For several decades, the National Pantomime, staged by the Little Theatre Movement (LTM), held pride of place on Jamaica’s annual entertainment calendar. But in spite of its national acclaim, Jamaica’s noble theatre institution seems to have lost its lustre. And this is the concern of former members such as Luke Williams.
Williams believes that the pantomime’s downward slide is a result of a number of variables. “I think there are lots of distractions out there – Netflix, social media in general, and not enough people are leaving their homes,” Williams told The Gleaner.
He noted, too, that theatre’s counterpart, music, has evolved in different ways than theatre. “The younger generations tend to gravitate towards music shows rather than what we consider to be more theatre culture. I do not think that they have learned to appreciate this culture.”
To revive Jamaica’s love affair with the grand old-lady of theatre, some past members converged at the Little Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Drive, on Tuesday, to solidify a plan to breathe life into the National Pantomime. They dubbed the gathering ‘Panto People Party’.
The idea for the party was formed when Williams proposed that former members join him for a singalong of old ‘panto’ songs.
“We want to revitalise the pantomime, come together to plan to see how we can help the LTM ,and reminisce for all of us to go back to the good times. Oliver Samuels, who goes well back, has lots of stories to tell us, likewise Fae Ellington, Leonie Forbes, and Marjorie Whylie. We want to have a digital memory bank; some of these memories can be collected. Newer members can see that pantomime is something to be proud of,” Williams said.
The programme began with a welcome and opening remarks from the British-based Williams. He presented a detailed 12-point plan to revive interest in pantomime. These included making LTM a creative hub, creating a library for tours, and the establishment of social-outreach programmes. He concluded with the suggestion that the plans be administered by a registered group that is steered by home-based leaders.
There were remarks from LTM vice-chairman Keith Amiel and Fae Ellington. Ellington recommended a “look at teledrama”, while Amiel reminded the gathering that LTM is not a building but a movement.
Twelve former members were honoured: Fae Ellington, Dorothy Cunningham, Emma Crooks, Loise Kelly Miller, Ruth Ho-Shing, Noel Dexter, Oliver Samuels, Barbara Gloudon, Brian Heap, Pauline Stone-Myrie, Leonie Forbes, and Marjorie Whylie.
‘Ten Minutes with Oliver’, not only painted a picture of the past but evoked riotous laughter. So did Lenford Salmon’s recollection of the view from the third-floor dressing room.
Reminiscence continued through songs led by Grub Cooper. The songs included Believe, One Hand Cyaan Clap, Man deh Yah, and Shine Eye Gal.
Panto People Party ended with a two-hour dance session and the hope that it would become an annual event, with a set date to be figured out.