Features — 01 April 2017 — by Bilal Morris
Raymond Gongora Revolutionized Belizean theater! (Part One)

(Tribute to Beverly Smith-Lopez)

The 1970s in Belizean theater can be dubbed “The Belizean Artistic Renaissance” since its period of high quality, accomplished Belizean drama taken from the streets of Belize City and the surrounding Creole villages of Belize District carried the narratives of Belizean ancestors of African Creole folklore. But these stories would not have been preserved if it was not for the work of a drama group from Belize City called “The Square Peg Players” that was the brilliant brainchild of the legendary Belizean actor, playwright, and visionary, Raymond Gongora.

Gongora’s range as an artistic interpreter was seen in his ability to take the language of the common day Belizean folk of the 1970s Belize and capture it in prose and drama. He was the architect of Belizean comedy theatre pulling from the incredible works of legendary Belizean artists and playwrights like Evan X Hyde, George Gabb and Sandra Coye. He turned these works into masterpieces of Belizean artistic freedom that served as a main source of entertainment at that time when radio was the only medium of communication and the coming of television was never even realized.

The period of the 1970s in Belize unraveled under a government monopoly radio station in Belize that was controlled by what appeared to be a single party domination of Belizean politics that scrutinized everything Belizeans said and did. Despite the political mood in the country at that time, Gongora and his cadre of talented Belizean actors and actresses, like the legendary, late Beverly Smith-Lopez, exploded on the Belizean stage with memorable acts that today are remembered with nostalgia to the yearning Belizean soul.

They challenged the Belizean political system as never before, and won major battles against the powerful Belizean politicians better than any activist movement operating in Belize both past and present. For Gongora, the stage at the aristocratic Bliss Institute, now the National Institute of Culture & History (NICH), became a revolutionary battlefield. Satire became a weapon and metaphors and allegories served as a defense mechanism against an established status quo that would not tolerate any dissent shrouded in drama and comedy. But in the end Gongora’s Square Peg Players had to be left alone since it was obvious to the political directorate in Belize that they had won the popular vote with the Belizean people, especially in the main commercial center at that time, Belize City.

Yours truly of Belizean Legends’ discussion with Raymond Gongora last year 2016 captured this most eclectic period of artistic expression in Belize when Belize was Belize in one of the most memorable interviews that will go down as one of the best works that we have ever done since our inception in 2013. It was a pleasure to hear this Belizean artist extraordinaire chronicle a period in Belize that we here at Belizean Legends called, “The Golden Age of Belizean Artistic Renaissance.”

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