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From the Publisher

PublisherFrom the Publisher

The Tony Awards victories of two actresses of Belizean ancestry, Kara Young and Maleah Joi Moon, are totally sensational and historic. The ladies were awarded on Sunday, June 16, in New York City.

They were awarded for outstanding performances on Broadway, which is where plays are staged in New York City.

During my three years at a university in the northeastern part of the United States, one time I got to see the Alvin Ailey Dancers in a performance at the school auditorium. Sensational. Simply sensational. Another time, the late Guy Mhone and I went to a jazz club in the Big Apple. The vibraphonist, Bobby Hutcherson, was the featured performer. A great experience. But I never saw a Broadway play. 

When I was a child, maybe 12 or 13, an American actress who had been on Broadway came to British Honduras and began interacting with locals who performed in plays at the Bliss Institute. (I believe the original Bliss Institute was opened in 1953.)

I had two paternal aunts (now deceased), Grace Hyde Grant and Chrystel Hyde Straughan, who were a part of the theater community in Belize. Others I remember include the late George Gabb, the late Mrs. Gladys Stuart, the late Brian Hall, and Donaldene Fairweather.

The theater in British Honduras was popular, but very timid, at the time. During Shirley Warde’s time, a Belizean actress actually briefly smoked a cigarette on stage, and a young actor actually kissed a young actress on the lips. Such would have been unthinkable pre-Warde.

Shirley Warde was a believer in the Bahá’í religion, and she converted my two aunts and Sandra Coye to her faith. I believe the Bahá’ís are a spinoff from Islam, but the Muslims and the Bahá’ís are hostile to each other. I would say Miss Warde would have been in her sixties when she came to Belize.

When I returned to Belize in 1968, I do not recall ever seeing Miss Warde, but local theater was still active through the Festival of Arts. In the 1970s, the Square Peg Players kept theater alive in Belize, led by people like Ray Gongora, the late Beverly Smith Lopez, Dwight Neal, and Diane Haylock.

But there was some point in the 1980s, I believe, when the Bliss Institute had to be repaired, and that repair took many, many years. During that period, the little theater we had in Belize went into a coma.

Even in its heyday in the British colony, theater was very hesitant to take on serious issues. I think Miss Warde pushed for serious theater, but you must remember that politicians do not like artistic people like theater people. So, in Belize the emphasis was always on comedy, wherein Mrs. Gladys Stuart was the superstar.

After the success of a play I had written for Wesley College in 1971 entitled “Haad Time,” I became ambitious and wrote “Weh Jon Jon Deh” after resigning from the college after the 1971/72 school year. I even had a lead performer in my mind for the play by the name of Julia Young, a real talent whom I haven’t seen for almost fifty years.

When Melissa Espat approached me last year for purposes of staging Jon Jon, I didn’t even have a copy of the Jon Jon script. Remember, I had become an activist in 1969, and mainstream Belizean society considered me a pariah. After the Jon Jon experiment, I gave up playwriting except for a 1980s thing called “Maude,” which is in Mose’s possession presently.

In any case, the point is that Belizean theater is really flimsy, and yet our Belizean genes have produced two theater winners on the greatest theater stage in the world. How you figure?

I think there is a symbiosis of some kind between media and the theater in New York. In the 1960s, which I consider the peak period of Belizean theater, we had no television, one government-controlled radio station, and two very politicized newspapers.

Today in Belize, we have a flourishing media world, which includes the explosive and uncontrollable social media. But, we don’t really have a theater. In New York City, theater is a major, major industry. There are plays that run every night for years and years on Broadway. That’s when a play is a hit.

I guess the first problem in Belize is that we older people can’t come out at night in the population center without a certain amount of trepidation. Then, the young people have a lot of devices which enable them to watch movies from all over the world in the comfort of their homes.

I really haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about this. The column was inspired by my desire to “big up” Kara and Maleah, and also to revive the memory of Shirley Warde, with the hope that someone who knows more about her than I do would begin a conversation. In Belize, it’s like the fifties and the sixties never existed, except for party politics.     

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