bring the peoples of the world together in sympathy and mutual understanding.
We are proud, too that our experience with traditional Pantomime have evolved and produced a medium particularly suited to our talents. The West Indian musical is, even now, evolving into a more mature type of West Indian play with a deeper theme enlivened with the laughter, music, colour, rhythm and dance which will undoubtedly be a part of the West Indian contribution to the twentieth century world culture.
While, therefore, the building of this Little Theatre has been our goal over the years, we have been conscious of other responsibilities and we have been fulfilling them as completely as the delicate balance mentioned at the outset permitted us to do. We are deeply conscious that with this Theatre completed our responsibilities are going to be greater - not less. First will be, of course the responsibility of paying off the mortgage we have arranged to bridge the gap between our savings, greatly augmented by the response to our public appeal, and the actual cost of the Theatre and its equipment. But, at the same time, we must immediately face the necessity of employing a full-time producer, and building up the nucleus of a professional repertory company.
So close is the parallel between what we are finding necessary here in Jamaica, that is is interesting to note what has happened in Australia. At the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia put on an Olympic Arts festival which focussed interest on the new national theatre. A group of prominent citizens called for public subscriptions to erect a national theatre as a memorial to the Queen's visit. The fund was closed after £90,000 had been raised. The Federal Government donated another £30,000 and annual subsidies from State Governments and City Councils brought in £40,000 a year.
Mr. Hugh Hunt of the Old Vic Theatre, who was Director in Australia, said, "We decided that the best method to serve the Australian Theatre would be first to concentrate on raising the standard of our own theatre to that of the finest in overseas countries. Such a policy presents inevitable difficulties in a federal country with proud state traditions, where vast distances make a single national building impractical, and touring costly."
The Australian's national theatre at present envisages the building of an integrated drama company to tour on a nationwide scale, the training of young artists, assistance to promising playwrights, and occasional sponsorship of worthwhile little theatre productions of Australian drama. That too, is the task facing us in the West Indies.
We are asking everyone to join with us in thanking our donors for their generosity, courage and vision in making their contributions to our appeal. Our Roll of Honour already bears the names of some of our leading citizens and prominent firms, who are clearly proving their belief that the cultural health of our new nation is a matter of their concern. The fact that we have still met with indifference in some quarters is surprising and disappointing. We believe that they will find it bad business to be indifferent to these developments taking place in their midst. The fact that we have deliberately left ample space on our Roll of Honour is an ever-present challenge to them.
To the many who must have had to make personal sacrifices to make contributions, large or small, we take this opportunity of paying a grateful tribute, and of thanking them for creating the warm spirit of community effort and providing the atmosphere of co-operation which make our work possible.
We also record with equal gratitude our appreciation of those who have given so generously of their time and energy. We are only sorry that space does not permit us to list individually the hundreds of people each year who have made this work possible. Some of them are still with us in theatrical work; some are scattered all over the world, some on stage, some in radio, some in dance schools or universities. Our greatest hope is that this Little Theatre will become their spiritual and physical home, and that we shall be in a position so fully to capture the interest and enthusiasm of all creative talent that however far they may go in the search for training, experience and contact, this Little Theatre of Jamaica will ever be their home.
So now we open the Little Theatre, May its doors be ever open to all talent, its presence a symbol of faith in the community for all creative artists,and its productions a constant source of enjoyment and hope for all people.